Forty per cent of heritage organisations don’t have a volunteering strategy

Visitors to exhibition at heritage site with red walls and framed pictures, on time lapse
Image Credit: 
Julian Mora via Unsplash
15 June, 2021


A new report from the Heritage Volunteering Group (HVG) has revealed that 40% of heritage organisations have no volunteering strategy, despite 45% of heritage organisations relying on volunteers to help with critical work, and 70% saying they could not function without volunteers. This suggests a huge gap between the need for volunteers and these organisations’ overall planning and sustainability.

A volunteering strategy helps organisations pinpoint where assistance is needed most, which skills are a priority, how to keep track of volunteering progress, and how to engage with potential and existing volunteers.

The report, called Creating Capacity 2021: Rebuilding volunteering in the heritage sector post-COVID, was developed in partnership with Historic England. More than half of the organisations who took part were independent or local authority-run, and half of the organisations had less than 100 volunteers.

Respondents said that the main action needed to develop a volunteer programme would be ‘wider organisation buy-in for volunteering’ – that means more people in the organisation being aware of the impact of volunteers and their crucial role. Interestingly, ‘increased budget’ was one of the least important actions that organisations could take, suggesting that culture change and acceptance is considered much more of a priority than money.

Other findings from the report:

  • 23% of heritage organisations do not have a senior volunteer engagement role in their team. Most leadership teams are only ‘somewhat engaged’ in the development of volunteering.
  • 38% of heritage organisations said they were not well-equipped to deliver new models of volunteering.
  • It also recommended that heritage organisations get resources on diverse, inclusive and resilient volunteer programmes. One-third of respondents had trouble accessing materials, such as best practice templates.

There’s a need to look at the place of volunteers in the overall team structure. According to the report authors:

‘Longer-term, there are concerns about job substitution, replacement and displacement and the role volunteers will be asked to play in the face of job cuts. We do not support the replacement of paid roles with volunteers; however, we do believe that organisations should consider volunteers as part of their wider workforce.’

Creating Capacity 2021 has offered suggestions to improve volunteer management, for example:

‘Leadership teams need to become more engaged with the strategic development of volunteering. Strategies that map out progressive long-term plans need to be developed and implemented and senior roles needed to be created to support their creation.’

How Voscur can help with volunteering success

  • We offer a range of courses on volunteer management through our new VCSE Academy website – these include Measuring the Impact of Volunteering (Tuesday 21 September) and, for beginners, Volunteers and the Law (Thursday 2 December).
  • If you don’t see a suitable course and you’d like something bespoke for your organisation, we can work with you to deliver personalised training or consultancy.
  • List any volunteer vacancies on the Voscur website – it’s free to add your listing, and simple to do.

We also recommend you join the Bristol Volunteer Organisers’ Forum, a local gathering of organisations and community groups that work with volunteers and meet several times a year. Join the VOF mailing list or email for general enquiries.

After a tough 15 months, we look forward to seeing heritage organisations thrive as we move towards recovery from the pandemic.