This section examines aspect of volunteering in the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector in Northern Ireland. This update focuses on volunteering pre, during and post Covid-19 pandemic. The data presented in this update are derived from several research reports published including Experience of volunteering by adults in Northern Ireland 2019/20 | Department for Communities (communities-ni.gov.uk), Volunteering During a Pandemic and Beyond (2021) - Volunteer Now and NICVA Reports the Impact of Covid-19 on Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations | NICVA.
1.0 Experience of Volunteering by Adults in Northern Ireland Findings from the Continuous Household Survey 2019/20 (NISRA 2020)
In 2020, NISRA reported the levels of volunteering by adults in Northern Ireland a part of their Continuous Household Survey 2019/2020. It was reported that 28% of the NI adult population volunteered during the financial year 2019/2020. Adults aged between 45-54 years (30%) were the most likely to volunteer and those aged between 25-34 years (24%) were the least likely age group to volunteer. Those from the protestant community (32%) were more likely to volunteer than those from the catholic community (24%). Adults who were married (30%) were more likely to volunteer compared with those who were separated or divorced (18%). During the previous four weeks, 40% of adults volunteered for less than 8 hours and 23% volunteered for 8-16 hours.
1.1 Organisation Type
Church/faith based (39%) organisations were the most common type of organisations that individuals volunteered with. More specifically, 29% volunteered with sports organisations and 17% volunteered with local community, neighbourhood, or citizens groups. Females (43%) were more likely to volunteers in church/faith-based organisations than males (35%). Whereas a higher proportion of males (35%) volunteered as sports organisations than females (20%).
Participants mostly identified volunteering opportunities through knowing a person already involved in the organisation (45%), from a church or religious organisation (34%) and by word of mouth (33%).
1.2 Personal Benefits of Volunteering
Participants within the Continuous Household Survey 2019/2020 reported that there were many positive benefits for them as a result of volunteering in the previous 12 months. The top five most prevalent benefits of volunteering cited were, “Makes me feel better about myself” (67%), “Helps me make a positive contribution to society” (65%), “I had fun” (63%), “I made new friends” (60%) and “I learned new skills/developed existing skills” (49%). “Helps me make a positive contribution to society” was predominantly cited by females (70%), those with a disability (73%) and those living in deprived areas (77%).
1.3 Reasons for not Volunteering
Participants within the Continuous Household Survey 2019/2020 who had not undertaken any volunteer work in the previous 12 months cited several reasons for this. “I don’t have the time” (40%), “I have work commitments” (36%) and “I have to look after children/the home” (23%) were cited as the top three reasons for not volunteering. A further 9% indicated that they “don’t want to do voluntary work”.
“I have to look after children/the home” was predominately cited by females (32%) and adults with dependents (51%). Those without dependents cited reasons such as “I have an illness or disability that prevents me from volunteering” (15%), “I don’t want to do voluntary work” (11%) and “I feel I am too old to get involved” (11%). Participants who were economically active states that “work commitments” (60%), “not having the time” (54%) and “looking after children/the home” (27%) as reasons for not volunteering. Those who were not economically active cited reasons such as ‘I have an illness or disability that prevents me from volunteering’ (25%), ‘I feel I’m too old to get involved’ (16%), ‘I don’t want to do voluntary work’ (13%) and ‘I'd be worried that it might affect my social security benefits’ (1%).
2.0 Volunteering During the Pandemic and Beyond- A Northern Ireland Perspective (Volunteer Now 2021)
In 2020, Volunteer Now commissioned a survey regarding volunteering before, during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. A representative sample of 1,003 adults aged 18 years + from Northern Ireland were surveyed to measure the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on volunteering levels in Northern Ireland. Volunteering in this instance was specifically categorised as:
- Volunteering with a charity, formally organised group, club, or an organisation such as the NHS (categorised as Formal Volunteering)
- Volunteering through an informal group established by people in your area to support and help others in your local community (categorised as Mutual Aid)
- Volunteering as an individual to help others outside of your family, or to support your local community (categorised as Informal Volunteering)
2.1 Levels and Types of Volunteering During the Covid-19 Pandemic
It was reported that 40% of those surveyed had volunteered during the pandemic in any/all of the three categories (formal volunteering, mutual aid, and informal volunteering). Of those who reported that they had not volunteered (60%), 29% indicated that they had provided assistance with activities including food shopping, befriending those at risk of loneliness, household tasks, collect/deliver prescriptions, pet care, tutoring children/adults etc.
The types of volunteering undertaken by respondents are presented in Table 1 below.
|Type of Volunteering||Percentage %|
|Befriending those at risk of loneliness||54|
|Food support (not shopping)||33|
|Walk dogs/pet care||26|
|Walk dogs/pet care||26|
|Organisations supporting disability etc.||20|
|Transport to medical appointments||19|
|Organisations giving physical/emotional support||18|
|Admin/IT support organisations/charities||16|
|Phone/online support services||12|
2.2 Levels and Frequency of Volunteering Pre Covid-19
The levels of formal volunteering pre Covid-19 (22%) was higher than during the pandemic (18%). Additionally, the percentage of participants volunteering with informally organised groups pre Covid-19 (17%) was marginally lower than during the Covid-19 pandemic (19%).
In regards to frequency of pre Covid-19 volunteering, 38% of participants indicated that they volunteered (formal volunteering) at least once per week, 42% volunteered (mutual aid) at least once per week and 44% volunteered (informal volunteering) at least once per week. In terms of volunteering less than once per month, 21% undertook formal volunteering, 19% in mutual aid and 17% in informal volunteering.
|Type||Frequency of Pre Covid-19 Volunteering %|
|At least once per week||38%|
|Less than once per week, but at least once per month||39%|
|Less than once per month||21%|
|At least once per week||42%|
|Less than once per week, but at least once per month||37%|
|Less than once per month||19%|
|At least once per week||44%|
|Less than once per week, but at least once per month||36%|
|Less than once per month||17%|
2.3 Levels of Volunteering Post Covid-19
Participants were asked their intention to volunteer in any or all of the three categories (formal volunteering, mutual aid, and informal volunteering) post Covid-19 and the lifting of lockdown measures. In response, 27% of participants indicated that they would volunteer (formal volunteering), 24% (mutual aid) and 35% (informal volunteering) respectively
3.0 NICVA Reports the Impact of Covid-19 on Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations (NICVA 2021)
In 2020 and 2021, NICVA undertook several surveys of their membership to gauge the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic on Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector organisations in Norther Ireland. For the purpose of this report, we will focus on the findings regarding volunteers and levels of volunteering.
NICVA’s Covid-19 Survey March 2020 reported that almost 30% of organisations needed advice and guidance on managing staff and volunteers in the face of a pandemic. Many organisations voiced their concerns around the potential loss of volunteers due to the pandemic. Actions taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic limited access and training opportunities for volunteers. Consequently, it meant that organisations had to adapt and work differently or more creatively with their volunteers to ensure service delivery and keeping their organisation afloat.
In April and May 2020, organisations identified the issues facing them regarding volunteers at the beginning of the pandemic. Initially, organisations had concerns regarding the wellbeing and safety of volunteers as the undertook their tasks. There was also a fear that many volunteers may not return to their duties post pandemic. Organisations reported that they had difficulty maintaining contact, updating, and engaging with their volunteers. In some cases, volunteers were sourced to undertake the work of staff who were furloughed. However, with increasing demand for services, organisations lacked the capacity to deliver services using only volunteers.
Furthermore, these volunteers were not properly trained which made it more challenging for organisations to fulfil their duties, further delayed by the need for some volunteers to be Access NI checked. In the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, most organisations worked remotely but many volunteers also lacked training in IT making this method of operating quite challenging.
In NICVA’s Covid-19 Survey August 2020, almost 60% of member organisations reported that their volunteers were unable to volunteer to undertake their duties. Some current pressing issues facing organisations at that time included shielding vulnerable volunteers who were unable to help in the community, upskilling volunteers and ensuring and maintaining the wellbeing of volunteers.
Further Covid-19 surveys in November 2020 and June 2021 indicated that 40% of member organisations indicated that between 76-100% of their volunteers were unable to volunteer (November 2020) and almost 65% of organisations reported that their volunteer levels had been impacted in the last financial year (June 2021).