Country Idealist Profiles

Ireland – Volunteering in Ireland – Facts & Figures

Posted in Ireland, Ireland - The Third Sector by hynesbrid on August 14, 2008

In 2006, the Centre for Non Profit Management (CNM) identified over 20,000 community and voluntary groups in Ireland (Hidden Landscape, CNM Trinity College). Its report analysed 4,500 responses to a postal survey.  Findings showed the following :

  • A total 1,570,408 volunteers, almost 9% of whom (8.7%) were non – Ireland based.
    Based on the 2006 census population figures (4,234,925) this represents 37.1% of the total population, which is up 4.1% from the previous survey carried out.
  • In 2006, the median number of volunteers was 15 (that is half of responding organisations had 15 or fewer volunteers; the other half had 15 or more volunteers).
  • In 2006 the reported time, 465,624 hours per year, was spent volunteering.
  • Male volunteers out number female volunteers by a ratio of more than three to one for Ireland based volunteers and 1.25 :1 for non Ireland based.
  • While the older organisations had far greater numbers of volunteers than the younger organisations, volunteers were more likely to be regarded as essential in younger organisations.
  • Volunteers are more important in sports and recreation, environment, arts and culture and religious groups.
  • Between 17% and 33% of the adult population volunteers on a regular basis.
  • Volunteering rates are dependent, amongst other things, on age, sex, socio-economic status, marital status and where people live.
  • People volunteer for an average of 5 – 12 hours per month, although the range is wide; some give less than one hour, whilst others give over 50 hours
  • In 1997/8, the total amount of time given to voluntary work was equivalent to some 96,454 full-time workers.
  • Estimates on the in-kind revenue from volunteering in Ireland range from c. €200-600 million.
  • Compared to other European countries, Ireland’s volunteering rate is average and its citizens’ membership of community and voluntary associations is above average; both rates are on the increase.
  • Most people (39%) find out about volunteering opportunities through family and friends.
  • 58% of people get involved in voluntary work because they are asked, 36% offer their services. 
  • The three main rewards people get from volunteering are the satisfaction of seeing the results, the feeling of doing good and meeting people.
  • 65% of people who don’t volunteer at present say they would be willing to use some of their spare time for voluntary work and 72% of people are prepared to do something to improve the conditions of people in their local community.
  • 60% of young people aged between 12 and 24 are prepared to be involved with voluntary organisations set up to help the countries of the third world
  • 72% of people feel that volunteers offer something that could never be provided by paid professionals. 
  • The ratio of volunteers to paid staff in youth organisations is 50:1
  • An estimated 5200+ adult volunteers are involved in the organisation of under-age football in the Dublin area alone. 
  • Well over a third of voluntary organisations have fewer volunteers than they require.
  • Volunteers play a key role in raising money for the social welfare sector; 72% of social welfare volunteers cite fundraising as their most frequently carried out activity.
  • Up to 80% of volunteers are given no training for the work they do.
  • 71% receive no out-of-pocket expenses for the work they do (highest % in Europe).
  • Training in volunteer management is classed as a priority by small voluntary organisations.

However findings from the principle Socio-economic Results from the 2006 Census show a very different picture.  For the first time ever in an Irish census, a question on voluntary activity appeared in the 2006 Census. Respondents were asked if, in the four weeks previous to census night (Sunday, 23rd April, 2006), they had engaged in any of the following activities without pay:

  • Helping or voluntary work with a social or charitable organisation
  • Helping or voluntary work with a religious group or church
  • Helping or voluntary work with a sporting organisation
  • Helping or voluntary work with a political or cultural organisation
  • Any other voluntary activity.

(Respondents were also asked to note if they had not engaged in voluntary activity).

According to the Principal Results,

  • 16.4% of the population aged 15 and over were involved in at least one of the five voluntary activity categories listed above i.e. one in six persons aged 15 and over.
  • There was little difference between male and female levels of activity in volunteering.
  • The activity with the highest recorded number of volunteers was
    • social or charitable work (193,000 persons or 34.8% of active volunteers, 5.7% of the total population aged 15 and over).
    • This was followed by sporting organisations (180,465 persons or 32.6% of active volunteers, 5.4% of the total population).
    • 143,133 persons (25.9% of active volunteers, 4.2% of the total population) were involved with religious or church organisations,
    • 46,944 (8.5% of active volunteers, 1.4% of the total population) engaged with political or cultural organisations.
  • Females made up 61% of voluntary workers involved with a religious group or church and 59% of voluntary social and charitable workers, while males accounted for 69% of those involved in voluntary sporting activities and 58% of political volunteers.
  • The 45-49 age group had the highest participation rate in voluntary activities (23.3%) while almost one in four of all voluntary workers were in their forties.
  • Persons aged between 20-24 years were least likely to volunteer (10.4%).
  • Higher and lower professionals had the highest participation rates in voluntary activities (24.7% and 25.6%, respectively) while semi-skilled and unskilled workers (12.9% and 9.4%, respectively) participated least.

Although there is no previous census data to compare these figures with, the National and Economic Social Forum did commission research on levels of social capital in 2002, including volunteering (The Policy Implications of Social Capital, 2003). According to the NESF, in 2002, 17.1% of the Irish population aged 18 and over engaged in ‘unpaid, regular voluntary activity or service outside the home or workplace’. Thus, the 2006 census suggests a very slight decline in volunteering (note, however, the age differential).

The 2006 Census confirms the findings of the NESF report with respect to the greater likelihood of volunteering in mid-life (40-64 years of age), the positive relationship between higher socio-economic / professional status and volunteering and, likewise, the positive relationship between lower socio-economic / professional status and not volunteering. By contrast, the 2006 Census records a lower percentage of adults aged 24 and under engaged in volunteering (11.7%) than the NESF 2002 study does adults aged 29 and under (16.9%). Significantly, the 2006 Census records a much higher percentage of persons aged 65 and over engaged in volunteering (14.9%) than the NESF 2002 study (6.1%).


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