Produced by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) in partnership with Youth and Philanthropy Initiative Scotland (YPI).
What is the voluntary sector?
Organisations can be categorised into three key sectors. The ‘public sector’ or ‘first sector’ includes local and national government bodies, national healthcare providers and education providers (like your local council, NHS board or high school). The ‘private sector’ or ‘second sector’ includes commercial businesses and industries, like department stores or utility companies.
The ‘voluntary sector’ or ‘third sector’ is made up of non-governmental and non-profit organisations, from grassroots community groups and village hall committees to social enterprises and registered national charities. Depending on who you speak to, it’s often also described as the not-for-profit sector, charity sector, social economy, social enterprise sector, NGOs (non-government organisations) or civil society.
In 2018, Scotland’s voluntary sector has a turnover of over £5.8billion. As of August 2019, it was made up of over 40,000 organisations, including:
- 24,680 registered charities
- 20,000 grassroots community groups, sports and art clubs
- 5,600 social enterprises
- 550 community interest companies
- 158 housing associations
- 95 credit unions
Did you know…Edinburgh Zoo, the National Trust, Guides, Citizens Advice, Mountain Rescue, Glasgow Science Centre, Edinburgh International Festival, Pitlochry Theatre and Beatson are all voluntary sector organisations!
What does the voluntary sector do?
With three new charities registered every working day, the sector is vast, vibrant and varied – and changing all the time.
The traditional idea of charities as benevolent organisations simply there to help the poor is being replaced by a modern, progressive voluntary sector which carries out an enormous range of activities to improve people’s lives. It does this by:
- Supporting people through social care, health services and employability programmes
- Empowering people by giving them a voice to take action in their communities and beyond
- Bringing communities together through social activities, local clubs and community centres
- Enabling better health and wellbeing through medical research, addiction services, sports facilities and self-help groups, and…
- Improving our environment through conservation of our land and heritage, and regeneration of our communities.
A values-led sector
All voluntary sector organisations are values-driven and have a social or environmental purpose at their heart, and many are committed to working towards one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Find out more at SDG Network Scotland.
Working in the voluntary sector
There are 12,000 directly paid staff in the voluntary sector – a figure comparable with NHS Scotland – collectively making it one of Scotland’s biggest employers.
With over 40,000 organisations, job opportunities in the voluntary sector are enormously varied, including social care, heritage, sports, culture, health, housing, wildlife and environment roles.
The voluntary sector is largely values-led so it offers a unique and rewarding career path. While the reality of working in a sector not primarily motivated by money is that many jobs have slightly lower than average salaries, the trade-off is that charities often have generous flexible working policies and offer high levels of job satisfaction.
In a recent survey, voluntary sector workers told us why they love what they do:
- 40% said it was the difference they make to people and communities
- 31% said it was the people they support
- 22% said it was their colleagues and working in a great team
- 20% said it was the variety of the work and that no two days are the same
- 16% said it was innovation, developing new ideas and being creative
- 15% said it was the independence to be flexible and manage their own work
- 15% said it was the ethos of the sector
What kind of jobs are there?
There are hundreds of roles available in the voluntary sector – to see what opportunities are available and which organisations are recruiting, visit Goodmoves.
Number of jobs by sector
- 17,440 – people with disabilities
- 17,040 – social care
- 10,040 – housing
- 9,550 – children including nursery care
- 8,910 – health
- 8,160 – culture and arts
- 6,100 – education and research
- 5,560 – community development
- 3,750 – mental wellbeing
- 3,670 – older people
- 2,970 – equality and rights
- 2,700 – young people
- 2,210 – environment and animals
- 2,110 – employment and training
- 2,110 – international
- 1,990 – sport and recreation
Scotland has 1.2million volunteers, with 1 in 4 adults volunteering 136 million hours of support every year. Recent figures show that while the overall figures for volunteering have remained unchanged since 2001, volunteering by young people has been steadily rising. Youth volunteering has grown to nearly double the adult figure, with 1 in 2 young people now volunteering in some way.
Volunteering offers a chance to gain important skills and experience, and can really help CVs and job applications stand out from the crowd when applying to college, university or your first job.
Young people say that the main benefits of volunteering for them are ‘having fun’ and ‘learning new skills’ meaning volunteering can have both wellbeing and career benefits – from increased confidence to finding paid work.
To find volunteering opportunities in your local area, visit Volunteer Scotland Search. You can also speak to the team at your local Volunteer Centre – they can help match you with local organisations based on your skills, interests and values.