nfpSynergy have published a briefing (PDF) on over-estimating levels of volunteering which does make for interesting reading.
In it they suggest that loose definitions make for over-estimates and make some interesting recommendations; that ‘informal volunteering’ should be re-christened as neighbourliness or community spirit, that volunteering should therefore just refer to ‘formal volunteering’ and that how volunteering is defined within the Citizenship survey questions should be tightened.
Measuring volunteering is of course notoriously difficult. Not only does it depend on a person’s own perception of volunteering or the questions actually posed, but it is easier to say what isn’t volunteering rather than what is.
The differing figures from nfpsynergy, the Citizenship Survey and the National Surveys clearly indicate that we do need some form of acceptable uniformity. And maybe the answer will come from the UN. Earlier this year it confimred that it will issue guidelines on how national governments should measure voluntary work in national surveys.