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Equity, diversity and inclusion in volunteering

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Everyone should be able to make a difference through volunteering.

Whatever their background, your organisation should treat its volunteers with equity and fairness. It should also help them see how equity, diversity and inclusion relates to their role.

Volunteering and the Equality Act

The Equality Act protects people against discrimination because of protected characteristics. It defines these as:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage and civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation.

Volunteers aren't legally protected by the Equality Act in the same way as employees. But it would be very poor practice to discriminate against a volunteer.

In theory, the law could consider volunteering as a service offered to volunteers. This would mean the Equality Act would apply, but this has not been tested in court.

Learn more about what the Equality Act means for voluntary sector organisations.

Make sure volunteers understand equity, diversity and inclusion

Organisations that deliver services must uphold the Equality Act and avoid unlawful discrimination. This includes keeping people working for them safe from harassment or discrimination.

Volunteers will need to understand how the Equality Act relates to their role. They shouldn't discriminate against anyone who uses or is part of the service. This includes other volunteers and paid staff.

At induction, you should explain the organisation’s responsibility to be inclusive. Be clear what volunteers can do to support this and how you expect them to behave while volunteering.

Some examples might include:

  • offering extra help to a disabled customer in a charity shop
  • using gender neutral language in publications they write
  • using a fair recruitment process if they recruit other volunteers.

Share your organisation's equal opportunities policy with your volunteers. Discuss it with them and give them the chance to ask questions about it.

NCVO members can download our editable sample equal opportunities policy.

Promote diversity among volunteers

Having a diverse group of volunteers benefits organisations and the communities they serve.

  • It brings new ideas and perspectives to organisations.
  • It opens up the benefits of volunteering, such as skills development, to everyone.
  • It helps people from different backgrounds to work together and understand each other.
  • It makes organisations more representative of the communities they serve.

To improve diversity among your volunteers:

  • value and embed diversity at all levels of your organisation and invest in ways to improve it
  • have processes that are easy to understand and that welcome all volunteers
  • reach out to those under-represented among your volunteers and help them get involved
  • encourage and support volunteers to be themselves and listen to what matters to them
  • create flexible volunteer roles that you can adapt to people's needs
  • collect data and information to understand who volunteers for you and why
  • seek out any barriers that may exist for volunteers and take action to remove them
  • use language and images that reflect and welcome diversity
  • offer and provide training and development opportunities to volunteers.

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Last reviewed: 12 April 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 12 April 2021

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