What do we mean by volunteers?

From Our Toolkit

Volunteers play an important role in the heritage sector, contributing to all aspects of the management of organisations and the delivery of services and activities. For many organisations volunteers are vital to the running of their organisation.

Volunteering is when someone spends unpaid time doing something to benefit others. Helping your close friends or relatives isn’t volunteering. But doing something to benefit the environment (and through that, other people) is. Volunteering can be formal and organised by organisations, or informal within communities. It should always be a free choice made by the person giving up their time.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations

Volunteer roles

Volunteers can be involved at all levels of your organisation, in a wide range of roles with varying degrees of responsibility. Volunteers can engage regularly, or be with you for a short period of time, for example as part of a project. They can be located on site or work with you remotely.

Volunteers roles can include:

  • Trustee or a management committee member
  • Specialist advice and expertise such as fundraising, learning or IT skills
  • Participants in a youth or community panel
  • Delivery of learning activities
  • Recording oral histories
  • Researching local history
  • Conserving and cataloguing the collections
  • Interpreting and displaying the collections

The difference between volunteers and employees

Employment law sets out a clear difference between volunteers and paid workers or employees (including apprentices). Volunteering England have produced Volunteers and the Law a useful overview explaining the legal status of volunteers.

NCVO’s Involving Volunteers is a comprehensive web resource covering:

  • Understanding volunteers
  • Planning for volunteers
  • Recruiting and welcoming volunteers
  • Supporting and managing volunteers
  • Valuing and developing volunteers

South West Museum Development has collated its volunteer resources and also covers managing volunteers during COVID.

Volunteer advice in the nations

Each of the nations has a national volunteer centre with a wealth of support, advice and information:

The UK government and devolved administrations also provide guidance and policies:

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