Making volunteering more diverse: thoughts from NCVO’s annual conference

Diversity was the subject of three different workshops at the NCVO annual conference last month:

Exclusive volunteering?

In her blog Pale, Male and Stale, Lisa Hornung painted a sombre picture of diversity in volunteering. She highlighted that:

  • The ‘civic core’ of volunteers represent 36% of the population, yet carry out 87% of the UK’s formal volunteering.
  • Trustees are homogeneous in that they are white, middle class, and 51% are retired.
  • Formal volunteering activities attract people from less diverse backgrounds than informal volunteering activities.

One might assume that there is more effort to tackle social exclusion in deprived areas. But formal volunteering often takes place in less deprived areas and is therefore more exclusive. The latest data on volunteering from NCVO’s Almanac shows that this trend has been consistent for 15 years. This is a bitter pill to swallow for a sector that prides itself on values of diversity, inclusion and embracing difference.

Life is not a level playing field

Peter Olawaye, trustee of Leap Confronting Conflict, shared his motivations for becoming a trustee. Growing up in London meant relentless stop and search, and having to go much further to ‘prove himself’, including to gain employment. Peter’s account showed how our life chances are influenced by prejudices, and conscious or unconscious biases.

In the absence of a level playing field, Peter went through the award-winning transformative Leap programme which brought him to trusteeship. Peter now supports other young people who encounter the disadvantage he faced.

Leadership that talks, listens and acts

In his blog Us White Charity CEOs Need to Talk, Thomas Lawson, CEO of Leap Confronting Conflict explores the idea of unseen diversity and explains how racial discrimination is a type of social exclusion that affects us all.

His tips for encouraging diversity were:

  • face up to your personal prejudices and biases, however uncomfortable this may feel,
  • recruit to potential, not to perfection,
  • leadership roles mean increasing how often you talk about diversity, and encouraging others to talk about it too.

Volunteer organisations can address lack of diversity

Anne-Marie Zaritsky, head of volunteering at Royal Mencap Society, shared some great tips to help make volunteering more accessible and inclusive:

  • Don’t let diversity be daunting! Start with what you know about your existing volunteer base and why and how you want to diversify. Build on your successes.
  • Be imaginative in how you create volunteer roles – think away from tasks and think more about what roles will help to achieve and how.
  • Inspire curiosity – experiment with naming roles without using the word ‘volunteer’.
  • Try using informal volunteering as a pathway to formal volunteering.
  • Finally, believe that volunteering can address diversity. If you don’t, you’ll have an impossible job trying to convince others!

Volunteers’ Week 2018

‘Volunteering for All’ is the theme of Volunteers’ Week 2018. We welcome short quotes, photos and one-minute smartphone videos via We Transfer for our website and social media. Please email:

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