Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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Introducing the voluntary sector

3 Who volunteers?

A male volunteer at the London Olympics 2012
Figure 3 Volunteering at the London Olympics 2012

You will now explore ‘who’ volunteers are. Organisations are often concerned about the composition and diversity of their workforce or volunteer pool. Composition in this context usually refers to age, gender, ethnic origin, religion, disability and so on. For volunteers, organisations might be interested in their employment status too, i.e. whether they are unemployed, employed, retired and so on.

The reasons why organisations are interested in this information is that they endeavour to have a diverse and representative workforce of paid and unpaid staff. For example, if an organisation offers services to people experiencing mental health problems, it might want volunteers with similar direct experience. Alternatively, if an organisation is based in an ethnically mixed community, it might want these different groups represented through its volunteers, thereby increasing its appeal to the people it is trying to help.

National organisations, based in one locality but working across the country, might want volunteers from different areas so that there is more representation by geography. Above all, organisations strive to offer equal opportunities in work and volunteering.

Of course, not all voluntary organisations collect data on their volunteers. They might not have access to it or might have concerns about data protection and confidentiality; they might not have the resources to collect data; or it might not have occurred to them to collect data on volunteers.

There are various surveys about the composition of the volunteering workforce within the UK and there are differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Here are a few general points from NCVO (2015):

  • Rates of regular formal volunteering do not vary between men and women.
  • People of all ages volunteer (16–75+).
  • Rates of regular formal volunteering among young people are at their highest since 2003.
  • Rates of volunteering vary according to where people live.
  • The employment status of volunteers does not impact on rates of regular volunteering.

Activity 5 Thinking about volunteers in an organisation

Allow approximately 5 minutes

Think about the points made above:

  • Rates of regular formal volunteering do not vary between men and women.
  • People of all ages volunteer (16–75+).
  • Rates of regular formal volunteering among young people are at their highest since 2003.
  • Rates of volunteering vary according to where people live.
  • The employment status of volunteers does not impact on rates of regular volunteering.

Now think about the volunteers in your own voluntary organisation or a voluntary organisation you know well.

  • Do you think the volunteers you know reflect this data? In other words, are there approximately equal numbers of men and women volunteers; the volunteers vary in age, but quite a few are young people; the number of volunteers depends on where the local offices are based; the volunteers’ employment status doesn’t affect their commitment to regular volunteering?
  • If the volunteers you know don’t reflect this data, what are they like?
  • Is the profile of volunteers similar to what you know about the local population?
  • Are there any implications for your organisation? For example, are the volunteers representative of the people your organisation helps?
  • How would your organisation benefit by having a diverse group of volunteers?

Make some notes about the volunteers you know.

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Comment

You will have specific findings and ideas about what your observations mean for your organisation. The following extract provides a useful summary of the benefits of encouraging diversity in a volunteer workforce:

By encouraging diversity in volunteering your organisation will:

  • benefit from new ideas and fresh approaches generated by people from different backgrounds and experiences
  • help ensure that your work is relevant to and impacts on all kinds of people in society
  • present a more welcoming face to volunteers, client groups and the general public
  • have more volunteers
  • be better equipped to respond to the needs of your community or service users
  • attract new clients or service users.
(Volunteer Now, 2005)

You should now have an overview of the profile of volunteering in a broader context as well as in an organisation you are familiar with. This will help you to understand the nature of volunteering and the voluntary sector, as well as why organisations are interested in gathering data about their volunteers. If you recall, in Week 3 Karl Wilding emphasised the importance of such data to policy making and understanding changes and trends in the voluntary sector.

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