Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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Introducing the voluntary sector

5 Understanding differences within the voluntary sector

Stacks of different types of biscuit.
Figure 5 Differences

So far this week you have considered the voluntary sector overall and the differences within the sector have also been emphasised and are obviously very important. We started by suggesting that if you work or volunteer for a small organisation with limited funds, your experience could be very different from that of people working in a large organisation. However, in reality, there may be more similarities than you would expect.

In the following activity, Karl Wilding from NCVO talks about differences (as well as similarities) within the voluntary sector.

Activity 7 Focusing on differences and similarities

Timing: Allow approximately 5 minutes

Watch the video of Karl Wilding and list the differences and similarities he mentions.

Download this video clip.Video player: volb1_wk3_activity7_karl_ou_pro_res_master_edited.mp4
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Our data tell us that there are lots of differences within the sector. In fact, it’s a truism to suggest that there is probably as much difference within the sector as there is between the sectors. There are very different business models, for example. So some organisations, their model is based primarily around fundraising. There are some very large charities whose models are primarily based around legacies, for example.
But then you will see other charities whose models are primarily based around income generation and contracting with government. And the sort of organisation that you need for those different models is very different. There are some organisations, our data tell us, that are primarily based on paid staff to deliver those services. Whereas, there are some organisations that are much more based on volunteers.
The differences between a very large national or international charity and a very small community-based organisation are probably as big as the differences between Tesco’s and that small shop that you might know on the corner where you know the owner, and so on. So yes, there are lots of differences within the sector. There are similarities, though. Our data still tell us that the golden thread that runs through the sector is voluntary income.
It’s the fact that most organisations, even if they are predominantly based on contracting, will receive some form of donations. They will still rely upon an element of volunteerism, even if it’s the trustees, as well.
One final thing. I think our data has been telling us for a long time that the boundaries between our sector and the other sectors are blurring. We are, in some respects, becoming a bit more like the public sector and the private sector at the same time. The boundaries between our sector, and individuals, and households are blurring as the digital economy sort of disrupts what we do and enables citizens to do what they do.
So trying to understand this issue about difference, and what are the sources of that difference, whether it’s just values, or whether it’s about things that we can see in the data, those sorts of questions, I think, are going to become more important.
End transcript
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Karl says that the differences within the sector are as noticeable as the differences between sectors. He highlights the different business models – for example, organisations based on fundraising or legacies; income generation or government contracts; paid staff or volunteers. Size is a further source of difference.

In terms of similarities, Karl mentions the source of income for voluntary organisations: most receive donations. Volunteerism is also key. However, he also notes that the boundaries between the sectors are blurring – and this is something you will recall from Week 1.

Geographical differences

A further aspect of difference relates to geography and this is an area that interests researchers as well as policy makers. Milligan and Conradson (2006, p. 3) raise various questions about this: how and why does voluntary activity develop in different ways in different places? To what extent do the different social, historical and political contexts within which voluntarism is located shape its development?

The geography of the voluntary sector refers to differences by location and place. Issues of interest focus on urban and rural differences as well as regional differences. Even within one town, differences can be uncovered (and you will explore this by looking at micro-mapping in the next section).

Researchers interested in geographical differences explore different elements of voluntary activity, many of which relate back to the bigger data you have examined this week. The distribution of voluntary sector employment (i.e. where the voluntary sector jobs are located) is of particular interest to researchers:

There is also policy and academic interest in the distribution of third sector employment. For example, does employment in this sector simply follow the pattern of the private sector of the economy, characterised by the dominance of London with its concentration of corporate headquarters? If so, would such a distribution be appropriate for employment in a sector where many large organisations receive donations from the whole country? To what extent can the third sector help to relieve unemployment in the more disadvantaged areas of the country?

(Geyne-Rajme and Mohan, 2012, p. 3)

Although these authors’ research was based on English regions, the questions they raise could apply to all of the UK. In the next section, you explore ‘micro-mapping’, which brings together issues relating to geography, difference and data.


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