Volunteering in Scottish Charities

What challenges are local charities facing when involving and managing volunteers?

Our survey, the first research of its kind in Scotland, aims to better understand volunteering in local charities and the challenges they face in involving and managing volunteers.


Volunteering in Scottish Charities 2013



Volunteer support

We found that local charities in Scotland rely heavily on support from volunteers to deliver local services.

  • All charities reported involving volunteers to help govern the organisation, and most charities reported involving volunteers in roles to support and run the organisation. 
  • More than half of all local charities were entirely run and supported by volunteers - that is, they had no paid staff.

Volunteer involvement

A stable picture emerged in terms of the numbers of volunteers involved with local charities but larger charities (annual turnover more than £25,000) and charities with no paid staff were more likely to report a decline in the number of people approaching the charity to volunteer.

We also found that demand for volunteers was high: 61% of charities aspired to involve more volunteers. But the majority thought it was unlikely they would do so.

Volunteering challenges

The top 5 challenges facing all local charities:

  • Keeping suitable volunteers involved with us (51%);

  • Finding suitable volunteers (48%);

  • Attracting new Board Members (22%);

  • Lack of time affecting support for volunteering (21%); and

  • Providing adequate support to volunteers (20%).

Larger charities were more likely to report specific challenges around supporting volunteers and ‘attracting new Board Members with the right skills’. For example, Figure 1 shows, 27% of larger charities reported ‘funding cuts affecting support for volunteering’ as a top challenge, compared to 8% of smaller charities. Also, ‘providing adequate support to volunteers’ was more of a challenge for a quarter of larger charities compared to 16% of smaller charities. 

Figure1: Challenges facing local charities by smaller and larger charities 

Base: 592 charities

Ways to involve volunteers

We found that word of mouth was the most popular method used to involve volunteers and was also thought to be the most effective method to find suitable volunteers. Use of local infrastructure organisations to find volunteers (like volunteer centre’s) was fairly low (19%). Use of websites or social media was also very limited.

So what?

Although we suspected that charities were very reliant on volunteers, this research demonstrates for the first time just how important volunteers are in running charities in our communities in Scotland. It also highlights the real challenges facing local charities in involving and supporting volunteers.

This research raises a number of questions. Just how well we are supporting and investing in grass-roots charities in Scotland that are run and supported solely by volunteers? Can volunteers respond to increasing demand and needs within their communities?