Estimated number of volunteers in Northern Ireland:
You can find the data used in these charts on NICVA's Data Portal.
This section examines aspects of volunteering in the voluntary and community sector.
The data presented in this section are derived from a number of sources including the State of the Sector survey which was disseminated in 2015. Additional data are drawn from research reports published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) and the Department for Communities which gather baseline information on volunteering levels throughout Northern Ireland. Data is also drawn from a research report published by the VSB Foundation and Volunteer Now on voluntary management committees in Northern Ireland.
This section of State of the Sector makes a distinction between those volunteers involved in the governance of an organisation (i.e. those who sit on a management committee or board) and all other volunteers involved in the general operations of an organisation. You can find out more about the methodology behind the Volunteers section here.
75.7% of organisations that responded to the State of the Sector Survey involved volunteers, with on average 42 volunteers involved in each of these organisations.
- Three-quarters of respondents (75.7%/n=624) to NICVA's State of the Sector Survey involved volunteers in their organisation.
- There is an estimated 187,477 volunteers (non governance) involved in the sector.
- The mean number of volunteers in organisations that involved volunteers was 42, which is a decrease from previous State of the Sector (2012) research (44).
- Respondents were more likely to involve female volunteers than males, with an average of 25 female volunteers involved in organisations compared to 17 males.
- Responding organisations with the highest average number of volunteers (100+) had an income of more than £1 million.
- Responding organisations that had an income of between £10,000- £20,000 had the lowest average number of volunteers (21 per organisation).
- The £100,001-£250,000 income band accounted for 26.4% of all volunteers despite representing just 11.9% of total responding organsiations to the State of the Sector Survey.
In the State of the Sector Survey, organisations were asked to rank their main area of work categories from one to five. By taking the first ranked category it is possible to identify average number of volunteers in each area of work.
- Respondents that ranked volunteer/ volunteer development as their main area of work category had the highest average number of volunteers (136) while the education/ training and young people (14-25 years) categories had the second and third highest number of average volunteers with 105 and 104 respectively.
1.2 Change in Volunteers Numbers
The majority of responding organisations expected volunteer numbers to increase or stay the same over the next year.
- A significant proportion of respondents expected their volunteer numbers to increase (44.3%) or stay the same (39.1%) in the next 12 months. These findings align closely to those presented in the previous State of the Sector research (2012) which indicates the continued importance of volunteers to the sector.
- Just 4.6% of respondents expected a decrease in volunteer numbers over the next 12 months, while 12.1% were unsure about how their numbers will change. This marks a decrease of 6.9 percentage points from 2012.
This section explores the profile, experiences and views of volunteers involved in the governance of voluntary and community organisations (i.e. those volunteers who sit on a management committee or board of trustees). This section draws upon findings presented in the Governance of the Voluntary and Community Sector in Northern research report (VSB Foundation and Volunteer Now, 2015). This research disseminated two surveys, one to governance trustees (n=621) and the other to organisations (n=130). In addition, focus groups were held with 31 volunteers who sit on management committees. Findings are also drawn from the 2015 State of the Sector Survey.
2.1 Profile of Governance Volunteers
Respondents had on average nine volunteers involved in the governance of their organisation. There was a close to equal gender balance of governance volunteers.
- Based on the State of the Sector Survey and using NICVA's administrative database, the estimated number of governance volunteers is 53,787.
- The average number of governance volunteers involved in organisations was nine. This finding mirrors those published by VSB Foundation and Volunteer Now (2015).
- On average there were four males and four females involved in the governance of organisations. Research conducted by VSB Foundation and Volunteer Now (2015) similarly found a close to equal gender balance of volunteers who were involved in governance.
- Respondents with an income of less than £1 million were likely to have between eight to ten volunteers involved in the governance of their organisation, while larger organisations with incomes of over £1 million were likely to have 12 or more governance volunteers.
- A considerable proportion of all governance volunteers (29.7%) were involved with organisations that had an income of less than £10,000. This is perhaps unsurprising given that one third of all respondents to the State of the Sector Survey fell within this income band.
The majority of governance volunteers were aged 45-64 years, while males were more likely to hold more senior roles.
- Research conducted by VSB Foundation and Volunteer Now (2015) found that males were more likely to hold chairperson, vice chairperson and treasurer positions, while females were more likely to hold the position of secretary.
- This research also found that the majority of governance volunteers were aged between 45-64 years, while just 24% were aged between 25-44 years.
- In regards to the working status of volunteers involved in governance, 60% were employed while one-third (33%) were retired.
2.2 Structure and Processes
The majority of committees met between 5-10 times per year. 35% of committee members served for a maximum of 1 year, while 22% of organisations allowed their committee members to serve for an indefinite period.
- The VSB and Volunteer Now Research (2015) found that close to three-quarters (71%) of committees met between five to ten times per year.
- Half of committees had formal sub-committees which focused on issues such as finance, personnel and future planning.
- In terms of the length of office of committee members, over one-third (35%) of committee members served a maximum of one year (re-elected each year), while 28% served for periods of between two to six years.
- Notably, 22% of organisations stated that their committee members could serve for an indefinite period while 15% of organisations had no policy on the issue.
75% of organisations faced difficulties recruiting new committee members. Word of mouth/ personal communication was the main method used to recruit new committee members.
- The VSB and Volunteer Now (2015) research found that a high proportion of organisations (75%) had faced difficulties when recruiting new committee members.
- The most common difficulty was finding people to make the commitment (75%).
- A high proportion of organisations stated that they had difficulty recruiting younger people (68%) while 66% of organisations stated that they experienced difficulties finding people who have the required skills and experience.
- The main recruitment methods used by respondents included word of mouth/ personal recommendation (87%), asking/ approaching suitable people (76%), personal contact with users/members (62%) and asking members/ people already involved in the organisation (62%) (VSB and Volunteer Now, 2015).
- Just over one-tenth (11%) of respondents had no formal process in place to select new committee members.
- Commitment to the cause of the organisation was the main motivation for becoming involved in a governance role (95%). The second and third most popular reasons were ‘wanting to be more involved in my community’ (66%) and ‘a sense of duty’ (65%).
2.4 Skills and Support
A high proportion of respondents offered a formal induction process for new committee members. Enthusiasm/ energy was identified as the most important skill relevant to sitting on a voluntary management committee.
- The VSB and Volunteer Now (2015) research found that 72% organisations operated a formal induction process for new committee members.
- The main methods in which committee members were trained included ‘personal briefing by other committee members’, ‘printed material’ and ‘personal briefing by staff’.
- A high proportion of respondents stated that they would like access to a handbook on current good practice in relation to management committees.
- The skills identified as the most relevant to sitting on a management committee included, ‘enthusiasm/ energy’ (97%), ‘knowledge of relevant work’ (94%) ‘managerial skills’ (83%), ‘knowledge of the local community’ (79%), ‘planning/policy making skills’ (76%) and ‘governance skills’ (75%).
As part of the Volunteering Strategy for Northern Ireland, the Voluntary and Community Department (VCD) of the Department for Communities (DfC) commissioned a project to monitor volunteering levels throughout Northern Ireland.
The primary data has been derived from a series of questions on volunteering that were included in the Northern Ireland Omnibus survey. This section will primarily draw on findings from the 2017 survey and will make comparisons with the previous surveys where possible.
It should be noted that there are several key differences between DfC's volunteering research and NICVA's. Firstly, NICVA's research aims to capture levels and trends in volunteering in the voluntary and community sector only, while DfC's research captures volunteering across all sectors. In addition, NIVCA's volunteering data is captured from organisations whereas DfC's research is captured from individuals across the Northern Ireland adult population. It is therefore reasonable to assume that NICVA's research is more likely to capture formal volunteering only (i.e. giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations) in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector while DfC's research is more likely to capture both formal and informal (i.e. giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not relatives) volunteering across all sectors.
3.1 Levels of Volunteering
Approximately one-third of respondents had undertaken voluntary work in the last year.
- Over a quarter (27%) of respondents indicated that they had undertaken voluntary work in the past 12 months. This finding represents a decrease from the previous survey (32%) undertaken in 2015.
- There was close to equal gender balance, with 26% of males and 28% of females involved in volunteering.
- Respondents in paid employment (36%) were more likely to volunteer than those not in paid employment (22%).
- Respondents without a disability (30%) were found to be more likely to volunteer than those with a disability (18%).
- A similar proportion of those living in rural areas (28%) were likely to volunteer as those living in urban areas (27%).
3.2 Types of Volunteering
The most common type of voluntary work undertaken was 'helping a church or religious organisation', with a higher proportion of Protestants more likely to be involved in this type of work compared to Catholics.
- The top four types of voluntary work undertaken in the previous year included “helping in a church or religious organisation” (37%), 'fundraising' (36%), 'working with young people' (26%) and 'organising or helping to run a community event' (25%).
- A higher proportion of Protestants (56%) were more likely to volunteer by 'helping in a church or religious organisation'' than Catholics (19%).
- A higher proportion of females (18%) had volunteered in the last year by 'befriending or mentoring' than males (8%)
3.3 Volunteer Experiences
Almost half (43%) of respondents who had volunteered over the last year had spent less than eight hours volunteering in the last four weeks, whilst 17% of respondents had not volunteered in the last four weeks.
- 17% of respondents who had volunteered in the previous year had spent no time volunteering in the last four weeks, whilst 43% had spent less than 8 hours volunteering
- 26% spent between 8-16 hours volunteering in the last four weeks
- 6% spent between 17-24 hours volunteering in the last four weeks
- 3% spent more than 25 hours volunteering in the last four weeks
Most volunteers (85%) felt that their efforts were appreciated by organisations.
- A large majority of volunteers (85%) felt that their 'efforts were recognised/appreciated by the main organisation' for which they volunteered
- Almost three quarters (71%) of respondents stated that they were able to 'cope with the things they were asked to do'
- Almost half (47%) of respondents who volunteered stated that they were ‘given the opportunity to do the sort of things I’d like’.
- A small proportion of volunteers stated that they were considering stopping volunteering (4%).
Less than one-tenth (9%) of volunteers were reimbursed for their expenditure.
- Almost half (47%) of volunteers had completed a police check/ Access NI check, while 35% attended an interview for the volunteering role.
- In terms of the support volunteers received, just 16% had a named person they were able to go to for support while 9% received regular feedback on their performance.
- Less than one-tenth (9%) of volunteers were reimbursed for their expenditure and just 23% of respondents stated that there was a volunteering policy in place in the main organisation where they volunteered.
Respondents were most likely to find out about volunteering through others who were already involved in the organisation.
- The three main ways people found out about their volunteering role were through somebody already involved in the organisation (43%), word of mouth (38%) and through a church or religious organisation (32%).
- The least common methods included social media (2%), a volunteer centre (2%) and through local newspapers/radio/TV (2%).
3.4 Barriers and Enablers
Lack of time (36%) was cited as the main factor which prevented people from volunteering.
- Respondents who reported that they had not undertaken any volunteering in the last year (n=700) were asked to state why this was the case. The top three reasons for not volunteering included ' don’t have the time' (36%), 'I have work commitments' (32%) and 'I have to look after children/the home' (24%).
- Respondents who had not volunteered in the last 12 months (n=700) were also asked to indicate factors that would encourage them to volunteer. 10% of respondents stated that they 'don’t want to do voluntary work' and 8% said that the believed they were 'too old to get involved'.