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A new Vision for Volunteering in Oxfordshire

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Why do we need a Vision for Volunteering for Oxfordshire?

In 2022, Community First Oxfordshire and Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action set out to understand the experience of volunteering in Oxfordshire, how volunteering has been changed and shaped by recent events, and what partners, systems, stakeholders and citizens need to do together to ensure a thriving, inclusive, sustainable future for volunteering in Oxfordshire.

The publication (in July 2023) of our Vision for Volunteering is timely, coinciding with Oxfordshire County Council’s Voluntary and Community Sector Strategy and the national Vision for Volunteering.

What do we mean by volunteering?

By volunteering we mean all kinds of unpaid support offered by people in their communities. That includes volunteering with community groups, registered charities, mutual aid groups, faith groups, lunch clubs, community sports teams, environmental groups and more. It also includes things like helping neighbours who are struggling, serving on the parish council, organising a street event, volunteering for a PTA, running a neighbourhood WhatsApp or Facebook group, helping produce a local community publication, running a local community campaign, or raising funds for a local cause.

How did we research the Vision?

We wanted to hear from as many people as possible and particularly from groups which are doing new and different things, or operating in a new way, or who have traditionally been overlooked. Over 350 people from across Oxfordshire, volunteering with more than 470 different organisations, contributed information for our Vision for Volunteering.

  • 324 public survey respondents
  • 13 storytellers (in-depth interviews)
  • 45 open meeting attendees
  • 21 discussion participants
  • 2 written submissions
  • 8 advisory group members

Survey highlights

People from across Oxfordshire answered the survey. They volunteer in organisations operating in our districts, in the wider region, nationally and internationally.

Pie chart showing where the organisations which survey respondents volunteer for operate: 15% in Cherwell 16% in Oxford 21% in South Oxfordshire 10% in West Oxfordshire 17% in Vale of White Horse 14% across Oxfordshire 2% in the wider region 5% nationally
Where the organisations respondents volunteer for operate
  • 623 voluntary roles
  • 471 organisations volunteered with
  • 1.91 the average number of volunteer roles per person
  • 16 the highest number of roles held by one person
  • 15 people volunteering with more than one group
  • 1,018 total number of organisations mentioned

Identifying themes

Following the survey, a cross-section of volunteers was approached for more detailed conversations. Working in partnership with the Old Fire Station and using the Storytelling methodology, these volunteers spoke freely about their experiences of volunteering in Oxfordshire. After transcribing their stories, we were able to look at common themes. As part of our commitment to creating multiple routes to engagement, we also held two open meetings online and received written submissions. We concluded with an in-person stakeholder discussion session facilitated by the Old Fire Station. We then identified common themes from the survey, the stories, our open meetings, the written submissions and the final discussion session. We have used these themes to structure the detailed report, using the voices of volunteers throughout.
  • Volunteer Preferences
  • What Motivates Volunteers
  • Crisis Point: A Catalyst for Volunteering
  • Volunteer Demographics and Inclusion
  • Volunteering and Paid Work
  • Volunteering Infrastructure: Information and Advertising
  • Volunteering Infrastructure: Induction, Verification, and Permission
  • Volunteering Infrastructure: Training, Communicating, and Socialising
  • Volunteer Wellbeing
  • Money – It’s a Drag

Key findings

  • Volunteering needs to be accessible to everyone in Oxfordshire. This requires, among other things, the use of thoughtful and inclusive language when advertising roles, as well as work to encourage and support volunteering in areas and communities which organisations may previously have overlooked. It also requires organisations to be flexible when designing opportunities, responsive to the needs of each individual, and genuinely open to all.
  • Volunteers need clear points of access to volunteering opportunities – to know where, when, and how they can volunteer – and to have a clearly defined role.
  • Volunteers need to feel recognised as individuals, to be praised, to understand the outcomes of their efforts, and to feel that they are making a difference. This requires effective communication on the part of voluntary organisations and systems of feedback.
  • Volunteers need to feel respected, trusted, and welcome. This requires that voluntary organisations are prepared to be transparent and prepared to share responsibility.
  • Volunteers need to enjoy volunteering. This requires the cultivation of social opportunities and relationship-building, as well as activities not directly related to the volunteers’ tasks, such as social events, walks, barbecues, and annual celebrations.
  • Volunteers need to be able to work according to their strengths and within appropriate boundaries. This requires that organisations tailor their expectations to individual circumstances, avoid making assumptions, and are responsive to individual need.
  • Volunteers need time to reflect and opportunities to experiment. This requires that organisations are open to saying ‘yes’ and that they include space for supervision.
  • Volunteers need opportunities to start new organisations or create new volunteering projects, particularly in areas where there is an existing lack of representation or support. This requires funding, physical spaces and training to be made easily available.
  • Volunteers need training and support. This requires that knowledge and experience is shared widely between voluntary organisations.
  • Volunteers like to give their time to organisations rooted locally, whether that’s small hyper-local community groups or local branches of national organisations.
  • Volunteers are rarely motivated solely by altruism or solely by personal benefit but by a mix of motives.
  • Volunteers are put off by the bureaucracy of signing up to volunteer and by duplication in paperwork and training.
  • Communication with volunteers is often overlooked but is vital to the volunteer experience.
  • Organisations feel that they have to jump through too many hoops when applying for funding. Smaller organisations lack the resources to seek out funding opportunities or to navigate their way through numerous different application processes.
  • Demand, the complexity of demand, and what is asked of volunteers in many organisations has increased as the sector absorbs growing pressures from statutory services.

The Oxfordshire Vision for Volunteering

Using a combination of the themes and the key findings, we were able to develop 10 core principles for our Vision for Volunteering.
  1. Include everyone
  2. Keep it personal
  3. Value the person
  4. Nurture relationships
  5. Offer flexibility
  6. Make it enjoyable
  7. Training and support matters
  8. Create space for experimentation
  9. Fund it
  10. Build community

Next steps

Working in partnership with Oxfordshire’s diverse community and voluntary sector, and with our partners across the county, we will develop an action plan to support the realisation of the Oxfordshire Vision for Volunteering.

Download the documents

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Christmas Volunteering and Community Help Advent Calendar 2023
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