3.1 The role of volunteers

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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