Estimated size of the Voluntary and Community Sector workforce:




You can find the data used in the charts in this section on NICVA's Data Portal.

The data presented in this section illustrates the estimated size and characteristics of the workforce in the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland. Data used within this section is primarily taken from NICVA’s 2014 Workforce Survey as well as data held on the NICVA database.

Every two to three years NICVA conducts a Workforce Survey which provides a comprehensive overview of the voluntary and community sector workforce in Northern Ireland. The 2014 Workforce Survey explored a broad range of issues including workforce profile, salaries, pensions, recruitment, retention, restructuring, training, benefits and future trends.  The survey was sent to 3,327 organisations across the sector and generated a response rate of 17.2% (n= 572).  The survey comprised of two parts. Organisations were first asked to complete an online questionnaire covering a wide range of areas such as staff benefits, training, recruitment and retention. Organisations that completed the questionnaire were subsequently asked to complete a salary grid for each member of staff in their organisation. The salary grid was returned for 946 staff. You can read more about the methodology behind the Workforce section here

Where it is appropriate direct comparisons have been made with previous Workforce Surveys, State of the Sector reports and with other sectors.

 1.0  Workforce Composition

The voluntary and community sector remains an important employer in Northern Ireland, with an estimated 44,703 employees. This figure represents 5.3% of the total Northern Ireland workforce.  


Based on findings from NICVA's 2014 Workforce Survey, 56.3% (n=322) of respondents employed paid staff. The average number of staff in these organisations was 17.12, which is an increase of 2.12 from the 2012 Workforce Survey.


60% of staff were employed on a full-time basis.

  • 60% of staff employed in organisations that responded to NICVA's Workforce Survey held full-time roles.
  • The proportion of employees in full time roles has increased by three percentage points from the 2012 Workforce Survey while the proportion of employees in part-time role has experienced a slight decrease from 43% to 40%.
  • The proportion of full-time roles is closely in line with the proportion of paid staff full-time roles in the voluntary and community sector at UK level (61%) and the overall Northern Ireland workforce (64%).

Women comprised three quarters of paid employees.

  • Women represented 75% of paid staff in organisations that responded to the 2014 Workforce Survey.
  • This difference in gender composition is more pronounced than at UK level, where 68% of the voluntary and community sector workforce is comprised of females (NCVO, 2016)
  • For the overall Northern Ireland workforce the gender composition is more evenly balanced with 51.5% of the workforce female and 48.5% male (DETI, 2014).

Males were more likely to hold full-time jobs than females.

  • Analysis of job status within the gender groups revealed that men were more likely to hold full-time positions than women, with 75.4% of males holding full-time roles compared to 55.6% of females.
  • 44% of females held part-time jobs compared to 24.6% of all males.  
  • The close to even distribution of females across full-time and part-time roles (56%/44%) is reflected in the overall Northern Ireland female workforce (DETI, 2014).

The proportion of employees within organisations that have an income of >£1million has steadily decreased since 2008, from 52.6% to 35.1%, while the proportion of employees in organisations with an income of £500,001-£1 million has increased sharply from 9.9% in 2012 to 29.5% in 2014.




46.3% of organisations employed between 1-5 paid staff.

  • Close to half of the 2014 Workforce Survey respondents employed between one to five paid staff (46.3%). This marks a decrease of 8.5 percentage points from 2012, with a higher proportion of organisations employing between six and twenty staff compared to 2012.  
  • Notably the proportions of organisations that fall within the highest two employee brackets have experienced minimal change since 2012.

Women were under represented at Chief Executive (44%) level, while the gender composition of Director (74%) and Senior Function Head (73%) roles was more reflective of the overall gender breakdown. 

  • Analysis of gender composition at different job levels revealed that despite representing 75% of total paid staff, just 44% of Chief Executives were female. This marks a widening gap in relation to the gender composition of Chief Executives, from 6 to 12 percentage points between 2012 and 2014.
  • Findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey show that the proportion of females in the Director (74%) and Senior Function Head (73%) roles has increased by 5% and 3% percentage points respectively since the 2012 Workforce Survey, which marks a more proportionate representation of females at these job levels.
  • Women continue to be over represented in many of the lower level roles including Clerical supervisor/ Training (79%), Administration officer/ Care Officer (85%) and Personal Assistant/ Secretary (90%).

While the 2014 Workforce Survey findings suggest a decrease in the proportion of females in Chief Executive roles, these findings compare favourably to other sectors in Northern Ireland. For example, a survey conducted by the Northern Ireland Assembly (NI Assembly, 2015) of the top 100 private companies in Northern Ireland found that 15.4% of board members registered at Companies House were women. The under-representation of women on boards is considered to be an indicator of their under-representation in the pipeline to senior leadership and management roles. The gender composition within senior roles in the public sector is more balanced with women comprising 31.7% of Grades 3-5 (Director and Deputy Director), while 36% of the new councils in Northern Ireland have female Chief Executives. Across all sectors in Northern Ireland, the 2011 Census records 23,625 managers, directors and senior officials as female, which amounts to 37% (NINIS, 2011).



Findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey suggest that the voluntary and community sector workforce is older than the overall NI workforce and younger than the voluntary and community sector workforce across the rest of the UK.  

  • Under half of paid employees were aged 40 years and under (45.3%), while across all sectors in Northern Ireland the corresponding figure is 53.7% (NI Census, 2011).
  • Just over one-quarter (26.5%) were aged over 50 years, and the corresponding figure at UK level for the voluntary and community sector workforce is 37.1% (NCVO, 2015).
  • These findings suggest that the workforce of the voluntary and community sector is older in comparison to the overall Northern Ireland workforce, and is younger in comparison to the rest of the UK voluntary and community sector workforce. 

 2.0  Recruitment and Retention

Local Newspapers was the most popular recruitment method used by respondents, while 'Lack of Suitably Skilled Applicants' and 'Insufficient Number of Applicants' were identified as the most common recruitment difficulties. The main impact of organisations not being able to fill posts was 'Increased Workload for Other Staff'.  

  • The most popular method used to recruit new staff was local newspapers, with over half (59.3%) of organisations selecting this option.
  • Organisations’ websites (52.2%), Job Centre (48.4%) and the Community NI website (41.6%) were also popular recruitment methods. 
  • One-quarter of organisations did not recruit over the past 12 months (24.8%). This represents a decrease of 10.8 percentage points since 2012. Of those that did recruit, 19% stated that they experienced recruitment difficulties which marks an increase of 5.1 percentage points from 2012.
  • The most common recruitment difficulties were ‘lack of suitably skilled applicants’ (51.1%) and ‘insufficient number of applicants’ (51.1%).
  • Both of these issues had increased by approximately 25 percentage points since the 2012 Salary Survey.
  • The third most common difficulty was ‘lack of suitably qualified applicants’ (48.9%) which represents an increase of 15.6 percentage points from the 2012 Salary Survey. In 2012 ‘salary levels’ was ranked the most common recruitment difficulty, however the latest findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey rank it as the fifth most common difficulty with 28.9% of organisations selecting this option.
  • The majority of respondents (82.2%) stated that the main impact of not being able to fill vacancies was ‘increased workload for other staff’.  
  • Other impacts of not being able to fill vacancies included ‘staff motivation’ (46.7%), ‘delays in developing new products and services’ (44.4%)  and ‘risk of not being able to fulfil contract arrangements/ service user needs’ (42.2%). 
  • Over one-quarter of organisations (27.3%) anticipated facing at least some challenges in relation to the recruitment of new staff in the next 12 months.


Impact of Recruitment Difficulties on Organisations
Source: NICVA, Workforce Survey 2014

ImpactPercent of Organistaions
Increased workload for other staff82.2%
Staff motivation46.7%
Delay developing new products and services44.4%
Risk of not being able to fulfil contract arrangements/service users’ needs44.2%
Increased operating costs17.8%
Having difficulties introducing new working practices13.3%
Having difficulties meeting quality standards13.3%
Other impact2.2%


Close to one-fifth (19.1%) of respondents experienced difficulties around staff retention, which marks an increase from the 2012 Workforce Survey. Funding, Salary Levels and Lack of Career Progression were identified as the main contributing factors to staff retention difficulties. 

  • From 2006 to 2012 there had been a decline in the proportion of organisations experiencing challenges around the retention of staff, from 23.9% to 13%. The results for the 2014 Salary Survey do not follow this trend with an increase of 6.1 percentage points from 2012 in the proportion of organisations stating that they have encountered difficulties retaining staff (19.1%).
  • The most common problem around staff retention was funding, with over half of organisations (52.5%) selecting this option in 2014. 
  • Around one-quarter of organisations stated that ‘salary levels’ (27.9%), ‘lack of career progression’ (26.2%) and ‘competition from other organisations’ (26.2%) made it difficult to retain staff.
  • Notably the top three problems cited around staff retention were the same in the 2012 and 2014 Workforce Surveys.






54% of respondents stated that no staff had left their organisation voluntarily in the previous 12 months, while 41.4% had lost up to five staff. Learning and development opportunities was cited as the most common method organisations used to retain staff (68.9%). 

  • Over half of organisations (54%) stated that no staff had voluntarily left their organisations in the previous 12 months and 41.4% stated that they had lost up to five staff.  A small proportion of respondents had lost more than 16 staff (0.9%).  
  • Close to one-third (31.2%) of organisations had put in place specific initiatives to address staff retention, the most common of which included ‘increase learning and development opportunities’ (68.9%), ‘improve internal communication’ (64.1%) and ‘improve supervision and appraisal processes’ (56.3%). 

Staff retention initiatives
Source: NICVA, Workforce Survey 2014

InitiativePercent of Organisations
Increase learning and development opportunities68.9
Improve internal communication64.1
Improve supervision and appraisal processes56.3
Improve line managers’ people skills42.7
Improve the induction process38.8
Improve reward package24.3
Health and well-being programme23.3
Applying for funding7.8



 3.0  Training

The majority of respondents provided their staff with access to training (95.5%) and 55.4% had a skills development strategy in place.  Budget constraints was identified by over half of respondents (59%) as the main barrier to training. 

  • The 2014 Workforce Survey found that the majority (95.5%) of respondents provided their staff with access to training and 55.4% had a skills development strategy in place. 
  • A high proportion of responding organisations had a training budget (59%).
  • Over one-third (34.9%) expected their training budget to decrease in the next 12 months.
  • Budget constraints was reported as the most common barrier to training (55.9%) and 38.8% of organisations stated that training was too expensive.
  • Close to one-third (32.6%) stated that they were not in a position to release staff to attend training courses. 


 4.0  Restructuring

One-third of respondents to the 2014 Workforce Survey had restructured in the last 12 months. 

  • In light of the financial difficulties experienced by the sector, in 2014 organisational restructuring was explored for the first time in the Workforce Survey research series.
  • The Survey found that one-third of respondents (n=106) had undertaken an organisational restructure in the past 12 months.
  • Changing roles and responsibilities was the most common reason for restructuring (65.1%). 
  • The second most popular response was ‘new management methods/ structure’ (38.7%), while just under one-fifth stated that they were ‘downsizing due to reduced funding’ (19.8%). 


A large proportion of organisations (71.8%/ n=55) had not lost staff as a result of the restructuring process, while just over one-tenth (11.7%) had lost between 1% to 5% of their staff. Notably one organisation had lost over half of its staff. 




 5.0  Benefits

The benefit most likely to be offered above the statutory requirement was annual leave (47.6%). 

  • Annual leave was the benefit respondents were most likely to offer above the statutory requirement (47.6%).
  • Over one-third (38%) of respondents offered sick leave and pay above statutory level, while one-quarter of organisations offered maternity/ adoption leave and pay above the statutory requirement (26.1%).
  • The benefits that respondents were least likely to offer above the statutory requirement included a redundancy package (10.4%) and parental leave (13.2%). 


The most popular form of compensation offered to staff that work anti-social hours was time off in lieu (83.2%). Close to one-tenth of respondents did not compensate staff for working unsocial hours.

  • A large percentage of organisations offered their staff time off in lieu (83.2%).
  • Renumeration for overtime was less popular with only 13.7% of respondents compensating staff in this way.
  • A small proportion of organisations (1.6%) gave a one-off anti-social hours payment.
  • Close to one-tenth (9%) of organisations did not compensate their staff for working unsocial hours. 

Flexible working hours was the family friendly benefit most likely to be offered by respondents (67.1%). 

  • Flexible working hours was the most popular family friendly benefit, with over two-thirds (67.1%) of respondents offering this which marks an increase of 16.4 percentage points since 2012.
  • Over half of respondents (52.2%) offered special compassionate leave which marks an increase of 7.1 percentage points since 2012. 
  • Parental leave was another popular benefit with 30.7% of organisations offering this, while 21.1% offered help with childcare through childcare voucher schemes.
  • The least popular benefits included childcare provision and on site crèche with just 5.3% and 2.2% of respondents offering these respectively.

14.5% of organisations had a formal working from home policy which marks an increase of 4.5 percentage points from 2012. Of those organisations that had implemented this policy two thirds (68.9%) had the appropriate insurance to cover staff working at home, while 24.4% of respondents were unsure if they had the appropriate insurance cover.


 6.0  Salaries

The median gross annual salary for all employees was £19,012 and £23,188 for full-time employees only. 

  • Findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey revealed that the median gross annual salary for all employees was £19,012 which is £3,057 less than the UK average across all sectors (£22,069) (ONS, 2015) and £473 less than the Northern Ireland average for all sectors (£19,485) (NISRA, 2016).
  • Similarly, the median gross annual salary for full-time employees in the voluntary and community sector (£23,188) was lower when compared to the workforce across all sectors in the rest of the UK (£27,215) (ONS, 2015) and Northern Ireland (£24,491) (NISRA, 2016). These findings are in line with previous Workforce Surveys.

Over half of respondents did not award a salary increase in 2014. 

  • Findings from the 2014 Workforce Survey revealed that a significant proportion of organisations (58.1%) did not award a salary increase in 2014 which marked a small decrease of 3.9 percentage points since 2012.
  • The proportion of organisations awarding a salary increase of more than 2% fell by 7.6 percentage points from 2012. This suggests that while there has been a slight increase in organisations awarding a salary increase, fewer employees received an increase of more than 2%. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the 2014 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings found that UK wage growth was at its lowest annual level since the survey began in 1997 and Northern Ireland was the only region to experience a drop in pay over the year (NICVA, 2015)
  • A high proportion of respondents (73.4%) stated that either they did not have plans to award staff an increase in basic pay in the next 12-24 months or they were unsure.

The median salary for full-time Chief Executives in 2014 was £43,000. 

  • Full-time males were found to earn on average £2,269 more than females.
  • The median salary for full-time Chief Executives in 2014 was £43,000, however when analysing Chief Executive salaries according to gender females earned £46,612 on average, which is £6,210 more than the male median salary.
  • Across all job levels, females in Senior Function Head and Junior/ Trainee roles earned more than their male counterparts. 

The National Joint Council was the most common pay scale to which respondents aligned their employees' salaries. 

  • The proportion of organisations that reported linking to a specific pay scale increased since the last Workforce Survey, with 61.5% of organisations using a pay scale as a benchmark for staff salaries compared to 55.7% in 2012.  
  • The majority of organisations (91.7%) aligned their salary scales with NJC (National Joint Council), and this finding is in line with previous Workforce Surveys. 

A salary scale is used to determine how much an employee will earn in his or her job. Subject to satisfactory service, pay increments are normally awarded annually until an individual meets the maximum point on a pay scale. In the absence of a voluntary and community sector pay scale, many voluntary organisations use salary scales linked to local authority, civil service or specific groups for levels of pay.  They are also used to seek comparisons with scales from other sectors, to help describe posts for recruitment and equivalence, to provide a benchmark for their own salaries and for incremental pay increases negotiated each year by trade unions.



 7.0  Pensions

44.9% of respondents to the 2014 Workforce Survey did not have a pension scheme in place.

  • In the 2014 Workforce Survey questions were included on organisations’ existing pension schemes and awareness of the automatic enrolment pension scheme.  Notably at this time close to half of organisations did not have a pension scheme in place (44.9%).
  • The majority (75.4%) were aware of the automatic enrolment scheme and their staging date (83.3%).


 8.0  Future Trends

Constrained public spending was identified as the issue most likely to negatively affect the voluntary and community sector workforce.

  • The majority of respondents (79.5%) stated that they expected constrained public spending to have an impact on the sector’s workforce.
  • ‘Levels and sources’ of income also ranked highly with 70.8% of respondents selecting this option.
  • Close to half of respondents felt that efficiency and value for money and public service delivery would also impact the sector’s workforce.