Stuart Etherington: Why charities should diversify their volunteering opportunities

01 Jun 2018 Voices

This Vounteers' Week we will be running a series of opinion pieces on volunteering. We start with Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, which runs the Volunteers' Week campaign, on why this year's theme is 'volunteering for all'.

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of volunteering and an opportunity for organisations to thank their volunteers for their time. And you can see from the events listings that hundreds and hundreds around the country are doing just that.

This year we are asking organisations to reflect on the theme of ‘volunteering for all’. It’s a reminder that whoever you are and whatever your skills, there’s a volunteering role for you. But it’s also a fresh call to action for organisations to consider the volunteering opportunities they offer, and whether they are as accessible to all as they could be. 

The current picture 

Looking at the demographics of those who volunteer, it is clear that across age, gender, ethnicity, levels of education and socio-economic background there is more to do on helping people of different backgrounds to volunteer.

Around a third of the population accounts for 87 per cent of all volunteering hours according to research by the Third Sector Research Centre.  And they are predominantly older and whiter than society as a whole. But just as concerning is that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and those with lower levels of formal education are less involved.

We can do more with more help

The voluntary sector prides itself on inclusion and accessibility, and we should be leading by example.
We should be always be able to demonstrate how we work towards equal access and equal opportunity. Just as we must all consider equality of opportunity and diversity in the recruitment of staff, those recruiting volunteers should use similarly considered approaches to ensure their opportunities are as accessible as possible. 

Our belief is that by striving to increase the accessibility of volunteering opportunities, we will grow the pool of people who are able to volunteer, and in turn the number of volunteers. But in doing this we will also grow the range of people who are able to volunteer. That is, beyond the straightforward numerical gain there will be a difference in who is volunteering., I firmly believe that, as with staff and trustees, the more diverse your volunteering community is, the stronger your organisation will be. A homogenous organisation is a vulnerable one. Different people bring different ideas, perspectives and connections, and we should be constantly striving to ensure that our organisations are accessible to as many people of different backgrounds as possible. workforce.

And we must remember that volunteering enhances skills, experience and social connections. I’m concerned that those who will most benefit from these are often those who are least likely to volunteer currently. This should be a concern for any organisation with an interest in equality and social mobility.

Increasing diversity in practice 

The solutions need not be complex. Often we find that when organisations reflect on how they are structuring their volunteering, they realise there are many opportunities to make roles more flexible and accessible.

For example, can you allow people to give their time however fits them best that week? Or to fit in opportunities last minute when their routine changes? Does a volunteer role have to be done with a member of staff present, could people contribute remotely? Are there some organisational needs that aren’t traditionally completed by volunteers, that could be? Or perhaps there is a specific set of skills than an individual or group in your community wants to contribute, can you tailor a volunteering role to match their skills? Different organisations will have different constraints, but invariably there are new ways to do things. This NCVO podcast features examples of how the National Trust and the RSPB have made their volunteering opportunities more flexible.

One of the voluntary sector’s great strengths is its flexibility and adaptability. I’m hoping you will use this as a prompt to think about what more you can do when it comes to making your volunteering opportunities accessible to all. Because the more we can grow volunteering, the better for our organisations and for the world around us. 

Civil Society Media is hosting its Charity People & Culture Conference on 18 September 2018. For more information, and to book, click here.



More on