The Road Ahead

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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 understand how equity, diversity and inclusion relates to their role.

Volunteering and the Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 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 must 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.

During their induction, you should explain the organisation’s legal responsibility to be inclusive, as well as the organisational culture you aim to create. Be clear what volunteers can do to support this and how you expect them to behave while volunteering.

Some examples might include:

  • providing inclusive customer service in a charity shop
  • using gender neutral language in publications they write
  • using a fair recruitment process if they’re involved in recruiting other volunteers.

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

NCVO members can download our editable sample equal opportunities policy.

Champion equity, diversity and inclusion 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 make volunteering more inclusive:

  • value and embed diversity at all levels of your organisation and invest in ways to improve it
  • ensure your processes are easy to understand and consider the varied needs and experiences of 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 to understand any barriers that may exist for volunteers and take action to remove them
  • make sure your communications reflect and welcome diversity – in all formats
  • offer and provide training and development opportunities to volunteers.

Involving volunteers from the global majority

Our Time Well Spent 2023: Volunteering among the global majority research revealed that volunteers from the global majority feel less satisfied, more excluded, and are less likely to continue compared to volunteers overall. But there are steps you can take to remove barriers and create empowering, inclusive and accessible volunteering opportunities.

Take a look at our recommendations for recruiting and retaining volunteers from the global majority.

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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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