ESRC: Festival of Social Science: Charities need to trust volunteers’ expertise

Date: 4th November 2014
Time: 19.00 – 21.00hrs
Location: Canterbury

Charities struggling to raise money for their cause should be making better use of their army of volunteers, according to research presented at the 2014 ESRC Festival of Social Science.

While public awareness of charities is dominated by big organisations such as Cancer Research UK, NSPCC and Oxfam, organisations such as these with trained professional fundraising staff are in the minority.  The majority of charities in the UK (53 per cent) have no paid employees, while a further 30 per cent have fewer than 10.  Therefore, 130,000 charities around Britain rely on untrained volunteers to raise money.

According to Dr Eddy Hogg, a researcher at the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent, these volunteers have a great deal of experience and expertise that charities would do well to tap into. “Many small charities cannot afford to hire fundraisers, or can only do so for short periods of time.”

“This means that staff rely more than ever on the expertise of volunteers, many of whom have volunteered for decades. Volunteers know what fundraising methods work best in their area, they know the shops to put collection tins in, they know the pubs that will enjoy a good raffle,” says Dr Hogg.

However, many charities are not getting the most out of their volunteers, and Dr Hogg decided to research why. He asked volunteers, fundraisers, trustees and charity staff in Kent what issues they faced when trying to raise funds. He found that despite their extensive experience and knowledge, volunteers often weren't trusted with responsibility, and weren't allowed to take ownership of their own projects. Although volunteers were happy to give their time and skills and get involved in running different aspects of the charity, they often were not asked to or, crucially, were not asked in the right way.

“Charities need to be having the right conversation with volunteers to understand what their skills are and what they would like to do,” says Dr Hogg.

“Giving volunteers ownership and responsibility over what they do in terms of fundraising and event organisation is important,” he added. “Charities could support volunteers with training and education if necessary, to make them feel confident in planning and delivering a campaign or event.”

Dr Hogg also discovered that tensions between trustees and fundraising volunteers were also leading to volunteers not being used effectively. Volunteers often felt that trustees were not on 'their side,' and did not understand the need to invest in fundraising or develop a comprehensive strategy.

As part of the 2014 ESRC Festival of Social Science, Dr Hogg is holding an event to celebrate the contribution of volunteer fundraisers across Kent. The event will include presentations from a number of local charities and fundraisers, sharing their experiences of fundraising and giving their top tips. Topics covered will include community fundraising, partnership working, accessing training, crowdfunding and more.

For further information contact:

·         Dr Eddy Hogg


Telephone: 01227 827563

ESRC Press Office:

·         Aaron Boardley


Telephone: 01793 413122

·         Susie Watts


Telephone: 01793 413119

1.      Event: Volunteers Who Ask: unpaid fundraisers in Kent
Location: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge, The Precincts, Canterbury, CT1 2EH
Date: 4 November 2014, 19.00 – 21.00

2. The 12th annual Festival of Social Science takes place from 1-8 November 2014 with over 200 free events nationwide. Run by the Economic and Social Research Council, the Festival provides an opportunity for anyone to meet with some of the country’s leading social scientists and discover, discuss and debate the role that research plays in everyday life. With a whole range of creative and engaging events there’s something for everyone including businesses, charities, schools and government agencies. A full programme is available at You can also join the discussion on Twitter using #esrcfestival.

3.      The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funds research into the big social and economic questions facing us today. We also develop and train the UK’s future social scientists. Our research informs public policies and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. Most importantly, it makes a real difference to all our lives. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 the ESRC celebrates its 50th anniversary.