Volunteering in Scotland Survey

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

Here we present the important findings from the survey, which was 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

Base: All = 1,003. 16-24 = 124. 25-34 = 157. 35-44 = 178. 45-54 = 183. 55-64 = 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

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 suggests 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.net 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.