Volunteering in Scotland Survey

This national omnibus survey of adults in Scotland fills some of the gaps in the national picture for volunteering.

This national omnibus also compliments the Scottish Household Survey, you can find the latest Scottish Household Survey findings in National Profile and Trends, and also at Scottish Government's website.

We will soon be bringing together the findings from both these survey's - to provide you with a full picture of the demographic, economic and social characteristics of volunteering in Scotland.


Important findings

Here we present the important findings from the omnibus survey, carried out in 2011. For a more interpretive account please download our conference paper and presentation from the panel on the right.


Informal volunteering

42% of adults in Scotland, almost 1.9 million people, said they volunteered ‘informally’ by helping out someone outside their home, who isn’t a relative. By informal volunteering we mean things like babysitting or childcare, transporting or escorting someone to an appointment, looking after someone's house or pet.

Figure 1 shows that 30% of those aged 65 and over volunteered informally and were less likely to volunteer than those aged 35-55 or 55-64. This suggests that those over 65 are more likely to benefit from, rather than participate in, informal volunteering. 

Figure 1: Informal volunteering by age

Adults, un-weighted base: All = 1003. 16 to 24 = 124. 25 to 34 = 157. 35 to 44 = 178. 45 to 54 = 183. 55 to 64 = 160. 65 plus = 231.

The survey also found that those in higher socioeconomic groups were more likely to volunteer informally than those in lower socioeconomic groups.


Formal volunteering

Our survey asked people about the volunteering they do with organisations or groups which is also known as formal volunteering.  We're interested in which sector they volunteer in - the public, private or voluntary sectors. 

As Figure 2 shows, the majority (81%) said they volunteered in the voluntary sector, with 15% volunteering in the public sector. Only around 7% volunteered in the private sector.

Figure 2: Formal volunteering by sector

Adults, un-weighted base: All = 223.

Public sector volunteering might include volunteering for a local school or hospital, local authority service area (e.g. archives, local path groups). Private sector volunteering might include volunteering at a private nursery or museum.  Voluntary sector volunteering might include volunteering with a community group or charity.  

Formal volunteering: where people volunteer

Overwhelmingly the findings suggest people volunteer locally: 86% said they carried out the their activities within their local authority area. This suggest that most volunteering activity is local and/or community based.

Formal volunteering: appetite for volunteering

A small proportion (7%) of those currently volunteering reported wanting to increase the number of organisations or groups they volunteered for, while around 19% of those not currently volunteering wanted to start or restart volunteering with an organisation or group.

Turnover of formal volunteers

  • Around 40% of people who weren’t currently volunteering had done so in the past, but had stopped.

  • 22% were currently volunteering (at the time of the survey) and 42% had volunteered in the last 12 months.


Awareness and use of ‘linking’ services

By linking services, we mean things which help volunteers find organisations to volunteer for, and vice versa.  We asked about awareness and use of the opportunities website Volunteerscotland.org and local centres (sometimes known as Volunteer Centres) which connect potential volunteers to current volunteering opportunities.

Overall, awareness and use of local centres and volunteerscotland.org was low, at 8% and 13% respectively. Current volunteers and those who had volunteered in the past were more likely to be aware of volunteer centres, as were those in more affluent groups and who lived in the North. 


So What?

Together with findings from the Charities Survey (which looks at the demand for volunteers amongst local charities), these findings strengthen the argument that there is a mismatch between supply of and demand for volunteers in Scotland.

The scope, design and marketing of linking services designed to help supply meet demand may need revisited to become more effective at helping organisations and groups find suitable volunteers.

The turnover of volunteers is relatively high.  We need better understanding of the different types of participation – for example event volunteering versus volunteering regularly for a local charity – which may help explain this figure.


Now what?

This research raises a number of questions, in particular around how we measure volunteering in Scotland.  For example:  why is the rate of informal volunteering relatively low compared to previous surveys and in England? The Scottish Household Survey indicates volunteering in Schools is one of the most popular areas for volunteering: why is the rate of public sector volunteering so low?