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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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1 Jobs, tasks and roles

Thinking about different roles can be challenging: you might work or volunteer with several organisations or groups – each with different ways of doing things and expectations of staff and volunteers. In one organisation you might be ‘part of the team’, but in another you might be expected to work alone. In other areas of life you might have different responsibilities: as a parent, carer or good neighbour. Roles are about expectations – people’s own expectations about their roles as well as what they expect from others and what others expect of them.

This might sound complicated, so it is best to build it up in stages. You will start by looking at the tasks and activities you do in a job, as a volunteer or in other roles or positions. ‘Task’ is a word used in organisations, and particularly by managers, to sort out what people do. In the workplace or when volunteering, people are usually given a list of their tasks in the form of a job description.

Activity 1 What work do you do?

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

As a starting point, write down everything you did in a recent activity. This could be something you completed at work, while volunteering or spending time with your family, or in your community or other position. For each task, note down roughly how much time you spent on this (either actual time in hours or as a percentage of the day).

You will return to this list in Activity 2.

Here is a list of tasks carried out by a garden volunteer.

Table 1 Garden volunteering tasks and time spent on them
Activity/taskTime spent
Pruned trees and shrubs2 hours
Weeding, digging2 hours
General chatting with staff/tea break10 minutes
Talked to colleague about some gardens research20 minutes
Arranged and led a planning meeting about forthcoming garden open day 45 minutes
Helped move some boxes10 minutes
Talked to passers-by about the front garden10 minutes
Listened to a fellow volunteer’s concerns about the new expenses system30 minutes
Measured up space for a new shed10 minutes


You may have found from doing this activity that it is sometimes difficult to explain what your job actually is. You may have so many different responsibilities that it is impossible to sum up your job succinctly; for example, the list of activities you undertake may often go beyond your job description.

From this example, you can see that the volunteer does more than just straightforward gardening tasks. Although he was recruited to do garden maintenance (and this is what the volunteer job description specifies), he has also been involved in open days, events for donors and research on the local area. He has been asked to do these other activities because of his wider interests and experience. Other things he does because he has been asked by the staff, he has identified a need or he wants to help address other people’s concerns. Like many people, he enjoys variety in his work or volunteering. Volunteers often have experience from other jobs that they like to draw on and that go beyond their formal job description.