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Introduction and guidance

Introduction and guidance

Taking part in the voluntary sector will develop your knowledge and skills for working in the voluntary sector. You will be introduced to some key ideas around how voluntary organisations function and have the opportunity to reflect on how these ideas might be applied in practice.

The course will be particularly relevant if you are considering a move into, or have recently started working or volunteering in, the voluntary sector as it will help develop your awareness of issues and areas of work which are unique to the sector. You may notice that some activities ask you to think about your own work or volunteering, so if you do not have a current role you might want to use these activities to think about an organisation you are interested in and how its staff or volunteers might manage a particular situation.

Each section of the course offers short, interactive quizzes to test your knowledge and provide you with the opportunity to earn a digital badge.

Successful completion of the course will enable you to gain a suite of online badges and a statement of participation. The badges are validated by the Social Partnerships Network (SPN), a group of organisations with a shared commitment to extending education opportunities to all those that wish to benefit. These courses do not carry any formal academic credit. However, they do provide a way to help you progress from informal to formal learning.

Taking part in the voluntary sector is one of a suite of six free online SPN-badged courses that aim to provide you with an opportunity to engage with learning informally, studying as much or as little of the course and at your own pace.

Guidance for accessing alternative formats

You can download this section of the course to study offline. The alternative formats offered that will best support offline study include Word, PDF and ebook/Kindle versions of the materials.  The other alternative formats (SCORM, RSS, IMS, HTML and XML) are useful to those who want to export the course to host on another learning management system.

Although you can use the alternative formats offline for your own convenience, you do need to work through the online version of the course for full functionality (such as accessing links, using the audio and video materials, and completing the quizzes).  Please use the downloads as convenient tools for studying the materials when away from the internet and return to the online version to ensure you can complete all activities that lead to earning the section badge.

In order to access full functionality in the online course, we recommend that you use the latest internet browsers such asInternet Explorer 9 and above and Google Chrome version 49 and above.

If you have difficulties in streaming the audio-visual content, please make use of the available transcripts.

Structure of the course

This course consists of five sections, with each section focusing on a particular aspect of the voluntary sector:

  1. Defining and exploring the voluntary sector  looks at the nature of the sector, the rules that organisations have to follow, the size and scope of the sector, and the guiding principles and values of voluntary organisations.
  2. Money considers key financial and fundraising aspects of voluntary organisations, including how organisations plan and track income and expenditure, and what the main sources of income are. This section also provides ideas for effective fundraising.
  3. Volunteering covers the crucial role of volunteers, what they do and the reasons they volunteer. This section also explores how to recruit and retain volunteers, including best practice in providing support and managing them.
  4. Accountability and communications considers the key roles and responsibilities of trustees in voluntary organisations, and the difference and impact that voluntary organisations make to people, communities or the environment. It also looks at how to be a good communicator in working with others.

Together they amount to approximately 15 hours of study time. Each section has a mixture of reading, video clips, activities and quizzes that will help you to engage with the course content. The activities are not compulsory but you are encouraged to complete them as they will help you assess what you have learned.

A further section, Taking my learning further, will enable you to reflect upon what you have learned within this course. It also directs you to relevant websites and resources, which further relate to the development of your learning and career prospects.

Once you have studied a section, you will be asked to complete a short online quiz of no more than five questions per section. This helps to test and embed your learning. If you pass the quiz (and you do get more than one attempt!), you will be awarded with a downloadable badge for that section.

Taking part in the voluntary sector is designed to allow you to dip in and out of the resources and collect badges as you wish, so that you can study in small chunks to fit around your work and life commitments. If you choose to complete all sections of Taking part in the voluntary sector and collect the full set of badges, you can download a statement of participation that recognises your achievement. You may find this useful to show your employer as evidence of your learning. For more information on how to obtain your badges, read What is a badge?

Navigating the website

To find your way around this course, you simply click on the links. The home page has links to all the sections, quizzes and relevant resources. When you are in a section, the left-hand menu has links to that section’s topics and its associated quiz. The menu also has links to the other sections of Taking part in the voluntary sector and to the resources section.

If you feel unsure, practise hovering your mouse over a link in the menu and clicking on it. This is the easiest way to move from page to page. You can also click on the ‘Next:’ link at the end of each page of text. Don’t worry about breaking a link or damaging the web page – you won’t. Have a go as soon as you can before you begin your study.

Why study this course?

Taking part in the voluntary sector provides a snapshot of what the voluntary sector is, the main issues and challenges faced by voluntary organisations and the main areas of work and volunteering. Studying this course will help you feel more confident about your own interests and skills and how you might apply them to working or volunteering in the sector.

Julie Charlesworth, the author of this course, will now give you a bit of background into why you might like to study this course.

Download this video clip.Video player: Introductory video
Introductory video
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

If you are not already working or volunteering in the sector, you will find it helpful to consider how features of the role match up with your own day-to-day experience and knowledge. The guided activities throughout this course will help you to learn how to reflect upon your own practice. Completion of this course will allow you to demonstrate your understanding of the voluntary sector to current or potential employers.

Throughout this course you will find activities that ask you to write down your thoughts and opinions based on the issues being discussed. There will be a few simple questions that encourage you to focus your thinking. It would be helpful for you to spend some time thinking about what you have learned within each section, and how it relates to your current role or something you aspire to do.

These activities are not there to test you, but designed to help you reflect upon what you have read. These activity spaces are entirely for your own use to help you recognise what you have learned, even if you haven’t yet encountered it within your area of activity. Nobody else will see what you write here. The aim is to help you to become more reflective, by bringing together aspects of both your personal and professional/volunteering experience so you can review and learn from them.

Learning outcomes

After completing this course, you will be able to:

  • understand the role and scope of the voluntary sector, its environment and workforce
  • recognise and use some of the terms and concepts associated with the voluntary sector
  • be able to describe the key areas of work in a voluntary organisation and how to apply your knowledge about the sector to your own work or volunteering (if already active in the sector)
  • be able to clarify, and feel more confident about, where your skills and interests might fit within the voluntary sector and know where to go for further information, training and support.

Before you begin

Spend a few moments thinking about your current learning needs and opportunities by doing Activity 1 below.

Activity 1

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Below is a link to a short questionnaire to get you thinking about:

  • What are your current priorities for learning?
  • How does studying a short online course fit into your everyday lifestyle?
  • What goals are you hoping to achieve by studying this course?

Questionnaire about your learning (1)

Hopefully, by the end of the course you will be able to reflect on your answers.

We hope you enjoy the course!


This free course was written by Julie Charlesworth (tutor at The Open University) and Georgina Anstey (consultant from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations).

Except for third party materials and otherwise stated (see terms and conditions), this content is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 Licence.

The material acknowledged below is Proprietary and used under licence (not subject to Creative Commons Licence). Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material in this free course:

Course image: © KeithBishop/

Introductory video: © The Open University 2016.

Every effort has been made to contact copyright owners. If any have been inadvertently overlooked, the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.