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Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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3 Roles and functions of voluntary organisations

An Oxfam shop
Figure 4 A voluntary organisation

This course is about working in the voluntary sector, so what are voluntary organisations and what is their role?

There are many differences between organisations classified as ‘voluntary’ and, inevitably, people working and volunteering in the sector will gain different experiences. If you work with a small organisation, such as a residents’ group, you may have a very different experience of the sector than someone working for, say, Age UK.

Understanding the scope of voluntary organisations is important, both in understanding how effective and successful the organisation is, and in understanding the impact this has on its staff and volunteers. It will also help you to understand your own role.

How voluntary organisations differ

  • The type of organisation – what is its function or purpose? For example, does it deliver services or does it campaign (or both)? How does its purpose fit with government policy? If there is a mismatch, is it struggling to find funding?
  • Is the organisation a registered charity?
  • Involvement of volunteers – all voluntary organisations rely on unpaid help. This might be the trustees or frontline workers. Some small organisations may not have any paid staff.
  • The size and reach of the organisation and also the size of the part you are based in. For example, you might manage a charity shop and have a team of volunteers but you are part of an international organisation such as Oxfam.
  • Funding – does the organisation receive government funding or is it dependent on donations from the public? Has the source or amount of funding changed in recent years?
  • What is the organisation’s history? Some voluntary organisations are relatively new, others have their origins decades or even centuries in the past. Some organisations started as campaigning and lobbying groups for social issues long before the Welfare State was introduced in the UK.
  • Location – is the organisation where you work situated in a rural or an urban setting?

You will come back to these different aspects in Activity 4.