Let's put Volunteering in the 2021 Census

The Central Statistics Office are currently carrying out a public consultation on the types of questions that will be asked in Census 2021. There was a question on volunteering in 2006, but it was not included in the 2016 Census, much to our disappointment.  As such, Kerry Volunteer Centre is asking for your support in getting Volunteering back into the Census-the deadline for submissions is November 3rd, so there is not much time left. census

We would love it if you were able to make a submission to the CSO supporting putting Volunteering related questions back into the Census. To make it as easy as possible, you can just cut and paste the text from our submission below and submit it at https://surveys.cso.ie/jfe/form/SV_3CtoRPfCjau7YPz - it shouldn’t take more than a minute. Kerry Volunteer Centres' submission is written to adhere to the framework of the consultation and makes what Kerry Volunteer Centre believe is a strong statistical argument.

We think (and we hope you would agree) that volunteering is such an important part of Irish life, that this question should be in every census. We often find that most information on volunteering is anecdotal and there are no hard figures to show how seriously the State should take volunteering. Volunteering is not free, it is priceless.

You are more than welcome to add information to the sample submission below (maybe information on the valuable work that volunteers do in your organisation). It cannot be over-emphasise how important this submission is, as the census influences Government policy and funding. As the saying goes ‘if you’re not counted, then you don’t count’.


-------------------Sample Submission to CSO on 2021 Census---------

I would like to make a submission to the CSO to increase the information available on volunteering.
Volunteering is at the heart of every community across Ireland and affects every member of the population either directly or indirectly. It supports a number of a number of key Government priority areas which currently include homelessness, mental health and labour activation. Current, detailed data is vital to ensuring that volunteering is accessible to all and remains at the core of Irish society. Currently, detailed data is not available for such a critical part of Irish societal activity.


Background 2006 Census
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:
1. Helping or voluntary work with a social or charitable organisation
2. Helping or voluntary work with a religious group or church
3. Helping or voluntary work with a sporting organisation
4. Helping or voluntary work with a political or cultural organisation
5. Any other voluntary activity.

Respondents were also asked to note if they had not engaged in voluntary activity. There has been no such questions in subsequent censuses.

The purpose of the user need and analysis required.
According to the most recent CSO data, over 1 million people in Ireland volunteer. As highlighted above, the last data available on volunteering is from the QNHS 2013 Q3 report and prior to that the 2006 census. Since the 2006 census, the country has experienced major changes including a recession, high unemployment and immigration/emigration. Up to date data is vital to ensure that both the volunteering infrastructure and the Government can appropriately address the challenges and opportunities in volunteering in Ireland.
There is currently a dearth of research on volunteering in Ireland.

Nationwide, comprehensive data will enable the State and the Community and Voluntary sector identify areas where more research is needed to inform practice. For example, knowing whether more volunteering is formal or informal and knowing the ratio of rural to urban volunteers will allow us to direct our resources where they are most required. This type of information would be of critical importance in areas such as homelessness and mental health – services currently heavily supported but the community and voluntary sector.


There are over 8,000 charities in Ireland, the majority of which involve volunteers and over half of which would not survive without volunteers. Their work is vital to Irish society and having hard data on volunteering in Ireland will support them to recruit volunteers effectively and continue to deliver their mission.
On a global scale, Ireland has a reputation as a generous nation with a strong culture of volunteering. However, there is no current data to back this claim up. Statistics backing up these claims will help Government promote Ireland abroad as an attractive place in which to invest and live.


In the World Giving Index 2016 (published by the Charities Aid Foundation in the UK), Ireland fell from 10th to 11th place in terms of levels of volunteering, globally. A question on volunteering in the 2021 census would allow us to learn if levels of volunteering in Ireland are increasing, decreasing or staying the same. This will allow us to develop appropriate internventions and help ensure that volunteering continues to thrive.
In terms of the question to be included, it should be similar to the 2006 census with a broader time period (e.g.: 12 months) and more relevant categories of volunteering.

It should be broken down to two options:
- Formal volunteering – with an organisation or community group
- Informal volunteering – volunteering as an individual unattached to any group


Also, for those that respond that they have not volunteered in the stated time period, there should be an additional question asking if they have ever volunteered before.
Need for the data at a small area level/small population groups
Local areas and regions have different challenges when it comes to volunteering e.g.: rural isolation, older populations, lack of transport options. Breaking volunteering data down to small areas and population groups will allow us to address these in a targeted and more impactful way.

Small area and population data will allow Government to invest in the local infrastructure based on the real needs of the area.


Requirement for cross tabular analysis
In Scotland, 6% of the volunteers undertake 66% of the volunteering. This represents a huge challenge particularly given a large amount of the 6% are older volunteers. However, this problem can be addressed as they have concrete data to guide their approach. In Ireland, while anecdotal research suggests our position is similar, no such hard data is available. Cross tabular analysis across age, gender and location will allow for a targeted approach to volunteering strategies and ensure maximum impact.