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3. Volunteering


Volunteers are the lifeblood of voluntary organisations. People volunteer in many different roles including being a trustee, helping with operational activities such as assisting in a charity shop, fundraising, organising events, gardening, administration, caring for elderly people or children and so on. The importance of volunteering has long been recognised, particularly by organisations themselves, many of which would not exist without unpaid help causing some vital services to even collapse.

Section 3 is divided into three topics:

  1. The role of volunteers explores what volunteering is, what volunteers do, and why people volunteer.
  2. Recruitment of volunteers looks at the importance of volunteers to organisations and the different ways to recruit them.
  3. Good practice in supporting and managing volunteers takes an overview of how to retain and engage with volunteers.

You may be a volunteer yourself or work in an organisation that involves volunteers on an extensive basis. You might have relevant experience to draw on, perhaps of being recruited as a volunteer, or you might even have recruited volunteers yourself. If you are considering applying for a volunteering role, then this section will help prepare you for applications and interviews, and give you a sense of what to expect as a volunteer.

Learning outcomes

By completing this section and the associated quiz, you will:

  • understand the important role of volunteers, why they volunteer and what they do
  • know more about how organisations recruit and retain volunteers
  • be able to outline best practice for supporting volunteers in their role.

3.1 The role of volunteers

Described image
Figure 1 Volunteers work in many different settings

It might seem straightforward to ask, ‘What is volunteering?’ However, the roles that volunteers fulfil are diverse and the amounts of time that people give vary substantially, so it’s not easy to pin down a straightforward answer. Additionally, many volunteers are involved with very small organisations so many volunteers and many acts of volunteering will never be counted or appear in surveys or official statistics.

Volunteers are not confined to the voluntary sector. They have traditionally been involved in other sectors too, for example volunteers in hospitals do fundraising, run cafés and visit patients; and 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, or ESV).

Defining volunteers

Many definitions of volunteering are used by government and voluntary organisations, but one that probably captures most people’s definitions of volunteering is given by Musick and Wilson (2008, p. 1). They describe volunteering as an altruistic activity, which has the goal of providing ‘help to others, a group, an organisation, a cause, or the community at large, without expectation of material reward’. Furthermore, there should be benefit to someone other than the volunteer or society at large.

There is a difference between formal and informal volunteering. Formal volunteering relates to people giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations. Informal volunteering is giving unpaid help as an individual to other people who are not relatives, such as getting an elderly neighbour’s shopping, clearing snow from the streets and so on. Informal volunteering is less likely to be recorded in surveys as people may not think of it as volunteering.

Given that volunteering covers a wide range of activities, it's difficult to get an accurate picture of how many people volunteer on a regular basis and there’s little consistency between surveys of volunteering, even within the UK.

  • In Scotland, 27% of adults said they had volunteered in the past 12 months, with half of those volunteering for 1–5 hours per week (Scottish Government, 2016).
  • In England in 2016/17, just over a third of people (37%) formally volunteered at least once a year and around a fifth (22%) formally volunteered at least once a month.
  • In Wales, it is estimated that 938,000 people were volunteering in 2014–15 (Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA), 2016).
  • From survey results, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO, 2016) estimate that across the UK 14.2 million people volunteer at least once a month and 42% of all adults aged 16 and over reported volunteering formally at least once in the previous year.

Data also shows that rates of regular formal volunteering do not vary significantly between men and women, and likewise people of all ages volunteer. People aged 16–25 and 65–74 are the only age groups to have increased their rates of volunteering since 2012/2013 (NCVO, 2016). A recent survey by Ipsos Mori in 2013/2014 found that 40% of people aged 10–20 were involved in ‘social action’ (Pye et al, 2014).

Diversity may be an issue with regard to people in higher social grades and a higher level of education being more likely to engage. This is particularly the case with more formal activities, such as trusteeship, that tend to attract the well-resourced and educated. Additionally, a disproportionate amount of time is given by only a small group of people, the ‘civic core’. Read more in NCVO’s Getting Involved paper.

Overall, levels of formal volunteering are generally static and the amount of time that people are giving is decreasing. This starts to illustrate that there are some challenges to recruiting volunteers.

Activity 1
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

What experience do you have of formal and/or informal volunteering – either you personally or what you know about your friends’ or relatives’ experience? If you volunteer, what are people’s reactions to this when (if) you tell them?


Many of us do informal volunteering, perhaps without even thinking about it. Formal volunteering often involves more of a commitment, with a regular time slot and a specified number of hours. Most importantly, it often involves applying for and being ‘recruited’ to a role and then inducted and trained in it – in a similar way to a paid job.

People’s reactions to volunteering vary substantially: some people never volunteer, as they wish only to work for a salary and may struggle with the concept of giving their time for free. Others dismiss volunteering and give it less value than a paid job. For most regular volunteers however it is like a job, one with a strong commitment and sense of obligation, and they feel they would be ‘letting people down’ if they did not do their shift. Other people might struggle with the concept of anyone volunteering in roles that used to be paid jobs, such as in some libraries.

What are volunteers doing?

As you might expect, formal voluntary work is diverse: in terms of skills, it can range from less skilled jobs such as working a cash till or weeding to highly skilled tasks requiring decision making (as in the case of trustees). In other words, formal voluntary work is very similar to paid work, with the same variety of jobs and subject to the same ‘hierarchies’ between skilled and unskilled workers (Musick and Wilson, 2008).

Some types of organisation or activity attract more volunteers than others:

  • 57% of the people who volunteer formally do so with a sports club or group, making them the most popular organisations.
  • Fundraising and running events are the most popular volunteering activities of formal volunteers, with 44% organising or helping to run an event or activity and 40% being involved in raising money.
  • Nearly one in three of those who volunteered formally in the past year carried out activities to get others involved.
  • Giving advice is the most common form of giving unpaid help to others, with 42% of people who gave unpaid help in the last year doing so.

Get more data from the Community Life Survey.

Activity 2
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.
By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn Create. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

Why people volunteer

Understanding why people volunteer is one of the biggest topics of interest to policy makers, organisations and researchers. If politicians and policy-makers want more people to volunteer, then they need to know what motivates people to give their time for free. Equally, organisations may use this information in terms of their own recruitment and retention policies.

Increasingly organisations are making their adverts for volunteer recruitment more sophisticated and specialised, based on what they know about their target audience – for example highlighting how volunteering can be useful for work experience and CVs, or perhaps for making friends or for gaining health benefits. These aspects are based on an understanding of why people volunteer and the differences between different age groups or different ethnic groups.

Much discussion on people’s motivation at work has traditionally focused on paid staff (viewing pay as an important incentive to work), which may not be that helpful in understanding volunteers’ motivations. Is there something different about volunteers’ motivations and does this mean that working with, and managing them also needs to be different?

Activity 3
Timing: Allow about 15 minutes.

Watch the following video and make notes on the volunteers’ reasons for volunteering. Note whether they are similar to your own (if you volunteer or are thinking about doing so).

Download this video clip.Video player: nc_nnco_volunteer_2016_vid001_1280x720p_screencasting.mp4
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  • Magda says that she started volunteering for the YMCA because her mother originally signed her up for an exchange programme in her native Poland. After that she volunteered and then worked for the YMCA and ultimately became a trustee. Clearly she became increasingly committed to the organisation and so as opportunities arose to contribute, she took them.
  • Amy’s commitment to girl guiding stemmed from having been a girl guide herself and being keen to give something back. She is passionate about getting involved with the programmes for empowering young women.
  • Linda has a range of volunteering roles and her motivations are a mix of wanting to contribute to clubs and leisure activities she was involved with. She highlights wanting to feel part of big occasions and with smaller events, ensuring that they happen.

Having an existing interest or commitment to an organisation as a member often encourages people to volunteer.

As well as considering why people volunteer, it’s useful to think about why people stop volunteering as this has implications for organisations’ retention of volunteers. Around a fifth (22%) of those who had not formally volunteered in the last 12 months had done so at some point within the last five years. By far the most commonly cited reason for respondents to stop volunteering was lack of time due to changing home/work circumstances (48%). The least frequently mentioned were issues relating to volunteer management, including not feeling that their efforts were always appreciated, over-bureaucracy of volunteering, bad organisation of the group/club/organisation and not getting asked to do the things they’d like to do (NCVO, 2016).

Volunteering in order to gain experience

Many people volunteer because they want direct experience of the sector in order to boost their CVs when searching for paid work. This could be to help them see whether they want to work in the sector, to try out a particular role or to experience what it is like working for a particular organisation that they support. In some areas of the voluntary sector, for example heritage or international development, volunteering is often a prerequisite for getting paid work.

Many organisations offer internships or placements. Committing to a few days a week for a few months can allow volunteers to get involved in a substantial project and they might still be able to do another paid job around it. However, many people do not have the resources to take on these roles and ethical concerns have arisen around the use of interns, particularly if the roles do not offer any formal training, expenses or a basic stipend. There are calls for organisations to improve in this area so that good opportunities are available to all people, regardless of background and income.

If you are working or studying in the day time then many voluntary organisations involve volunteers in the evenings and weekends as well as in doing one-off fundraising or helping events (for example street clean-up). Other organisations engage volunteers to do activities from home, perhaps helping via social media or looking after a website. Becoming a trustee would also be very rewarding and a relevant experience. Although it is a big commitment and there are legal responsibilities, it can be organised flexibly to fit around other work or family roles.

If you are looking for a volunteering role, one useful website is Organisations’ own websites will also advertise volunteering opportunities, or you could approach organisations directly with a statement about what you could offer in terms of your skills, experience and time commitment.

3.2 Recruitment of volunteers

Described image
Figure 2 Many organisations use formal recruitment processes for volunteers

Some voluntary organisations are largely staffed by volunteers, others operate with a mixture of voluntary and paid staff, in which case the roles and jobs are usually distinct and different: it can be confusing for both paid and unpaid groups if they are doing the same or similar role, and can also lead to resentment. It is important for organisations to encourage interaction between the groups so that everyone feels part of the team. This means several factors have to be taken into consideration, such as:

  • which jobs volunteers are being asked to do, and how they are supported and trained for them
  • how volunteers work with paid staff and vice versa
  • the level of resources invested in volunteers
  • the relationship of volunteers with the decision-making processes of the organisation
  • how volunteers are recruited and selected.

There are a number of challenges to recruiting and retaining a volunteer, and there is often a gap between what people want from volunteering and what organisations are offering. Increasingly, organisations are struggling to compete against all the other pressures on people’s time and interests, which mean they have less time to offer as volunteers. Organisations need therefore to think about innovative ways to involve volunteers – perhaps micro-volunteering (offering small amounts of time for specific tasks), family volunteering, or involving school or college students.

How organisations benefit from volunteers

Knowhow Nonprofit (2016) highlight how involving volunteers adds value to organisations and helps them to achieve their objectives. They say that involving volunteers can help organisations to:

  • Engage a more diverse range of skills, experience and knowledge
  • Reach more beneficiaries
  • Raise awareness about the organisation’s cause, its profile and what it does
  • Build relationships within the community and contribute to supporting others in the community. Providing volunteering opportunities, provides opportunities for social inclusion, skills development and potential routes to employment. There is also evidence that volunteering can help to improve health and wellbeing for individuals
  • Inform the development and delivery of activities, projects or services by bringing in new opinions, ideas or approaches. This can help organisations to adapt, stay relevant to what their beneficiaries and community need as well as identifying opportunities to improve what they do
  • Deliver service or projects in a more effective and efficient way which can help to save money and resources. However organisations do have to invest in supporting volunteering for this to work effectively.
(adapted from Knowhow Nonprofit, 2016)

Starting point for recruiting

How organisations recruit volunteers will inevitably differ based on size, budget available for advertising, how formal they want to be about the process, which activities they are seeking help with and so on. Volunteers are not part of any workplace legislation or the Equality Act so there are no legal requirements relating to recruitment as with paid work: there is no requirement to interview volunteers, for example, although it is good practice to do so even if it is described as an informal meeting rather than an interview. It is also good practice to address issues of diversity.

Some organisations have formal procedures for recruiting volunteers and have written job specifications and advertise for these roles. Smaller, informal self-help groups may not necessarily recruit to specific roles and will match volunteers to the work that needs doing.

However, before organisations go ahead with recruitment, they need to bear in mind that traditional volunteering routes are changing and there is increasing competition amongst organisations for the pool of available people. People donating their time want to know that it is time well spent, that activities are well organised and that their contribution will be valued (Knowhow Nonprofit, 2016).

Methods for recruiting volunteers

There are many ways of recruiting volunteers and the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter has become more important. However, many groups realise that not all potential volunteers use social media or have access to computers, so printed adverts or flyers are still important. The following list includes some typical methods of recruitment.

  • Word of mouth: current volunteers encourage friends or family to volunteer, which often works particularly well as existing volunteers can be enthusiastic and realistic about what it is like to work with the organisation.
  • Organisations’ own websites usually include a section on volunteering, advertising specific roles or general appeals for help.
  • Umbrella organisations (most towns have a council for voluntary service) advertise vacancies for their members.
  • National websites such as advertise roles for large and small organisations.
  • Local magazines or newspapers, organisations’ membership magazines and newsletters can carry advertisements. Features on a particular organisation in the press or on television often bring in volunteers as they draw attention to a cause or issue.
  • Libraries, doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and community meeting places will often display advertisements, as well as around the organisation itself (offices and other venues).
  • Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram can reach a wide range of the public.
  • Recruitment open days at the organisation itself can be effective, as are big volunteer recruitment events or charity fairs where different organisations group together.
Activity 4
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

If you are currently volunteering, or have volunteered in the past, which of the methods above were used to recruit you? Did you respond to an advert/feature or did you actively go looking for a role and if so, how did you approach it? If you are not volunteering, which of the methods do you think would most appeal to you and why?


It is difficult to generalise about which methods appeal to different people. An example: Rosy decided she wanted to volunteer in gardening so used the do-it website to search for opportunities within 20 miles of her house and found a specific advert with the National Trust. The advert appealed to her because the head gardener was looking to develop a new team and was offering training and a lot of variety in the tasks involved.

Most organisations use a mix of methods to recruit volunteers, depending on the role in question and the budget available for advertising. In the past, many organisations’ adverts have been quite general, perhaps saying something like ‘We need volunteers’ and listing some activities or roles. However, many have changed their approach in order to appeal to more people, particularly where they have found it difficult to recruit or want to recruit different types of people. In these cases, they often focus on the reasons why people volunteer: for example, learning new skills, getting work experience, meeting new people, making a difference, getting out in the fresh air, health benefits and so on.

Focusing on what the organisation is looking for, as well as what the person will get from volunteering, is also more commonplace today. It is considered a good way to involve more young people who may not have thought about volunteering before. It also gives people a better idea of what they are applying for, and what their expectations of the role might then be.

Meeting and interviewing volunteers

Described image
Figure 3 Many organisations meet with or interview volunteers

As with paid jobs, organisations want to meet or interview people who have applied to volunteer. Applications might involve just an email message outlining the person’s experience, or some organisations use application forms. Some roles will involve taking up references too. The next step in recruitment is to meet the applicant. Some organisations might organise a group meeting of several volunteers, whereas others will do individual meetings or even formal interviews, depending on the role. If you apply to volunteer with vulnerable adults or children, then an interview is extremely likely.

Activity 5
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

Imagine you have applied for a role at a charity helping homeless people. What questions would you expect to be asked? What questions would you ask?


Given that you would be working with vulnerable people, you could expect to be asked about relevant experience, why you want to volunteer there and also perhaps some specific questions about homelessness. A good interview or meeting for volunteering is not just about being asked questions, it is also important to see where you would be working and perhaps meet some existing volunteers.

You might ask the person showing you around what training is available and what time commitment is expected of you. The number of questions you need to ask is of course dependent on how the person conducts the meeting or interview and how much information they give you first.

This covers the main aspects of how organisations recruit volunteers. You will now look at what happens once volunteers have started with an organisation or group.

3.3 Good practice in supporting and managing volunteers

Described image
Figure 4 Volunteers and organisations both benefit from supporting volunteers

Putting effort and thought into how to manage and support volunteers through their journey with an organisation has become increasingly important. More training and knowledge-sharing is now available for managers of volunteers. In the past the process was much more informal, but as people now expect more from their volunteering and retaining volunteers becomes more challenging, supporting volunteers through induction, training and engagement has gained momentum in many organisations.


Induction is the process of introducing new volunteers (or staff) to their new role, tasks, skills required, the people they will work with and the organisation. In small organisations and groups, this might be a quick introduction and then the volunteer is left to get on with their tasks. This may also occur in big organisations, if the staff or volunteers responsible for looking after new volunteers are too busy or are unaware of the importance of induction. However, it’s important to settle new volunteers into their role so that they know what they are doing and are not overloaded with information or unrealistic expectations. An appropriate induction ensures volunteers are able to contribute quickly and feel part of the organisation.

Activity 6
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

If you have had a volunteering role, did you have an induction and if so, what topics were covered? If you have not had a volunteering role, what would you expect to happen in an induction session (imagine a role you would like to do)?


As an example, Rosy (the garden volunteer from Activity 4) was shown where the facilities were (such as tearoom and toilets), told about health and safety, met some paid staff and other volunteers, and given some information to take home to read. Everyone was friendly and welcoming. She was also given some basic training relating to her tasks.

In general, induction includes both general (organisational) information and specific (role-related) information. Encouraging volunteers to ask questions is also important.

A volunteer induction checklist might include the following:

  • introduce them to other staff and volunteers
  • show them around the building
  • explain who they can go to if they have any questions or problems
  • show them where they will be sitting or working and where they can find any equipment they need
  • let them know about breaks
  • explain how to claim expenses
  • explain the organisation’s policy on volunteers using telephones or accessing the internet for their own use
  • ask them to shadow other experienced volunteers or paid members of staff
  • explain health and safety requirements.

These are informal points, but they are important because they help volunteers feel more comfortable within the organisation. Induction is usually what happens on the first day. Training usually starts then too and, depending on the role, continues for some time.

Retaining volunteers

Organisations are obviously keen to keep volunteers, primarily because they need and value their help but also because they have invested time and effort in inducting and training them. Managing volunteers effectively and providing them with adequate support helps to retain them.

It’s important for managers to get to know their volunteers. This means taking time to understand what they enjoy about volunteering and any concerns they may have about the role or the organisation. A manager may be coordinating several hundred volunteers so finding the time to talk to each individual or group may be difficult. However, ensuring they are given opportunities for giving and receiving feedback on their work is essential. There are different ways of getting feedback from your volunteers. Traditional methods include questionnaires, interviews and focus groups. Having regular drop-in meetings for volunteers is also helpful. When volunteers resign, it is good practice to hold an exit interview to find out why they are leaving and also their thoughts on their time with the organisation.

There are many ways that organisations show their appreciation of their volunteers. Informally, telling volunteers they are doing a great job, asking their opinions on internal developments, getting them to feel comfortable with being a part of the organisation’s social life – all are important. More formally, annual volunteer events (perhaps part of Volunteers’ Week), where group recognition takes place, the awarding of certificates and badges, helping volunteers gain accreditation, including volunteers in staff meetings and inviting them to be members of working groups all demonstrate a recognition both to all volunteers, staff and committee members of the importance of volunteers (Knowhow Nonprofit, 2016).

Why is engaging (or motivating) volunteers important? As with paid work, volunteers will generally want to do activities they find satisfying and rewarding. Volunteers are not dependent on the organisation they work for and are not tied by a formal employment contract. As a result, volunteers are usually freer than employees to pick and choose the organisation to which they give their time and efforts. If organisations do not provide an appealing environment and motivating work, they are likely to experience problems of recruitment and retention.

Activity 7
Timing: Allow about 5 minutes.

List at least four factors that have persuaded you to work hard and enthusiastically (in a paid or unpaid capacity), and four that have discouraged you and made you work less energetically and less willingly. You may want to list these factors in two groups for easier comparison: motivating factors and demotivating factors.


There are many possible factors that could be listed here. The purpose of this activity is to reveal to you the complexity of motivation and the range of factors that can influence it.

  • Motivating factors: if you are in paid work, would it be true to say that although pay might have been listed, it was not necessarily the dominant factor, and the really important factors related to the nature of the work itself and how you felt about it – things like the ‘buzz’ that you got doing the work or that you felt you were contributing to a worthwhile service. You might get on well with your colleagues and that might motivate you through any challenging times. Other factors might include: good training, skills development and support for further learning; clear career progression; supportive and understanding managers; regular new projects; networking opportunities; events or meetings away from the office.
  • Demotivating factors: these are less related to pay than to the circumstances in which you are expected to work – such as being fed up with being ‘messed around’, not liking the way things were going, or a lack of support from colleagues; uncertainty about future funding; temporary contracts; constant change; high staff turnover leading to more work for those left behind; poor working conditions such as a cramped office or old equipment; or, perhaps, you felt that your contribution was not being recognised and acknowledged.

If you work in an unpaid capacity, you may have written down similar issues, so perhaps motivation between volunteers and paid staff is not so different?

Managing volunteers

Where organisations have large numbers of volunteers, it can be useful to create volunteer roles to help in coordinating and supporting other volunteers. Many managers of volunteers are themselves volunteers. Volunteers often bring management skills and experience which will be relevant. Giving volunteers more responsibility can also be very rewarding. A volunteer coordinator can also be an advocate for the volunteers and represent their views to the paid staff. They might also have more time for team-building and dealing with small issues or tensions.

Activity 8
Timing: Allow about 10 minutes.

Imagine you are a manager in a voluntary organisation and you want to recruit a volunteer to coordinate the other volunteers. Write down three key responsibilities/duties you would like the coordinator to have and write down three key attributes you would look for in a candidate.


Your answer might depend on the nature of your organisation and what it does. Here is an example of a volunteer coordinator of garden volunteers.

  • Key responsibilities: Liaise with the head gardener to help distribute work to the volunteers; give guidance on their tasks and support them in their work; prepare the rotas for the volunteers; induct new volunteers.
  • Attributes: good interpersonal skills; good administration and coordination skills; able to enthuse and motivate others.

Losing volunteers

Even if an organisation has successfully recruited and trained new volunteers, some will inevitably go on to leave. They may do this for many reasons:

  • People’s lives change and even if the volunteer really enjoys their role, and feel valued by their organisation, they may have to leave. If they have had an enjoyable and fulfilling experience with one voluntary organisation, however, they will hopefully return or find a new role at a later date.
  • In other situations, volunteers leave because they do not enjoy the role or find it satisfying. They may still be committed to the cause or issue that prompted them to volunteer in the first place, but feel negative about the actual activities they were required to do, the environment they are working in or poor relationships with other volunteers or paid staff. Alternatively they might feel stressed or overworked. It might also be that the role is not what they were expecting: expectations of paid and unpaid work form a major part of people’s job/volunteering satisfaction, both before a person is recruited and then how the job works out in practice.
  • Some people will leave after their first session volunteering and others will leave further down the line. Volunteers do not need to give formal notice in the way that paid staff do, so may phone up on the day they were expected to say they are leaving, or just leave without any communication – clearly this is highly disruptive to rotas and colleagues. Although organisations generally value their volunteers and appreciate their help it can be hard to know how to express this, particularly when resources are tight and people are pulled in many directions.

However, an organisation should also be prepared to dismiss volunteers if necessary. There are a number of reasons why volunteers may need to be ‘let go’: perhaps they have volunteered in one role for a very long time and run out of steam; maybe their personal circumstances have changed to the detriment of their volunteering; or else maybe, after all, they show themselves to be unsuitable for their role, however good the organisation’s recruitment and training processes. Knowing when to let go is as important as knowing how to retain.

Unless there has been serious misconduct, a departing volunteer should receive thanks and be offered an exit interview opportunity. At this the totality of their volunteer experience, short or long, can be evaluated and views sought from the departing volunteer about possible improvements that might be introduced for future volunteers. The manager should be as positive as possible so the departing volunteer will retain positive views about the organisation and not seek to lower its reputation. Furthermore, agreeing the benefits the volunteer has gained whilst with the organisation and offering them appropriate support in seeking new opportunities, is also good practice.

Problems can arise sometimes in managing volunteers. As Knowhow Nonprofit (2016) highlight, different organisational priorities can come to the fore and volunteers may not understand why things have changed; or volunteers do not get the resources they think they need and money goes to a part of the organisation other than the one they are serving. Where good support and supervision procedures are in place, problems may get solved without prolonging the difficulty.

In other situations, a volunteer may bring a complaint about a member of staff, or vice versa, or a client may complain about a volunteer. Volunteers need to feel complaints are handled with sensitivity, that they receive a fair hearing and that the complaints/grievance procedure of the organisation will be rigorously followed. This procedure should be in writing and available to volunteers, and will ensure a consistency of response. Dealing with such issues is of course important to the individual concerned, but also helps deal with any tension or upset within the volunteer team. Staff always need to be mindful of the fact that volunteers are not tied by a contract or the need to earn a wage and may leave if they find the atmosphere upsetting.

3.4 Key points from Section 3

  • Volunteers play a crucial role in voluntary organisations and volunteering is defined as an act of giving one’s time for free that benefits others without expectation of material reward. There are around 13.8 million people volunteering at least once a month. Volunteers take on diverse roles and have many reasons why they volunteer, although wanting to improve things and help people and working for a cause close to their hearts are the main ones.
  • There are many ways to recruit volunteers and online advertising has become increasingly important alongside more traditional methods. Targeting adverts and roles to particular groups is becoming more common as it becomes harder to recruit volunteers in some areas. It is good practice to have more formal recruitment procedures including interviews where both sides can ask questions and ensure there is a match between the volunteer and the role.
  • Supporting and managing volunteers has assumed a greater role in many organisations. This starts with induction and training so that volunteers understand what is expected of them, which also helps with retention. Engaging volunteers throughout their time with an organisation provides them with satisfaction in their role and helps keep them volunteering. Regular meetings, communication, consultation and feedback are all part of this.

3.5 Section 3 quiz

Well done, you have now reached the end of Section 3 of Taking part in the voluntary sector, and it is time to attempt the assessment questions. This is designed to be a fun activity to help consolidate your learning.

There are only five questions, and if you get at least four correct answers you will be able to download your badge for the ‘Volunteering’ section (plus you get more than one try!).

If you are studying this course using one of the alternative formats, please note that you will need to go online to take this quiz.

I’ve finished this section. What next?

You can now choose to move on to Section 4, Accountability and Communications, or to one of the other sections so you can continue collecting your badges.

If you feel that you’ve now got what you need from the course and don’t wish to attempt the quiz or continue collecting your badges, please visit the Taking my learning further section, where you can reflect on what you have learned and find suggestions of further learning opportunities.

We would love to know what you thought of the course and how you plan to use what you have learned. Your feedback is anonymous and will help us to improve our offer.


employer-supported volunteering
Organisations support their staff to volunteer, perhaps through giving them time off for individual volunteering, by developing programmes within the organisation or through partnerships with voluntary organisations.
social welfare
This refers to services provided for those in need in order to improve quality of life and living conditions. Examples include day centres for elderly people; after school clubs for children with disabilities; general care services; help with drug abuse and so on. Within the UK, much of this help is organised by government through social services departments, although the organisations providing the actual help may be drawn from public, private or voluntary sectors.
employer-supported volunteering (ESV)
Organisations support their staff to volunteer, perhaps through giving them time off for individual volunteering, by developing programmes within the organisation or through partnerships with voluntary organisations.
focus group
A group of people assembled to participate in a discussion about a product or service.
Volunteers’ Week
An annual celebration of the contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK.


Cabinet Office (2013) Community Life Survey 2012 to 2013 Findings [Online]. Available at government/ publications/ community-life-survey-2012-to-2013-findings/ community-life-survey-2012-to-2013-findings#Volunteering (Accessed 3 May 2016).
Department for Social Development (2015) Volunteering in Northern Ireland: A Research Report [Online], Belfast, Analystical Services Unit (ASU). Available at supporting-organisations/ research-bank (Accessed 3 May 2016).
Do-it Trust (2016) Do-it [Online]. Available at (Accessed 29 April 2016).
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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.

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Text: extracts adapted from Knowhow Nonprofit (2016) NCVO/Knowhownonprofit [Online]. Available at people/ volunteers-and-your-organisation/ why-involve-volunteers.


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