Is Volunteering changing face?
For years, the cliché of volunteers being retirees in their mid-60s presided over the voluntary sector. The image of ‘well-to-do’ types sorting through bags of second-hand clothes and sitting on the panels of village committees is fast becoming a redundant stereotype, as volunteer demographics are becoming ever more diverse.
Statistics around volunteering are notoriously pliable and open to (mis)interpretation, but as volunteer coordinators will attest, recent times have seen a huge shift in volunteering trends. The Office of National Statistics calculates that volunteering is worth £23.9 billion per year – a figure that points to a much wider and more diverse volunteer pool than traditional thought adheres to. This, in itself, raises an interesting question: who are these new breed of volunteers, and where do they come from?
While the key motivations to volunteering remain altruistic, other factors have provided a driving force behind the evolution of the volunteer in recent years:
- Competitive job market – a tough job market has encouraged more people to volunteer as a means to developing new skills, boosting their CVs, and enhancing their employability.
- Easier access to volunteering opportunities – one of the main barriers that has prevented people volunteering in the past has been other commitments on their time – both work and family related. The explosion of micro-volunteering and digital opportunities has made volunteering accessible to more people
- Increase in young people volunteering – the proportion of young people involved in regular volunteering is at its highest since 2003, with 35% saying that they now volunteer at least once a month. In addition to the drivers outlined above, there are other factors that could account for this upturn:
- increased social awareness among young volunteers
- Government campaigns, such as The National Citizen Service (NCS)
- online platforms, such as Do-It and VInspired (which were developed with youth action as their core objective)
- Raised profile of volunteering – from the feted ‘Big Society’ ideology of the coalition government to the highly visible contribution of the 70,000 Games Makers during the 2012 Olympics, the profile of volunteering has received a huge boost, which has done much to encourage people to volunteer
- The rise of Employer Supported Volunteering – around 70% of FTSE 100 companies and 20% of SMEs now offer opportunities to volunteer to their staff. The results of this are evident at Business in the Community through the success of our volunteering action days, such as Be a Saint and Give & Gain. Following the government’s pledge to mandate larger companies to offer employees a volunteering entitlement of three days a year, Employer Supported Volunteering looks set for continued growth
The apparent volume and diversity of the volunteer pool holds serious benefits for the charity sector. The range of backgrounds, skills and experience now available to charities through their engagement with volunteers offers them an opportunity to develop and enhance their existing services and to develop new ones. A diverse range of skills among volunteers opens up greater opportunity for charities to access pro-bono support and to engage in activities that may have previously been financially prohibitive. If charities are able to attract younger volunteers, it opens up an opportunity for them to develop lifelong supporters to their cause and this, in turn, gives them the potential for raising their profile through the network of contacts that these volunteers interact with, both in real terms and via social media.
If you want to join the volunteering revolution and to use your skills and expertise to support your local community, contact Andy Nisbet, Employee Volunteering Executive, at Business in the Community.