Is there an untapped pool of volunteers for the Big Society? Not really…
Kamerade, Daiga (2011)

by Daiga Kamerāde, University of Salford

The key factor in determining the success of the Big Society agenda in the UK is the availability of volunteers. The Big Society agenda implies that there is an urgent need to increase levels of volunteering in Britain and that there is an untapped pool of individuals not yet involved in the Big Society who should be persuaded to become involved. For example, the government’s ‘Giving Green Paper’ argues that volunteering levels in the UK should be increased because the British devote relatively little time to voluntary work. How large is the pool of adults who have never volunteered? To answer this question this paper proposes a dynamic approach to measuring volunteering and compares its results to the more commonly used cross-sectional approach. Using longitudinal data from the British Household Survey this study finds that the vast majority of British adults have volunteered at least once between 1991 and 2007 and most of them do it repeatedly. Consequently the untapped pool ofindividuals who have never volunteered is significantly smaller than cross-sectional analyses suggests. This study also uncovers considerable movement of individuals into and out of volunteering and between different types of associations. This study recommends that Big Society policy should therefore place greater emphasis on retaining and re-engaging its existing volunteers by providing them with more flexible short-term opportunities for volunteering and less emphasis on recruitments of people who have never volunteered.

Daiga’s presentation is available here (pdf format)

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