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Voluntary action

Voluntary action is at the heart of all our work  – so most of our projects are with those engaged in some kind of voluntary action. Informal groups who want to make their community a better place; small to medium voluntary organisations that are tackling disadvantage, pioneering new approaches to social justice or championing groups who have been neglected; or charitable foundations that are looking at ways to better support these activities.


What links these all together is that they are groups, organisations and people that are undertaking or fostering voluntary action, working round the clock to improve the quality of life and opportunity for individuals, families and communities.


Local organisations make a vital difference to the lives of individuals, families and communities across the UK, especially those who need them most.

Terminology arrow""



Community  The individuals, groups and organisations in an area. Impact  The difference the whole organisation (as distinct from its individual projects or programmes) makes to communities over the long term.

What is voluntary action?

‘Voluntary action’ covers a vast range of independent activities undertaken by people, individually or collectively, through their own choice. These actions are ‘voluntary’ because they are not demanded by statutory duties or by legal obligations or regulations. They are also not determined by the demands of private enterprise to make a profit or accrue financial wealth. We are all still trying to figure out how and why they work: there’s no straight forward manual.

Since William Beveridge’s report in the 1940s ‘voluntary action’ has been seen as complementing, rather than replacing, welfare state services. A street party, visiting a sick neighbour, or painting a street mural are probably best organised by ourselves. Many support, advice and advocacy activities are best undertaken by independent organisations. Pioneering, or campaigning for new services has been a traditional role of voluntary action (for example, in areas such as homelessness, addiction, domestic violence and youth action). Voluntary action plays a central role in creating a healthy vibrant and engaged society. It offers a voice and a practice that can point towards a better world.

IVAR’s work

At IVAR, we work with those who do the work – from ‘below the radar’ organisations through to those providing services previously delivered by the state – through engaged and collaborative research: gathering evidence; listening to experiences and perspectives; providing direct guidance; helping people to adapt and improve practice; promoting awareness and understanding; and influencing the strategies and behaviours of funders.


Voluntary organisations with incomes under £1m have lost more income proportionally than larger charities; have undergone substantial income fluctuation; and the smaller the charity, the more they have lost in income from local and central government.

NCVO (2016) Navigating change: An analysis of financial trends for small and medium-sized charities

Relevant reports

front cover image volunteering and early childhood outcomes

Research reports:

Volunteering and early childhood outcomes

Jenny McLeish, Leila Baker, Helen Connolly, Houda Davis, Charlotte Pace, Celia Suppiah

In collaboration with Parents 1st we carried out an evidence review - exploring if and how volunteering, peer support and ‘community champions’ projects can support child development outcomes.

Front cover image for Duty of Care


Duty of Care

Eliza Buckley, Ben Cairns, Alison Harker, Romayne Hutchison

This report outlines findings from the ‘Recession Watch' research project led by IVAR and working with: Comic Relief; Cripplegate Foundation; The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund; Esmée Fairbairn Foundation; Henry Smith Charity; and The Tudor Trust.

Front cover image of Turning a Corner


Turning a corner

Richard Jenkins, Eliza Buckley, Ben Cairns

Learn more about IVAR