Individual voluntary participation in the United Kingdom: An overview of survey information

Briefing and working paper series: 6

Activities of the third sector in general, and involvement in volunteering in particular, are not very clear-cut social phenomena. This paper aims to fill the gap in research by reviewing the available surveys.

Despite the attempts of certain research bodies to offer definitions of what constitutes the ‘voluntary sector’, the concept is still beset with numerous ambiguities. This is true within the context of the UK, but also in other countries of developed world (Archambault 1993, Kendall and Knapp 1993, Gidron and Katz 1998, Salamon and Sokolowski 2001).

The existence of definitional difficulties and ambiguities has a detrimental impact on the quality of academic research and policy-making. Firstly, it impedes orderly collection of statistical information on volunteering in administrative sources. Secondly, it complicates the collection of survey data: the absence of a well-understood and widely-agreed concept of voluntarism in the public mind introduces uncertainties into people’s responses.

To date there has been no attempt to compare findings of different surveys systematically. This paper focuses on the methods used to obtain information on volunteering, and analyses the comparability of pictures of volunteering supplied by different surveys. 

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Prof John Mohan