Insights for 2017: Volunteers and Boards

This briefing explores issues around volunteering and boards.  View the PDF version of this briefing.

Key facts

  • 27% of Scottish adults volunteer
  • Over 1.2million ‘formal’ volunteers in Scotland (Population of Cyprus: 1,176,598)
  • Over 250,000 trustees (Population of Iceland: 331,778)

In 2014, formal volunteers in Scotland contributed…

  • 143 million hours of help
  • £2billion to the local economy (source: Volunteer Scotland)

In the 2016 Sector Forecast…

  • 61% of respondents said they plan to recruit more volunteers in 2017
  • 55% of respondents plan to recruit new trustees
  • 1 in 3 small and medium-sized charities expect their volunteer numbers to rise
  • 2 in 3 of the largest charities expect volunteer numbers to rise


61% of respondents said they plan to recruit more volunteers.

One in three small and medium-sized charities think that volunteer numbers will rise, and two in three larger charities expect to recruit more volunteers. 

45% of respondents think their organisation will see an increase in volunteers in 2017 – this is higher than in previous years.

However volunteering rates over last ten years have not increased.  The chart below shows that in 2009 28% of population volunteered, in 2015 it was 27%.

Further, many respondents also spoke of challenges retaining existing volunteers, or finding new trustees to replace older committee members wishing to step down.

Meeting increased demand

  • 72% expect to see demand for services rise

Almost three-quarters of respondents expect demand for services to rise, and many who provide services through volunteers know that their ability to meet demand will be stretched.  A large number of respondents highlighted volunteering shortages as one of their key challenges in 2017, although many saw strengthening their volunteer base as a key opportunity:

“Limited funding alongside an increasing demand for our service will leave a considerable amounts of needs amongst our clientele not being met. Challenges include coping with demand (referrals) from Statutory agencies, maintaining and delivering a well recognised and longstanding credible service, and promoting an effective volunteer base”

 “Increased number of people requiring assistance during the night, wither they are homeless or worse of drink. Need to recruit and train more volunteers to meet demand.”

 “The tension is that the demand for our services is growing beyond our capacity to respond and certainly beyond our current and potential volunteer capacity.”

“Challenge in 2017 is continuing to provide a service – we have no paid staff – only volunteers who are fantastic, but we always need more.”

Some respondents also appear to hope that increasing their volunteer base will mean that they can continue to deliver services and meet increased demand despite cuts to funding and paid staff. However, the unique nature of volunteering has to be taken into account in any future planning. As one respondent put it, their organisation plans “to rethink our workforce planning to include volunteers as key contributors and not additional capacity”.

Developing and supporting volunteers

  • 53% of respondents plan to invest in developing volunteers and trustees

A number of respondents mentioned that they were hoping to develop their existing volunteers: “We’re looking to capitalise on our volunteers and increase services and support through up-skilling and developing our volunteers”. 

One respondent also noted that they were “recruiting a Coordinator and more volunteers”.

However, other respondent highlighted that while they recognised that they need to support their volunteers, finding funding for a volunteer manager can be a challenge:

“We need local authority funding for a Volunteer Manager so we can help more disadvantaged by not only providing hot meals but improving their lives”

Young people and volunteering

“Volunteering is taking off big time and presents great opportunities locally and nationally. Scotland is a world leader in volunteering and it is exciting that the Scottish Government is backing this e.g.: via the Saltire Awards etc.”

A few respondents spoke very positively about working with young people and the potential of youth volunteering eg Saltire awards, Project Scotland, working with local schools. This remains a key area for the third sector, and both organisations and young people themselves benefit from these volunteering programmes.

Boards and trustees

Based on OSCR’s annual charity returns there are 183,000 charity trustees in Scotland. We estimate there are another 60,000-80,000 more trustees supporting non-charitable voluntary organisations and projects. We estimate that there are 250,000 trustees in Scotland, giving their time and skills on a voluntary basis to steer the work of charities and voluntary organisations.

  • 55% of respondents to the Forecast said they hope to recruit new trustees.
  • However, many respondents said that find recruiting new trustees difficult, or struggle to recruit new trustees with the right mix of skills and experience.
  • Recent research found that 95% of the general public are unaware that they can support charities by becoming a trustee.

This figures highlight the continued need for initiatives which promote trusteeships to the general public and new audiences, including programmes to engage those in the private sectors and younger people.

  • 53% of organisations plan to invest in training staff, volunteers and trustees.

This figure highlights the importance of properly supporting volunteers, and for infrastructure and support bodies to develop and promote support appropriate and accessible training and support materials for trustees.

Key messages

  • Two-thirds of third sector organisations said that they wanted to recruit new volunteers or trustees in 2017.
  • However, while thousands of people in Scotland already volunteer, volunteering rates have remained flat in recent years.
  • Charities – individually and collectively – need to raise awareness of opportunities and ‘sell’ their offer, including promoting volunteering and trustee opportunities, to new audiences.
  • There are a number of ways in which charities can improve the way they recruit and retain volunteers, including better use of media and new media, building on their networks, tapping into initiatives that work with new groups of people, and ensuring that their volunteering offer is engaging and volunteers remain motivated.
  • Many respondents said that pressure on funding and increased demand for their services are the driver for them needing to recruit more volunteers. However, volunteers cannot replace paid staff in many situations, and are not a way of cheaply plugging a gap, which needs to be taken into account in planning services.