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Coronavirus (COVID-19) volunteering - third sector perspectives: survey report

Findings from a survey undertaken to gather insights into the experiences of Scottish third sector organisations and other stakeholders involved in supporting volunteering during the pandemic.


Volunteers across Scotland have played an essential role in supporting communities and individuals most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This volunteer response to the pandemic has included formal volunteers undertaking tasks on behalf of established volunteering organisations, as well as informal volunteering where individuals sought to support and help others in their neighbourhoods and networks.

It is clear that the volunteer response to COVID-19 succeeded in engaging new volunteers – people who were not already engaged in volunteering activities – as well as many existing volunteers. Throughout Scotland, new volunteer-based community support – or 'mutual aid' – groups were rapidly created to respond to the pandemic. These groups played a key role in mobilising and targeting local efforts and the willingness of people across Scotland to help others in their communities. A Scottish Government campaign, 'Scotland Cares', was set up to help support and manage the public impetus to volunteer in response to COVID-19. This was run in collaboration with the British Red Cross, Volunteer Scotland and NHS Scotland Through the campaign there were more than 60,000 sign-ups of potential volunteers with Volunteer Scotland (35,262) and the British Red Cross (25,172), indicating enormous public willingness to help.[5]

At the same time, COVID-19 has presented significant challenges for organisations working with volunteers. Existing volunteers in older age categories or with underlying health conditions were particularly affected by the advice that they should shield, in many cases preventing them from undertaking their pre-existing volunteering roles. The general advice to stay at home that was in place during lockdown also had an impact on volunteering rates. Volunteers with support needs or who need specific support in order to volunteer were also negatively affected. The result of all of these changes was that organisations reliant on volunteers lost a significant part of their volunteering capacity. Many organisations adapted their work to be able to engage their volunteers and service users remotely, but this was not always possible. This shift to digital and remote forms of volunteering also posed the risk of excluding some volunteers and service users who were less able to access digital technologies.

As Scotland grapples with the emergence of the Omicron variant – just as many organisations were cautiously emerging from the COVID-19 restrictions – there are many questions about the long-term impacts that the pandemic will have on volunteering. Will volunteers who paused their volunteering during the lockdown choose to return to their previous volunteer roles? Will new volunteers who signed up to help during the pandemic continue their volunteering engagement beyond COVID-19? Will digital adaptations and new ways of volunteering persist? What support is needed to help organisations adapt to offer safe and inclusive volunteering opportunities in the post-pandemic context?

This report presents the results of a survey undertaken by Scottish Government in collaboration with Volunteer Scotland, intended to gather third sector organisational perspectives on volunteering during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The survey was targeted to gather views from volunteer-involving organisations (organisations that work with volunteers directly) and from infrastructure organisations (such as Third Sector Interfaces and local authorities) that have supported volunteering within communities and local areas. Representatives of Third Sector Interfaces (TSIs), local authorities, and volunteer-involving organisations (VIOs) gave invaluable input into the development of the survey questionnaire.

The survey questions were designed to give insights into the contribution of volunteers and volunteering during the pandemic, and to highlight the learning emerging around volunteering and its role in this crisis. The survey also enables us to take stock of the current challenges faced by volunteering organisations as we move into the next stages of the pandemic and beyond, and to consider what this means for volunteering policy, and support for volunteering in practice.

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