Introducing the voluntary sector
Introducing the voluntary sector

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Introducing the voluntary sector

Week 7: The role of volunteering


Throughout this course, the crucial role of volunteers has been emphasised. You saw in Week 1 how the involvement of volunteers is one of the defining features of a voluntary or community organisation and each week of the course, their role and contribution has been mentioned in different contexts. This week they are centre stage.

Volunteers might be trustees, board or management committee members or front-line workers fulfilling numerous roles. The importance of volunteering has long been recognised, particularly by organisations themselves – many of which would not exist without unpaid help and some vital services could even collapse.

This importance is also recognised by governments promoting the role of volunteers in service delivery, an increasingly controversial area, particularly where volunteers replace paid staff – such as in some libraries. Thus, the value of volunteering in society holds considerable value. It is often difficult to quantify this value and consequently some organisations try to put a monetary value on volunteering as often this is the most direct way to get others to understand its importance.

Although this course is about the voluntary sector, volunteers have traditionally been involved in other sectors too: for example, volunteers in hospitals do fundraising, run cafes and visit patients; government heritage agencies (e.g. Cadw in Wales or Historic Scotland) involve volunteers as guides in historic homes. Furthermore, many private sector organisations promote and support volunteering with their employees (known as employer-supported volunteering (ESV)).

You may be a volunteer yourself or work in an organisation that involves volunteers on an extensive basis. This week aims to help you understand the role of volunteers at both a personal and an organisational level as you explore the nature of volunteering and, in particular, who volunteers and why.

In the following video, Julie introduces you to Week 7.

Download this video clip.Video player: volb1_wk7_intro_ou_pro_res_master_edited.mp4
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We’re nearing the end of the course now. Last week, you explored power and empowerment in the voluntary sector, particularly in relation to beneficiaries. This week, you’ll focus on one very important group, the volunteers, who are the lifeblood of most voluntary organisations. Having unpaid input, whether as trustees or front-line workers, is a defining feature of most voluntary organisations. In the last few years, the profile of volunteers has risen as they’ve hit the headlines as key contributors to events such as the Olympics, the Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games. You’ll explore what volunteering is, what type of activities volunteers carry out, who volunteers, and the complex reasons why people volunteer. By the end of the week you’ll have a better idea of the important role of volunteers in organisations, and you’ll also have explored how they contribute to an organisation you’re familiar with.
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By the end of this week, you will be able to:

  • explain what is meant by volunteering
  • develop a profile of who volunteers
  • outline the reasons why people volunteer
  • describe the types of volunteering activities supported by your organisation or in an organisation with which you are familiar.

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