Researching diversity and volunteering

In January 2019 we launched our major research report, Time Well Spent, which looked at the experience of volunteers based on a survey of over 10,000 people across Great Britain. Since then, we’ve been building on some of the themes raised by the original research and added new and existing evidence. This has led to a series of focused reports: the first on employer-supported volunteering (also the topic of a recent National Volunteering Forum) and the second on volunteering in the public sector, due to be released in January.

The topics we’ve been exploring to date have been informed by what our stakeholders have told us are areas of interest and relevance to them. None more so than the next theme we’ll be exploring in 2020: diversity and volunteering. By diversity, we cover inclusion, equity and equal opportunities. As part of this research, we want to hear from you about what your organisation is doing in terms of diversity and volunteering. The more evidence we can gather, the stronger the insights we’ll produce.

Here’s a summary of what we’ve got planned.

What we already know

Our findings from Time Well Spent confirm previous research which highlights that diversity is an issue in volunteer participation. Volunteers are more likely to be older, well-educated and from higher socio-economic groups. Those from lower socio-economic groups are also less likely to be in certain leadership or representative roles, like being a trustee. Research on volunteering, and on participation more broadly, consistently indicates that inequalities of resources and power mean that some people are more likely to be excluded from certain activities.

Our research also indicates that issues relating to diversity aren’t just about participation but extend to volunteers’ experiences too. Disabled volunteers tend to be less positive in their views about certain aspects of their experience, and there are also indications that those from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are less likely to be satisfied than white volunteers, however further research is needed to support this.

Why we need to know more

We know from our conversations with stakeholders that addressing issues around diversity and volunteering, while not new, is at the forefront of many organisations’ minds. Despite this focus, more can and needs to be done for change to happen. At NCVO, it’s important that we’re part of this drive to make it happen, and that we’re looking at the area of diversity (in relation to volunteering but also beyond) seriously – both for the sector, and for ourselves. This piece of research – while certainly not able to provide answers to all the challenges faced – aims to provide more space to explore the issues from different perspectives, inform practice and policy, and support organisations in making changes.

What we’re doing

Looking at an area as broad and as complex as diversity and volunteering means a single report, as with our previous focused areas, will not do it justice. So, we’re taking a slightly different approach, looking at diversity and volunteering in stages. This way we can take the time to look at the issues in more depth, and learn as we go along.

The first stage (spring 2020) will look at the perspective of organisations by:

  • reviewing existing evidence
  • getting feedback from organisations about what they’re doing and their experiences to date
  • conducting ‘expert’ interviews
  • developing case examples.

The purpose of this is to understand what diversity means to volunteer-involving organisations, and explore their aims, priorities and experiences in this area. We want to know both what’s worked well, and the challenges and barriers to progress.

Looking at the organisational perspective doesn’t mean we are moving away from the volunteer experience as we’ll build on what we’ve learned already from volunteers through Time Well Spent. But engaging with organisations will allow us to explore diversity in a wider sense, before narrowing our focus in the next stage.

The second stage (summer/autumn 2020) will take a more focused approach, informed by what stakeholders have said they’d like us to prioritise during the first stage. Examples could be the non-volunteer perspective (such as what stops certain groups from getting involved in volunteering), or a particular area of diversity, such as volunteering and disability.

Get involved

A key part of the first stage of our research is that we want to hear from volunteer-involving organisations about what they’re doing, and their experiences. If you’re interested in sharing your perspective and/or want to be kept informed about the research, please fill out this short form.

For anything else or any questions including about any of the series of reports we’ve planned, please email me at

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Avatar photo Amy works as a research manager and is leading on NCVO’s major piece of research about the volunteer experience. She also contributes to other parts of NCVO’s research programme on voluntary sector and volunteering.

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