Language and definitions

In this report, we use terminology that we feel is best suited to the report findings and its current context.

Using the term ‘global majority’

The terminology used to describe ethnic groups has changed over time. In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities recommended that the government stop using the term BAME. This recommendation was accepted.

We recognise there’s no ‘one size fits all’ acronym that can capture the complex, rich and varied experience and culture of Britain’s diverse ethnic groups. Language about race is constantly evolving and rightly so.

In this report, we use the term ‘global majority’ to refer to all ethnic groups except white British and other white groups, including white minorities. Specifically, this term includes people from black, Asian, mixed and other (including other Asian, Chinese and Arab) ethnic groups who make up a large majority (approximately 85%) of the world population.

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NCVO has decided to use the term global majority for a number of reasons.

  • We want to help reframe the conversation about people in this part of the population from disadvantage to advantage.
  • We want to help challenge the pervasive white-centric perspective and narrative when discussing ethnicity, race and identity.

Our chief executive, Sarah Vibert, has shared more information on our use of the term ‘global majority’.

We recognise that people we consider to be part of the global majority may be minorities within Britain. Using the term global majority does not detract from or remove people’s experience of being minoritised and discriminated against.

This research provides a first look into the experiences of volunteering in the global majority population. It looks to challenge the white-centric narratives used when discussing ethnicity and race in Britain. While white minorities are sometimes included in similar research, we haven’t included these groups in our definition of ‘global majority’ for this reason. However, we acknowledge that these groups also experience discrimination.

Demographic differences

We acknowledge that ‘global majority’ is a composite term which risks overlooking differences between ethnic groups.

Where possible we report on individual ethnic groups. In some cases we do not have enough data to do this. The ethnic groupings most commonly used in this report are black, Asian and mixed, with some sub-groups within these where numbers allow. The ‘mixed’ ethnic group includes those who consider themselves to be from mixed or multiple ethnic groups.

The data also includes ‘other’ which refers to people who consider themselves to be from any other ethnic group. However, there are not enough respondents from this population for any meaningful analysis. For the full description, please see the appendix.

We understand the need to discuss experiences and issues through the lens of intersectionality. People have multiple identities and often do not view themselves as belonging solely to one group. Analysis of data often lends itself to the examination of single layers, but we have taken an intersectional approach where possible.

Definitions of volunteering

‘Volunteering’ means different things to different people. The definition itself is evolving and will likely shift over time.

For consistency and comparability, this report follows the definition of formal and informal volunteering given in the Community Life Survey.

In this report, we focus on formal volunteering.

We wanted to make the survey as accessible as possible so that respondents could present their experience accurately. While we use the term ‘volunteering’ throughout the report, in the survey we used the phrase ‘unpaid help’ as a synonym for volunteering. This helped ensure that people didn’t limit their responses to one type of volunteering.

We also refer to the following different types of volunteers.

Recent formal volunteers

People who have given unpaid help through a group, club or organisation in the last 12 months. At the time of fieldwork, this referred to the period between December 2021 and November 2022.

If someone gives their time to multiple organisations, the report findings relate to their main experience of volunteering, unless stated otherwise.

Lapsed volunteers

People who have not given unpaid help in the last 12 months but have in the last three years.


People who have never volunteered or have not volunteered in the last 12 months. Lapsed volunteers are therefore a sub-group within non-volunteers.

Context of volunteering

While we use the definitions of volunteering above, we understand that volunteering may be understood very differently depending on context.

Previous research points to the complexity of framing ‘volunteering’, particularly when trying to understand levels of unpaid help among the global majority population.

Our previous Time Well Spent report on diversity in volunteering highlights that while the global majority in the UK has a long history of activism and peer support, the concept of volunteering has Western origins. This means the term does not always connect with communities in the global majority.

Our Time Well Spent diversity report also highlights how most religions encourage people to be of service to others. This supports involvement in volunteering but instead frames it as a religious duty.

Other concepts related to volunteering are about peer support and communities helping one another. Often this is in a context of oppression or deprivation. Many of the people engaged in these types of unpaid help wouldn’t refer to themselves as volunteers.

We need to be vigilant in our research to ensure that we are able to identify all forms of unpaid help taking place in the wide spectrum of our communities.

While we recognise that some of these impacts lead to limitations in the research findings, we try to acknowledge what this looks like as best we can. We explore this more in the volunteer participation section.

Comparison with the overall population

Throughout the report we make comparisons between global majority survey respondents and the overall population sample.

This gives us a way of understanding how the global majority may differ from the overall population, and why. This overall population sample includes some of the global majority survey respondents, as it is a nationally representative sample

Where a comparison of volunteers is made, we refer to the two groups as ‘global majority volunteers’ and ‘volunteers overall’.

Where a comparison is made of the total sample, including non-volunteers, they are referred to as ‘global majority respondents’ and ‘overall respondents’ or the ‘overall population’.

Learn more about our approach.


For disability, we use the following definitions.

When referring to disabled people, we acknowledge that there is tremendous variation between types of disabilities and differences in the needs and barriers of volunteers with disabilities.

The approach in this report is to accept the social model of disability. This locates the disability within the physical barriers and negative attitudes in society rather than a person's impairment. It was developed by disabled people in contrast to the medical model of disability.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 28 November 2023