Getting involved – Diversity in Volunteering

3 January 2018


Below is a very interesting blog on volunteering from Will Downs, initially posted on the NVCO Website.  Will Downs  supports NCVO’s  policy work on volunteering development. His interests include the role of volunteering in public services and removing barriers to youth volunteering. He produces the monthly volunteering round-up blog and supports Volunteers’ Week.

Last week, NCVO launched Getting Involved: How people make a difference. Drawing on data from a wide range of sources and full of the latest statistics, this new publication looks at who gets involved, how and where people get involved, and whether participation has changed over time.

In this blog post Will Downs looks at who volunteers and how we can get even more people involved.

Who volunteers?

Millions of people give their time and talents as volunteers every day and make an astounding contribution to improving communities across the country. 14 million people volunteer formally every month. Millions more give their time in informal ways.

While we celebrate this brilliant contribution, overall levels of volunteering remain hard to grow. Just over one in four people regularly volunteer formally – the same proportion as in 2001.

If we are to grow volunteering, much greater attention must also be given to diversity. The lack of diversity among volunteers has become a stubborn issue.

36% of people from the least deprived areas of England volunteer formally, compared with only 15% from the most deprived. Those who are educated to degree level are almost three times more likely to volunteer than those with no formal qualifications. And while BME people are more likely to volunteer informally (giving unpaid help to someone who is not a relative) than white people, they are significantly less likely to be involved in regular formal volunteering.

This lack of diversity means a small group of comparatively highly-educated and high-earning individuals (just 9% of the population) contribute 51% of all volunteering hours given nationally. These people are known as the civic core.

Why does this matter?

We know the amazing things that volunteering can do for charities, communities and volunteers themselves. Volunteering can be a brilliant way to gain new skills, improve wellbeing and meet new people.

However, it is often the people who have most to gain from volunteering that are the most excluded. This is why diversity matters. Volunteering is such a powerful intervention, that we risk compounding disadvantage and damaging social mobility when it is not open to all.

There are numerous barriers to volunteering. To encourage a more diverse range of people to volunteer in their communities, we will need a wide range of approaches, directed by charities with support from government.

What can charities do?

Time is the number one barrier to volunteering and regular volunteers give on average just 11.6 hours per month. More flexible opportunities are needed which allow people to combine their volunteering with competing priorities in their lives.

Listen to our podcast on the need for flexible volunteering

One way is for charities to create opportunities that work around people’s lives. People shouldn’t feel they have to commit to a long-term activity or time-intensive tasks and flexible opportunities can make it easier to take that first step to getting involved.

Political parties mastered this at the general election. Many charities are already using similar techniques to provide ‘bite-size’ micro-volunteering opportunities, such as the Age UK telephone befriending service.

NCVO provides guidance on developing and managing micro volunteering.

Charities should also take a person-centred approach to support individuals to volunteer and make reasonable adjustments to enable participation. This can be done through ensuring recruitment practices are open and fair, that volunteer venues are accessible, and that training and induction is provided in a suitable format for those participating.

What can government do?

While charities can do much more to improve diversity, the government also has a major role to play. We outlined some of the ways government could intervene to make volunteering easier in our general election manifesto.

We think the government has focused too much on growing new volunteering programmes, rather than thinking how existing opportunities can be delivered better.

For example, while we are supportive of the National Citizen Service and recognise the benefits it has brought to many young people, its rapid expansion under ambitious targets has led to inconsistent results.

We have also seen this in the public sector. High-level strategies in the NHS would have us believe that now is the time for volunteering, yet we hear about over-stretched volunteer managers, a lack of top-level buy-in and investment.

There should be more focus on the importance of volunteer management and ensuring existing opportunities are invested in- something reflected by the House of Lords committee on charities.

For example, we are asking services such as the NHS to set targets for the development of volunteering and to engage senior leaders to become volunteering champions. We also call for further reforms to how government buys and provides public services, such as prioritising grant funding instead of large contracts, and spending public money in a way that takes account of the wider social value of a contract.

Government can also help us create opportunities to match how people can and want to give their time.

For example, the government should revive their interest to make it easier for employees to take time off work for volunteering, including for trustee roles, as recommended by the House of Lords Committee on Charities.

The government can also make it easier for unemployed people to volunteer, by getting rid of red tape and confusion about the rules. Too many unemployed people receiving benefits are told they cannot volunteer, and more needs to be done to ensure that Jobcentre Plus staff understand the rules and potential benefits of volunteering.

What are NCVO doing?

Alongside Volunteering Matters, we have set up a working group to take forward the volunteering recommendations made by the House of Lords Committee on Charities, to promote the importance of volunteer management and to challenge barriers to volunteering.

Will Downs  supports NCVO’s policy work on volunteering development. His interests include the role of volunteering in public services and removing barriers to youth volunteering. He produces the monthly volunteering round-up blog and supports Volunteers’ Week.

For more information from NVCO visit


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