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Active ageingVoluntary work by older people in Europe$

Andrea Principi, Per H. Jensen, and Giovanni Lamura

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781447307204

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447307204.001.0001

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Organisational Reflections on the Impact of Working and Caring on Older Volunteering

Organisational Reflections on the Impact of Working and Caring on Older Volunteering

(p.275) TWELVE Organisational Reflections on the Impact of Working and Caring on Older Volunteering
Active ageing

Robert Lindley

Andrea Principi

Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

Much theorising and empirical research on volunteering focuses on the individual perspective. This chapter draws on European case studies in order to address the organisational perspective. Particular attention is paid to how volunteering situations are affected by the labour force participation of older people and by their family care responsibilities. It deals especially with how organisations assess the impacts of these external conditions on volunteering by older people and the effects of these on the organisations themselves. It seeks to identify the principal generic dilemmas that face voluntary organisations. This is done by addressing how far the apparent ‘logic of competition’ between time for volunteering, working and informal caring applies in practice.

Keywords:   volunteering, older people, European case studies, Organisations, labour force participation, caring responsibilities


Voluntary organisations are conscious of the fact that volunteers have other potential roles, notably, as members of the paid labour force, as informal carers (particularly to family members), and in other forms of informal support to family and community. But this does not mean that all are concerned about the implications of these roles. An organisation in whatever country or sector of activity may be currently experiencing no volunteer recruitment difficulty at all, so its attention is drawn to other matters of policy and practice. Indeed, in general, the voluntary organisations taking part in this study were pre-occupied with managing and funding their present activity rather than with the long-term supply of volunteers. However, within their responses were various lines of thinking that indicate a more nuanced assessment of the implications of external labour market situations and the impact of demographic change on the timing and pattern of caring responsibilities.

Following the theoretical approach adopted in the book as a whole and outlined in Chapter Two, this chapter deals, primarily, with what is termed the ‘meso level’, namely, the situations and perceptions of voluntary organisations. The focus is on older volunteers and the external conditions affecting their volunteering, as viewed currently by the voluntary organisations. The external conditions considered are those that act on the propensities and opportunities to volunteer and that affect the operations of the organisation through the influence of working and caring activities. This is in contrast to internal conditions created by voluntary organisations themselves.

The external conditions may be related to the notion of the ‘welfare mix’ used in Chapter Two that refers to the ‘interactions/divisions (p.276) of responsibilities' between the market and institutional conditions that comprise the external environment –family, labour market, care system and voluntary sector. So this chapter, in part, deals with how voluntary organisations, in effect, view the impact of the ‘welfare mix’ on older volunteering –that is, how the latter is conditioned by the former.

Previous research on the impact of work and informal care on the volunteering of older people has concentrated much more on the individual level, namely, volunteers or potential volunteers, than on those who might recruit and deploy them. The imbalance in available empirical evidence also applies to the relative efforts devoted to theorising. If we focus further on older people, these disparities remain: as reviewed in Chapter Two, there is a significant body of research on older volunteers whereas there is little that addresses the views of the voluntary organisations themselves.

For instance, activity and continuity theories (Havighurst, 1961; Maddox, 1968) stress the scope for maintaining activity with later ageing, and encourage expectations based on theories and evidence of how best this might be achieved. This is in contrast to the pessimism/realism inherent in the earlier disengagement theories of the ageing process (Cumming and Henry, 1961). Thus we may note that participation in volunteering is positively associated with participation in employment since paid workers have more individual and social resources, and this is conducive to volunteering (Wilson and Musick, 1997). Moreover, in most European countries retirement ages are increasing, as are the employment rates of older workers (OECD, 2011). However, scarcity theory (Marks, 1977) points to the potential difficulties of coping with multiple roles and the possibility that informal family care responsibility will crowd out volunteering.

However, these perspectives are drawn from research on individuals. We do not know how voluntary organisations perceive the consequences for their activities of an increasing involvement of older people in the labour market, or if organisations are seeking partnerships with companies to increase their older volunteer force among employed people. Similarly, we do not know how organisations regard the effects of informal family care on older volunteering; this may be particularly crucial for organisations providing social care, an activity that may overlap with informal family care. Thus, this chapter gives priority to filling these gaps in knowledge by addressing the organisational rather than individual point of view.

This chapter draws on 73 ‘case studies’ carried out in voluntary organisations operating in eight different European countries in (p.277) order to illustrate different examples of how they assess the impacts of external conditions on the volunteering of older people and the effects of these on the organisations themselves.

The methodological position of the chapter is that the case studies are vehicles for identifying generic types of behaviour without making claims for representativeness. To aid identification of the organisations, there is sometimes reference to the country of location. Moreover, this may go further to mention an aspect of the national socio-economic policy environment that is likely to be part of the explanation of the views of the particular voluntary organisations being considered. Generalising from a relatively small number of cases to making statements about national patterns should, obviously, be avoided. However, explaining a given case or group of cases fully may naturally allude to features of the national environment that are likely to be part of that explanation without implying that all potential cases would be similarly affected. This chapter does do this to some extent, but the interaction between older volunteering and country ‘welfare mixes’ is primarily a matter for the concluding Chapter Fourteen of this volume.

Thus, in light of the above, this chapter seeks to bring more balance to the body of evidence available on volunteering, by extending our knowledge of the perspectives of voluntary organisations. Basically, it addresses the following four main research questions relating to the working–caring–volunteering nexus involving older people;

  1. 1. How do voluntary organisations regard the implications of longer working lives for their volunteering environments, for example, through people's underlying attitudes to volunteering, to what they have to offer and to when to make the time commitment?

  2. 2. What is the experience of voluntary organisations in collaborating with private and public sector employers that seek directly to foster volunteering by their employees?

  3. 3. How do voluntary organisations perceive the impact of an increasingly older population and the requirement for more informal family care on the contribution of older people to volunteering?

  4. 4. Regarding informal family care, what further considerations arise for those voluntary organisations that specialise in the provision of social care?

Thus, the following section turns to examine how volunteering situations are affected by the labour force participation of older (p.278) people (the first two questions). The third section is devoted to the experiences and diagnoses of voluntary organisations relating to the impact of family care responsibilities on older volunteering (the third and fourth questions). The final section brings together the implications of the previous two sections for what are the principal generic dilemmas that face voluntary organisations. This is done by addressing how far the apparent ‘logic of competition’, between time for volunteering, working and informal caring, applies in practice.

The Labour Market

Labour force Participation of Older Workers

Volunteering and Work: Orientating the Discourse

Based mainly on a quantitative approach, a considerable body of emerging evidence suggests that older people still in paid work are more likely to volunteer than those outside paid work (see, for example, Erlinghagen, 2010). This does not mean, however, that voluntary organisations may not feel the intensification and/or the extension of the working lives of older people as a threat that may have the consequence of reducing the supply of volunteers.

Before referring to specific issues and illustrating their importance in the context of particular case studies, it is worth making some generic statements that apply to most of the cases and/or their wider environments:

  • The perceptions of voluntary organisations about trends in older labour force participation and employment rates and of their actual or potential impacts on the behaviour of their organisations may be plausible enough, but it cannot be assumed that they are necessarily based on sound analyses.

  • The propensity to volunteer is highest among those in employment, and among those with higher qualifications and/or skilled jobs and these two (overlapping) groups are growing in most countries. Evidence for this comes from survey analyses; these usually allow for differences in health among participants, so that the positive relationship between volunteering and working is a direct one and is not simply explained by a common positive relationship that each has with degree of good health (or of absence of limiting disability). (p.279)

  • Hours-related increases in older people's employment rates may come about without changes in formal retirement ages, through increases in hours of work in pre-retirement or post-retirement situations, where retirement is defined as taking a pension from one's main employment. This will be the case, especially where pension schemes impose no limitation on working for pay after retirement.

  • Where retirement is actually delayed, this may be thought likely to shorten or ‘squeeze’ the period left for volunteering, but whether it does so depends on what is happening to the length of healthy active life and on the patterns of interests and priorities that older people display through it.

  • There is some evidence (to be discussed later) that the ‘new seniors’ differ from previous cohorts at the same stage in their attitudes to volunteering, in that the kinds of commitment they give are less binding and more measured in terms of compatibility with their individual goals.

  • There is a strong gender dimension to how working, caring and volunteering interact. For some voluntary organisations, this is of explicit and central concern; for others it is implicit and apparently of uncertain significance to them (to be discussed later).

The above observations have a bearing on a number of issues considered by voluntary organisations and covered in this and the following section. At the outset, however, we might note that, taking a country cross-section among a sample of developed nations, there is certainly not a negative relationship between participating in the labour market and volunteering. Indeed, volunteering rates are higher among those countries with higher employment rates (Warburton and Jeppsson-Grassman, 2011). Moreover, within the countries covered in the present volume, there are also no such negative relationships over time.

Volunteering and Work: The Quantitative Dimension

It is easy to exaggerate differences in country-sector situations and their external conditions and changes in different factors over time, while ignoring the fairly common overall background. Many respondents recognised this, and referred to the extent of the potential pool of retired older volunteers simply because they do, in general, have more time to allocate as they wish, compared with younger and middle-aged people with developing families and careers to (p.280) attend to (Univoc, Teatro, Nivon, Gilde, Red Cross Army, DaneAge, DanChurchAid, Lekarzy Nadziei, WEA). This does not mean that actual –as opposed to potential –volunteering patterns are not radically different.

Moreover, older people's volunteering can be offered in more flexible forms (for example, by filling hosting vacancies at short notice in the case of Kasteel) and even in some cases on demand (as in 2 Studies). However, from some cases, there were complaints about volunteers negating this advantage, by committing themselves to multiple volunteering activities that then constrained their availability. Retired volunteers may then be no more flexible than labour market participants.

At the same time, there have been rigidities on the organisation's side that look out of place, given changes in the external environment. Particularly noteworthy is the self-imposed constraint adopted by Retraite Sportive, where volunteers were requested to comply with a condition that they should not be active in the labour market. In light of the increase in the legal retirement age in France, this condition was under review (at the time of interview with the organisation) in order to broaden the target volunteer population. On the other hand, another management reaction was to regret the legal reform allowing people to hold a job and be paid a pension, which would give younger retired people a financial incentive to find paid professional activity rather than to work as volunteers (Randonnée).

As regards the extent of change, some scepticism about the underlying trends was expressed by a small minority of respondents –for example, managers' personal experiences of having been made redundant as older workers and their lack of belief generally in employers' willingness to actively engage with seniors' potential coloured the responses of a Dutch environmental leisure service (Nivon). They believed that much had to change within organisations and in the minds of employers before people would be able to be employed at higher ages. In other cases, respondents admitted they were not really aware of the labour market developments around them and the possible implications for their organisations, or simply had no opinion (Portes and most of the Danish cases).

Leaving scepticism or lack of opinion aside, the demographics can be interpreted by some organisations in quite straightforward terms. Those involving both older volunteers and providing services to older people may indicate an underlying lack of concern because population ageing increases the ‘younger-older’ cohorts before it increases the ‘older-older’ cohorts: the supply of potential volunteers, (p.281) therefore, receives a boost before the demand from clients needing care expands (Seniorpartner). The effects of demographic change on volunteer supply in relation to demand are seen to be modest.

However, few of the respondents took comfort from such ‘demographic dynamics’. An equally straightforward view is that increased labour force participation will have a negative effect on volunteer supply; this was held particularly by organisations drawing mainly on older volunteers and providing altruistic services: Swedish Church, Mission Covenant, Salvation Army, City Mission, Red Cross Sweden. The Italian AUSER organisation took a similar view and another, UNIVOC, saw it as particularly penalising organisations heavily dependent on older volunteers. It was these organisations that were most likely to be analysing trends and looking for possible solutions. In contrast, organisations with a high share of younger volunteers as, for example, Save the Children and Children's Rights, saw no such negative effect, the former because they believed that their volunteer work depended on ‘engagement’ and not time availability, and the latter because most volunteers were younger anyway, and in employment. Other organisations, most of whose volunteers are, in any case, in employment, tend also to regard the increase in employment rates among older people as not constituting a problem.

Nonetheless, some organisations are concerned because they depend more on older women in part-time employment whose work intensity may increase to the point where it does encroach on their availability for volunteering; in others, substantial reductions in the pool of potential (women) volunteers were already in evidence (Caritas).

Alongside these current problems faced by some organisations are the reflections from an organisation that was in no such difficulty but was wary of their recent experience of greater enrolment of volunteers as a result of the economic crisis; many older people had lost their jobs, retired or had had their working hours reduced and had volunteered. These organisations did not want to rely on this effect for the medium-to-long term, when it was hoped that the economy and employment would recover and higher employment rates might begin to have some negative effects on volunteer supply (UNITRE).

Other organisations had noticed that rising labour force participation was having an effect on volunteering among older people, even though they themselves were not experiencing recruitment difficulties as a result, nor did they anticipate doing so. While not referring to a ‘shortening’ effect, the age at which some seniors were volunteering had risen from 60 to 62-65 (Senior Sport). Phases of post-retirement (p.282) activity were identified in terms of spending the early two or three years catching up on doing things that had not been possible during a busy working life, followed by a period of feeling somewhat at a loose end, which led to some retirees turning to volunteering (WRVS).

For organisations with a very broad ‘older’ age group engaged in volunteering, the specifics of gradual increases in formal retirement ages by three years or so, however, would seem to be much less pressing –yet organisational reactions could be quite different. Gilde, with volunteers aged between 50 and 70, saw the prospect of 90 per cent of their volunteers being ‘busy in the labour market’ if future policy scenarios came about. This led them to advocate volunteering as part of the transition between regular working life and active retirement. Yet the volunteer coordinator at Kasteel, working with 50+ plus volunteers, saw no such difficulty just because the retirement age was rising and more recruits were 67 rather than 65.

While it is possible to envisage a shifting of the volunteering phase of a person's life in time following the shifting of retirement ages with no loss of volunteering effort in the long run, this would still imply at least a one-off drop in the supply of volunteering as this process is taking place. Moreover, not only is there a lag, following retirement, before someone might turn to volunteering, but there is also likely to be a lag in the effects of increased work intensity in later life, with or without an actual extension to working life. Those who approach retirement with volunteering in mind through a wish to ‘get involved’, have new experiences and learn new skills may feel differently if they have spent longer at work. These sentiments that may be keenly felt at 60 could be less pressing at a later age. Some organisations that were trying to attract older volunteers in order to achieve more balanced age structures worried that they might miss the best moment when seeking to recruit them (ANPAS).

Thus, although there are good reasons for monitoring the prospects for the supply of older volunteers, most of those cited by the case study organisations were much less concerned about the volume of supply but rather reflected qualitative considerations.

Volunteering and Work: The Qualitative Dimension

Whether there are age-related propensities to volunteer, the above tends to ignore the fact that retirement may change the terms and timing of volunteering, but many people are already volunteering, and it is more a question of adjusting the extent and pattern of commitments, rather than deciding to volunteer or not to volunteer. The qualitative aspects (p.283) apply to these as much as to new volunteers. Those receiving most comment from the organisations and considered below, were: (i) the attitudes of volunteers and the nature of their volunteering; (ii) the place of women; (iii) the qualifications and professional experience that potential volunteers could offer; and (iv) the development of knowledge and skills relating to the volunteering roles.

  1. (i) On the nature of volunteering available, a number of the organisations pointed to changes in attitudes among the new seniors as being more important than any increase in labour force participation (although the two may be linked to some degree to a common effect). Reference was made to the more individualistic approaches that affected the willingness to volunteer, what to offer and how regularly. This was particularly underlined by voluntary organisations providing altruistic services (as, for example, Cross Church and Red Cross Army), probably since individualistic approaches tend to drive older people mainly towards self-expressive volunteering or other activities. In a rather different context, Gistrup, with a mainly older volunteer force, also faced what it felt to be a reduction in potential volunteers because of a lack of time and interest.

  2. (ii) As regards the place of women in the volunteering system, a number of organisations cited their concern at the observed or expected effects of rising labour force participation among older women when they were the dominant volunteer group (and also typically most subject to family caring pressures). Others, however, alluded to the under-utilisation of women's capabilities, acquired through women taking advantage of greater educational and occupational opportunities, yet given limited scope when it came to volunteering, where they were assigned traditional roles. In France, for example, the fact that older men are more likely to be volunteering in responsible positions than women is explained by the relative lack of occupational experience of retired women (Poussou-Plesse et al, 2010). But rather than leaving this problem to resolve itself, at least in part, since the imbalance in experience is declining with successive generations, Retraite Sportive adopted a more pro-active approach. It created a special commission to reflect on methods of promoting access for women to responsible posts at all levels. Through its work, the committee examined the various social, cultural and structural obstacles, as well as time (p.284) management considerations, which constituted the principal hurdles to participation by women.

    In some of the Italian and German organisations too, concern was expressed at the lack of women in leading roles. A rather different emphasis here from that of the French one given above is indicated by the ANPAS respondent –pointing to the greater difficulty for women in reconciling family and volunteering activities, increasing as it does with age (see p 288), rather than the lack of women with suitable experience.

  3. (iii) While the external labour market context can influence patterns of volunteering, so can the qualifications and professional experience that potential volunteers can offer. In general, the respondents in virtually all countries acknowledged, at least implicitly, that there was a fairly benign relationship between, on the one hand, external growth in education, training and skilled work experience that potential volunteers were able to offer and, on the other hand, the evolving requirements of voluntary organisations. Indeed, the quality of supply has probably grown faster than the quality of demand, as indicated by the earlier point in relation to the under-utilisation of the skills of women volunteers. There is, however, a less favourable effect of this, in that people with greater capabilities to offer may be discouraged from volunteering where they see their potential contribution being un(der)-recognised.

  4. (iv) While the (internal) ‘age’ management of volunteers and the development of voluntary organisations was the subject of Chapter Eleven, an external labour supply effect on their behaviour was alluded to by a number of the organisations interviewed. This is the constraint on them resulting from a lack of suitably qualified people to work in a sector that is seeking to professionalise its operations in several areas. Again, the current employment crisis may lead more qualified people to apply for work in this sector, rather than volunteer to get some worthwhile experience to add to their CVs, while still pursuing jobs with conventional private or public sector employers.

Employers: Meeting Business needs and Social Objectives

The attitudes of voluntary organisations to more conventional business organisations derive from a number of factors. Here the focus is on how different relationships or linkages between voluntary (p.285) activity and the corporate level may have an impact on volunteering by older Europeans. First, there may be sponsorship relations in which the voluntary body receives donations of money, supplies of an organisation's products or services and other resources (for example, business equipment), and accepts volunteer assistance; second, a voluntary organisation may provide charitable supporting functions, which it can legitimately carry out for a conventional business or, more usually, a public service; and third, a voluntary organisation may supply services under contract, again usually to a public service and ostensibly via normal commercial relations, where the voluntary body may have competed against other such bodies or commercial suppliers in order to secure the business.

As regards the first type of linkage, the growth of corporate social responsibility programmes has included corporate volunteering activities (or employee volunteer programmes), where employees are given time off (paid or unpaid) during the working day to volunteer for specific purposes. This is particularly prevalent in the US but is also significant, if modest in scale, in certain EU member states as, for example, Denmark, the UK and France (see Chapters Four, Six and Seven, respectively). A milder form of commitment may come through the employer being especially flexible in allowing individual employees who wish to volunteer to do so without complications arising over making up the working time lost (AVULSS). Indeed, in Italy, AVULSS was very concerned about the effects of extensions to working life and was seeking to strengthen enforcement of the 1991 Law no 266, which gives workers who are members of voluntary organisations an entitlement to take advantage of flexible working times, in order to carry out voluntary activities, allowing for the needs of the company.

Examples of companies offering employees as volunteers to organisations were found in the Netherlands (Gilde), and there are similar initiatives in England, at RNIB and VRH. Similarly, the Ronald charity attracts various forms of support from profit-making organisations. Instead of a team-building day in the open air, a group of employees of one company helps out with chores; or a personnel officer of Dutch Railways gives advice to the charity's manager about personnel management.

A somewhat different corporate motivation comes into play in schemes that introduce into a retirement programme a period of employment that may involve being deployed in work for a voluntary organisation before retiring (Gilde, WRVS).

(p.286) While these initiatives were seen as positive, they were often created at the margins of a company's human resources (HR) activity and could be weakened or withdrawn –for example, if the company experienced new business conditions and the implicit subsidies involved began to appear unaffordable or tied up too much management time. Those voluntary organisations involved with them, however, did not seem very concerned about the loss of this support in the event of the supplying organisation facing financial difficulties that would lead them to withdraw the programme.

Indeed, anticipating potential problems may lead to mediating action: the project manager in the Bücherhallen assumed that the financial crisis would reduce the amount of money received from sponsors, but the organisation aimed to compensate for that by commissioning volunteers to engage in fundraising and selling books in flea markets.

The second kind of linkage comes through voluntary organisations providing charitable services, usually to public or quasi-public bodies (for example, supplying people to act as hospital information guides for patients and families, serving refreshments and offering transport to and from hospital appointments; helping children to read; voluntary work on public heritage projects). In some of these cases, there is the potential for substituting volunteering for conventional jobs, at least to a degree. In general, voluntary organisations did not regard this as being very significant at all –but see below in relation to those providing care services.

The attitudes of voluntary organisations or, more generally, the ‘voluntary practitioner community’ towards taking on tasks under the third category, supplying paid-for services, appear to derive from a complex mix of different elements. These include, especially, culture (for example, what should be the responsibility of the individual or family to provide and/or fund and what should be expected from publicly funded services), activities relating to advocacy in the arena where political priorities are debated and recognition of social imperatives that provoke some citizens to respond actively on a voluntary basis to apparent social need.

Concern can also derive from the view that some of these tasks should be carried out by employees, and not volunteers, and that the latter are taking paid work from the former. This is less likely to be the reaction when employment levels in the organisation are stable or rising. But when job cuts are a consequence of reductions in public spending, this becomes a more difficult issue. In point of fact, few (p.287) voluntary organisations referred to this as an external challenge to the legitimacy of their activities.

Informal and Structured Care Provision: The Impact on Volunteering of Older People

After the analysis in the previous section of the relationship between work and volunteering of older people, this section deals with the organisational perspective on the linkage between informal care and volunteering. It is divided into two parts: the first reports on how the organisations studied perceived the relationship between informal family caregiving in relation to older relatives and, more broadly, of family members (such as helping adult children in raising grandchildren) and volunteering in older age; the second focuses on those organisations that are primarily active in the care sector, with the additional issues that arose in their case.

Older Volunteers as Family Caregivers: Organisational Perceptions

The views of voluntary organisations form the primary source for analysis but, as observed in the previous section regarding the effects on volunteering of the labour force participation of older people, it is not assumed that they are necessarily cogent or based on extensive analysis. These views are, however, important as perceptions that are likely to guide the behaviour of the key actor at the centre of this study.

We can say that, while in general the voluntary organisations perceived family caregiving as a recurrent activity, this did not worry all such organisations. For instance, at Scout, with a relatively high proportion of younger volunteers, there were many individual examples where increased family/elder care responsibilities affected volunteering, but it did not have an impact on the organisation as a whole. Even at WRVS, taking on caring responsibilities for grandchildren or an older family member was one of the most common reasons for older people to drop out of volunteering, but they could join the charity again after a couple of years, when care duties were over (this also applied in some of the Italian organisations).

Moreover, several organisations did not have particular problems in recruiting (older) volunteers, so the potentially negative impact of informal caring on volunteering was not felt to be a major issue. Furthermore, although our case study methodology does not allow generalisation, we should not be surprised that voluntary organisations (p.288) operating where informal family caregiving is not widespread were not concerned about its influence on volunteering by older people (for example, the Danish and Dutch organisations).

Nonetheless, some organisations seemed to be directly affected by the influence of family caregiving on their volunteer workforce, and considered this to be a major problem. Ausbildungspaten, for example, regularly experienced cessation of individual volunteering due to volunteers' family care situations. And representatives of some Swedish organisations believed that any greater need for informal family care would reduce the number of volunteers available, as people substituted informal caring for volunteering. Similar situations applied in Italy to ANPAS, UNIVOC and UNITRE. In the German Caritas and Lohner representatives' opinion, this effect extended to the recruitment of new volunteers. Indeed, organisations were more inclined to see the downside for volunteer supply of a major growth in demand for elder care, responsibility for its informal provision mainly falling on women in an environment where the role of the family in informally caring for older people is a strong one. This particularly applies to those organisations with proportionately more older people among their volunteers.

Again, while emphasising the distinction between explaining a case partly by reference to the national policy and socio-economic environment and generalising to the national level from the level of the case, we may refer to the absence of concern about the effects of informal family care on volunteering among the Polish organisations interviewed. It is reasonable to hypothesise that this stemmed from a combination of the deep-rooted role of informal family care that is taken for granted in that country, combined with the extremely low role of volunteering apparent.

Care Provision by Voluntary Organisations: Intersections with Informal Caring

This section focuses on the implications of informal caregiving for those organisations that are primarily active in the care sector. Thus, narrowing the discussion further to focus on voluntary organisations providing social and health services (not just to older people but to other parts or all of the population) identifies part of the voluntary sector that clearly expects there to be a strong growth in the underlying demand for its services. Most of all, this relates to increases in life expectancy, albeit accompanied by rising healthy life expectancy.

(p.289) Here, we confine the discussion to how informal caring by volunteers intersects with the work of voluntary care organisations and the broader care system. Three aspects of this are explored: (i) the relationship between volunteers as informal carers and their role in voluntary care organisations; (ii) the evolution of the care system and its consequences for volunteers and voluntary organisations, as seen by the latter; and (iii) voluntary organisations and public policy.

The Relationship between Volunteers as Informal Carers and their Role in Voluntary Organisations

The potential effects of increased family care roles on volunteering behaviour have been discussed above in broad terms. Some more specific issues should be added. First, increased experience of caring may mean that certain volunteer caring roles become less attractive to people because they represent a reinforcement of what they contend with at home. Children's Rights points to the fact that it is not simply a question of availability of time; contacts with children in distress are psychologically stressful and an increase in the home caring workload would reduce the number of volunteers. In the same vein, the respondent from the Italian UNIVOC, which provides social services to blind individuals, worried that a person caring for a dependent family member could not consider voluntary work within the social and health services as a ‘safety valve’, since they would be more or less pursuing similar activities to those carried out at home. They believe that people would presumably try to ‘have a break’ in a different form of volunteering.

However, there is another perspective offered by Children's Rights itself, which identifies a potentially positive aspect: greater personal involvement in informal caregiving might entail a positive externality for volunteer organisations because citizens may become more prone to engage in civic organisation in the future. More specifically, the WRVS which provides, among other things, care services for older people, observed that it gained ‘quite a few volunteers’ whose parents had received support from the organisation and who joined WRVS after they had died, wanting ‘to give something back’ as the organisation had been ‘very helpful in their family circumstances’. Thus, in a way, they repaid the support their parent had received.

Recently in the Netherlands, a foundation with about 25 care homes has provoked debate by proposing that such an altruistic follow-up might be turned into a way of helping to cover the costs of care more predictably, by preferring clients who bring their own (p.290) volunteer with them; this is achieved by introducing a condition into the contract for elder care that the family would supply a minimum number of volunteered hours per week, in return for their relative being accepted as a resident.

Finally, despite the rather pessimistic Italian view mentioned earlier, as exemplified by UNIVOC, the Italian AVULSS joins Sweden's Children's Rights and the English WRVS in believing that there are positive aspects present where carers engaged in informal ‘voluntary work’ at home may be taking a first step to volunteering in the formal social or health sector.

The Evolution of the Care System and its Consequences for Volunteers and Voluntary Organisations

The majority of the investigated organisations providing care services employ mainly older volunteers and mainly women. There is a problematical element here in that male service users tend to prefer to be cared for by men (AVULSS). In light of this, two strategies identified were to recruit more men (for example, the Italian AVULSS) and young-middle-aged volunteers (2 Studies, Hospice, PKN, Swedish Church, MBU, Lekarzy Nadziei, WRVS).

One reason for involving more young volunteers is that voluntary work in these organisations often involved physically demanding work (Lohner, 2 Studies, Ronald).

Nevertheless, organisations were finding it difficult to meet these objectives, since young volunteers and men in general, seem to be less attracted by care activities. Furthermore, in some voluntary organisations with older age profiles (for example, Caritas), existing volunteers may not be so eager to integrate new volunteers from non-traditional groups.

While the lack of balance between the demographic (age and/or gender) dimensions of volunteer supply and demand is evident in the above, it is accompanied by a corresponding one among employed care staff. Stimulating the supply of male workers, whether employees or volunteers, is a matter for public policy to wrestle with, rather than to be left simply to individual organisations.

Against the above background, there are other important ingredients that different voluntary organisations must deal with. In some cases, organisations were struggling to recruit volunteers for specific tasks, such as visiting lonely older people (DaneAge and Red Cross Army). While measures to reduce the impact of this exist, for example, (p.291) through helping such people to become less isolated, these do not remove the need for ‘person-to-person’ contact.

However, many of the voluntary organisations saw a more general issue when reflecting on their external environment, even if it also stemmed from the impetus to develop their organisations to meet changing internal aspirations to improve their performance. This is their need for more professional and competent volunteers (Lekarzy Nadziei, Emmaüs and Frères), whereas, in some organisations, the main perception was that this could not be met through the current profiles of older volunteers, as, for example, in some organisations investigated in Denmark (DanChurchAid, 9220 and Cross Church), even if older volunteers played a major role in this field.

Voluntary Organisations and Public Policy

Most of the voluntary organisations studied believed that the demand for the care services they provide had been growing and would continue to do so in future. Most received funding from the state, at the national, regional and/or local level, and some from the European Union (EU). Some of this funding was (more or less) continuous, some contingent on formal contract performance and some time-limited, in accordance with the programmes of which it was a part. For those organisations that relied on these sources of funding (particularly the last two), sustainability was a continual concern, even if the underlying demand was rising, simply because the purchasing power of the state was not keeping up with it. Thus, even before the western financial crisis broke in 2008, all governments were struggling to devise plans to deal with a rising health and social care bill, at the same time as trying to improve the quality of care and quality of life of older citizens.

The aftermath of the economic crisis has not just involved matters of finance. During the last decade in particular, certain types of external regulation, depending on the country, have impinged on the voluntary care sector.

The Dutch context can be taken as a case in point. Here, volunteer supply is not a problem but the country has not been immune from the European economic crisis. Municipalities, having the responsibility to make policies for voluntary work, have sought to encourage free-of-charge volunteering in the health sector, since the crisis in the short run within the healthcare sector involves major shortages of professional carers (2 Studies).

Thus, in a situation requiring an expansion of services by the voluntary sector (Hospice Utrecht), there is also an increase in (p.292) demand for more professionalised older volunteers. Exemplifying this pressure is the growing practice, according to 2 Studies, to work with competence charts for volunteers, which help them to understand which volunteer can be deployed for which task. A role in professionalising volunteer work is also played by the need to meet similar standards for volunteers to those for employees concerning safety and hygiene.

While the above issues are already in the centre of the big picture, there are others that appear at the margins, where the perception of the ‘challenge’ to voluntary organisations is given another twist. Rising informal family care may not only compromise the capacity of some voluntary bodies to meet the growing demand for care, given its potential impact on the supply of volunteer carers. It may also compete with established volunteer bodies in providing that care; at its simplest, more informal caring may mean less work and funding to bid for by voluntary service providers than would otherwise have been the case (as noted, for example, by the Salvation Army in Sweden).

The situation can be complex, however. Governments have been exploring (indeed, experimenting on a large scale, in some cases) with different approaches to caring that generally favour services in the home and improving the financial and other support for family carers. Thus, rather than seeing the increase in informal family care as, in some way, potentially reducing the funded demand for the services of voluntary care organisations, some organisations assessed the position from a different perspective. They believed that the demand for their current services would not decrease but would, instead, be supplemented by needing to provide assistance to family carers –the Italian AUSER, for example, pointed to this, but was concerned that it would not be able to meet increasing demand for such support.

Furthermore, at a time when it may seem that the scenario for voluntary organisations appears quite promising, given the calls for more engagement of volunteers in the care sector to save public money, the state may not allocate adequate resources for competency development to improve the quality and organisation of voluntary work to the level needed (as observed by DanChurchAid). Thus, care organisations were coming under great pressure to deal with a decrease in public funding when demands on their activity were growing (for example, Caritas and Lohner, providing goods from clothing and food banks). (p.293)


It is clear that socio-economic changes are leading to competition for the time of those who might volunteer. The activities of three (overlapping) groups are most involved: greater participation by women in the labour force; extended working lives of older people; and greater engagement of the ‘young-older’ in informal caring for elderly relatives who are living longer (albeit with greater healthy life expectancy) and grandchildren whose parents (mothers) are working more substantially in the labour market.

Two of these forces stem from the rising attainments achieved in the education and training systems, especially prior to entering the labour market. This has been particularly dramatic for women, buttressed by positive changes in attitudes and equal opportunities employment legislation, and has contributed to their higher employment rates; but it has also contributed, along with the expansion of occupations in the intermediate and higher levels of the occupational hierarchy, to older people staying on longer in employment.

This final section draws on the key findings of the previous two sections relating to the research questions posed at the start of the chapter in order to offer some more general reflections on the situations facing voluntary organisations, referring to the analytical deficit, the qualitative dimension and competing concerns in their operation vis-à-vis the external environment.

An Analytical Deficit

Voluntary organisations view external challenges regarding their abilities to recruit and manage an effective volunteer force through a mix of concerns that are not always accompanied by helpful analysis. There is a tendency to blur distinctions between:

  • their ability to meet current demand as opposed to future demand;

  • funded demand and the underlying demand that includes unmet need;

  • the different sources of the challenge, however defined: rising demand for the services they provide; an absolute decline in the supply of volunteers; and a rising supply of volunteers, but one that is failing to keep pace with the rising demand for them;

  • the qualitative dimensions to the match between volunteer demand and supply.

(p.294) This uncertainty is not particularly surprising, given the contrast between the lack of regular information available on developments in the ‘market for unpaid volunteers’ and the considerable volume of labour market information and analysis available to conventional employers, dealing with questions of the demand and supply of paid labour in both quantitative and qualitative terms.

Most voluntary organisations are not used to thinking in the above terms, yet are increasingly having to develop the capacity to do so.

When it comes to those areas of voluntary work that overlap with or complement public services, especially in health and social care, the limited knowledge and understanding that voluntary organisations have of their external environments is compounded by the approaches taken by most governments. As shown in the earlier country chapters (Part II), public authorities achieve only periodic understandings of the situations in the voluntary sector through the reports of ad hoc review committees, yet they often adopt bold positions setting out various contributions they want the voluntary sector to make to social welfare.

This analytical deficit is at its greatest in the case of the welfare of older citizens, in contrast to the efforts made to assess childcare situations or mainstream healthcare provision.

The Importance of the Qualitative Dimension

Woven into the discussion of external influences on volunteering are organisational expressions of concern about the capabilities of the older volunteers available. These are quite sensitive to their cultural histories and current situations. But whether organisations state them baldly in terms of ‘quality of volunteers’, or in more nuanced terms, these expressions boil down to three essential messages. First, there is a need to improve organisational performance through professionalising the management of volunteers and their relationships with the roles of employed staff. Second, while there is a need for volunteers to carry out traditional tasks, there is also a need for them to tackle more demanding functions. And third, in pursuing the latter, organisations should capitalise both on the rising supply of better qualified people approaching retirement and on the higher propensity of such people to volunteer.

(p.295) Competing Concerns: Working–caring–volunteering–funding

This chapter has explored the views held by voluntary organisations on the current and potential impacts of labour force participation and informal family caregiving by older people on their abilities to meet the demand for their voluntary services. These relate to the first and third questions, respectively, of the four posed in the introductory section. We find that organisational perceptions differ according to the structure of their volunteer force (organisations involving older and women volunteers saw greater difficulties), the nature of the activity (organisations providing ‘altruistic’ services seemed to feel more vulnerable) and, to some extent, the ‘welfare mix’ of which they are a part.

Overall, organisational views are dominated by short-term considerations in which the effects of rising employment rates among older people seem to be regarded as being less important than the effects of their growing responsibilities for caregiving.

The first question led to a second about interactions with private and public sector organisations via employee volunteering: the small number of cases offering insights into these no doubt reflects the fact that this is still a relatively marginal phenomenon in Europe compared with the US. However, there is scope for further development, for example, through linkages to the retirement transition where phasing out of paid work might be accompanied by phasing in of some or more volunteering, with resourcing from the employer.

Thus, regarding the fourth question, relating to the particular experiences of those voluntary organisations that specialise in social care, these are doubly affected by such developments: they usually rely greatly on older people and women as volunteers, the two groups most affected by the rise in both labour force participation and informal caring. In addition, where people engage in family caregiving, voluntary organisations recognise that this may replicate too much the demands that volunteers do or would experience. On the other hand, it is acknowledged that informal caring can be conducive to the later resumption or take-up of care-related formal volunteering.

It is difficult to anticipate what the implications of the financial crisis are ultimately going to be for volunteering in general and that of older people in particular. Voluntary organisations often receive funding from the state of one kind or another. Restraints on public spending are likely to affect their work, even their viability. Yet it is just at such times of austerity, with cut-backs in public provision and funding of care services that voluntary organisations come forward to (p.296) support the needy members of the population. It remains to be seen what may happen in the future –that is a matter for the next chapter. Meanwhile, if the current views of the organisations are extrapolated, it is probably true to say that they expect that the effects of this stringency in public finance on the future operations of voluntary organisations –on both the demands they experience and their capacity to meet them –will exceed the labour market effects on volunteer supply.

However, there is also a sense from this research that voluntary organisations are beginning to see a rather different volunteering environment emerging, whether through changing preferences, labour market opportunities/constraints, or family imperatives. These external conditions will increasingly impinge on organisational styles and strategies and on the experiences of the older volunteer.


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