Charities must address class divide in volunteering, says NCVO study

25 Jan 2019 News

Volunteers are more likely to be from white, middle class backgrounds and charities need to “think about what barriers they may inadvertently be creating”, a major study from NCVO has found. 

NCVO today published the report Time Well Spent, a National Survey on the Volunteer Experience, which shows that volunteering is carried out more by middle class and educated people than by working class and less educated people.

The umbrella body conducted a survey of 10,103 people and found that 40 per cent of working class people have never volunteered at all, compared to 25 per cent of middle class people. The study is the largest of its kind for a decade.

Working class people are also less likely to be involved in organising activities in charities, like becoming a trustee, with 23 per cent never taking on organisational roles compared to 15 per cent of middle class people.

The report says: “The most significant differences between volunteers and non-volunteers relate to socio-economic status and education levels.”

It finds that 48 per cent of those who volunteered in the last 12 months have a degree compared to 20 per cent who have no qualifications. Some 42 per cent of unemployed people have never volunteered, compared to 21 per cent of those who work part time.

‘Stubborn demographic gaps’ 

Peter Kellner, chair of NCVO said that “stubborn demographic gaps remain” with access to volunteering. 

He added: “Britain’s volunteer community is tilted towards people who are white, middle-class and middle-aged. We need active strategies to close these gaps.”

The research also reveals other demographic disparities. Thirty-four per cent of men have never volunteered compared to 29 per cent of women. 

Furthermore, slightly more women had volunteered in the last 12 months than men (39 per cent vs 37 per cent), which NCVO attributes to different working patterns. Seventy per cent of men said they felt they had an opportunity to influence the organisation that they volunteered in, compared to 62 per cent of women.

Some 44 per cent of people living in rural areas have volunteered in the last year, compared to 37 per cent of those in urban areas. It also found that 45 per cent of people over the age of 65 were recent volunteers, compared to 31 per cent of 25-34 year olds.

Encouraging volunteering 

The report said that if more employers let staff take time off or organise workplace volunteering schemes, the demographic gaps would close. Kellner said: “One glaring need highlighted by our survey is to expand employer-supported volunteering.”

NCVO also asked volunteers about their experiences. The largest proportion of respondents, 42 per cent, said that they started volunteering because they wanted to improve things and help people.

Seven in ten volunteers would recommend it to friends or family and 90 per cent said they feel there are making a difference. 
Some 71 per cent said they had gained a new skill or experience. 

Just over two-thirds of volunteers are involved with civil society organisations, while 17 per cent are involved with the public sector. 

‘Those who stand to benefit most from volunteering less likely to be involved’

NCVO also highlighted that volunteering could help to reduce social isolation and said charities need to reflect on barriers that are discouraging people from signing up. 

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said: “As well as making a difference to the causes people care about, volunteering brings a vast range of benefits to those who take part.

“Volunteering can be truly transformative for people’s lives. It reduces isolation, improves confidence, provides new experiences, improves employment prospects, and fundamentally it’s deeply rewarding.

“But sadly, those who stand to benefit the most from volunteering are less likely to be involved.

“Institutions – charities and the public sector – need to take a hard look at themselves and think about what barriers they may inadvertently be creating.

“In particular, we need to make sure it’s easy to start volunteering. Our research suggests young people have higher expectations of the process being simple and quick than older people.

“We know that building stronger connections within communities helps people live healthier, more satisfying lives, and takes pressure off public services.”

NCVO is livestreaming the launch here

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