This June’s Volunteer Week celebrated the enormous contribution volunteers make to charities and public life. But research published last month shows charity leaders are uncertain of their role in the sector amid pressure to prop up key public services.

One in four people volunteered once a month and more than 21 million people volunteered in 2015 and 2016, supporting vital services from housing crisis teams, mountain rescue, to conservation workers and librarians.

A 2013 King’s fund survey estimated there were three million volunteers working in the health and social care sector alone, equal to the combined NHS and social care workforce.

Stuart Etherington, the chief executive of the NCVO, emphasized the distinctive contribution of volunteers to public services. ‘Volunteering is not a cheap substitute for staff, nor is it a way of cutting costs. Volunteering is about making a bigger impact on our public services, about serving and reaching more people.

‘Our biggest role going forward may be reducing demand for public services by helping communities become more resilient, not just delivering more.’

Research published last month by New Philanthropy Capital shows charity leaders are uncertain of their role as they compete to provide public services and public confidence in the charity sector remains an issue.

Charities now receive 81 per cent of their government funding through contracts to provide services, rather than from grants. In 2004 and 2005 grants and contracts from government had generated roughly equal amounts, £6.1bn and £5.8bn respectively.

But the research, which surveyed over 300 charity leaders, found over two thirds of charities who deliver public sector contracts say they need to use other sources of income, such as fundraising, to deliver these.

When asked what the most important thing to help the charity sector increase its impact on society was, only four percent of respondents asked said engaging users, stakeholders and volunteers. Whereas 31 percent chose funding while 23 percent said it was their public profile.


Do more

Find out about volunteering opportunities near you or how to recruit volunteers to your organisation through the NCVO website.