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EACEA National Policies Platform


2. Voluntary Activities

2.4 Youth volunteering at national level

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 26/06/2020

On this page
  1. National Programme for Youth Volunteering
  2. Funding
  3. Characteristics of youth volunteering
  4. Support to young volunteers
  5. Quality Assurance (QA)
  6. Target groups


National Programme for Youth Volunteering

There is not currently a national programme for youth volunteering. The diversity of youth volunteering is recognised through a range of agencies and awards.  

Previous initiatives

In June 2003, the First Minister set up a working group to consider the scope for developing a national youth volunteering programme for Scotland. The review led to the establishment of  Project Scotland, to develop full-time quality-assured volunteer placements for 16-25 year olds.

Project Scotland was funded by the Scottish Executive from 2004/05 – 2006/07, but following a change of administration in 2007, the new Scottish Government announced later that year that funding for Project Scotland would be reduced in 2008/09 and withdrawn in 2009/10.  Its funding was to be directed towards a wider range of organisations and promote volunteering to more diverse groups.

Project Scotland, as an independent organisation, now offers 16-30 year olds full-time structured volunteering opportunities with charities across Scotland. It secured alternative financial backing through various sources such as local authorities, Trusts and Foundations and the corporate sector. It may receive Scottish Government funding through successful grant applications on an ad hoc basis.


The nation-wide youth social action #iWill campaign has a presence in Scotland, however its funding stream the #iWillfund is an England-only initiative. In June 2020, YouthLink Scotland announced the Scottish #IWill Advisory Board’s continued commitment to supporting young people in Scotland to engage in social action up to 2022. This is in the context of Step Up To Serve, the time-limited charity coordinating the #iwill campaign, closing as planned in December 2020. 


Financial support to volunteering from the Scottish Government is mainly channelled through the 32Third Sector Interfacesto carry out their key functions, one of which is volunteer development.

Impact Funding Partners, formerly known as Voluntary Action Fund, on behalf of the Scottish Government, delivers theVolunteering Support Grant to local community organisation. It is part of the Volunteering Support Fund, to support and promote volunteering among a variety of groups, including young people.

This fund is open to support third sector organisations working to agreed outcomes:

  • third sector organisations create new volunteering projects, increasing the diversity of volunteers, especially those from disadvantaged groups
  •  third sector organisations provide improved opportunities for skills and personal development through volunteering
  •  third sector organisations improve their capacity to deploy, support and train volunteers
  •  by involving volunteers, third sector organisations enhance the services they deliver to better meet the needs of the communities they operate within.

Volunteer Development Scotland is also funded by the Scottish Government to develop, promote and enhance volunteering across Scotland.

YouthLink Scotland maintains an onlinefunding directory.

Characteristics of youth volunteering

A number of different sources provide information about the characteristics of youth volunteering in Scotland, as outlined below.

According toCollaborating for Community Impact: the Third Annual Impact Report into the Activities of Scotland's 32 Third Sector Interfaces 2014/15 in 2014/15, nearly 24,000 young people achieved a Saltire Award for youth volunteering - a rise from 19,000 the previous year. This is in the context of overall UK-wide volunteering rates decreasing (see the sub-heading ‘Existing arrangements’ in the article ‘Skills Recognition’ for more information about the Saltire Awards).


The National Volunteering Framework uses data from Volunteer Scotland and the Scottish Household Survey 2017 to assess the characteristics of youth volunteering. They state the volunteering rate for young people aged 11-18 was 52% in 2016, nearly double the adult volunteering rate of 28% in 2017. Sport or exercise was by far the most popular volunteering activity for young people at 49%, followed by children and youth groups. The lowest adult participation rate was for those aged 25-34 at 23%. Younger adults were more likely to volunteer with children and young people and help with sporting activities, whilst older adults were more likely to volunteer for religious organisations, community groups, and groups working with the elderly. 

TheYoung People in Scotland Surveyis a school-based omnibus study run by Ipsos Mori which captures the views, experiences and aspirations of young people in Scotland. It is a multi-client study which means the survey is made up of a range of questions purchased by a number of organisations.

The UK Cabinet Office commissions Ipsos MORI to carry out the annual Youth Social Action survey to measure the proportion of 10-20 year olds taking part in social action across the UK.

Results of the2017 survey show that participation in meaningful social action has significantly decreased during the past year. While in 2016 52 per cent of the 10-20 year olds were reported to have carried out meaningful social action in the past year, in 2017 this number decreased to only 38%.

Rates of participation across the whole of the UK in specific types of social action in 2017 are as follows:

  • Fundraising / sponsored event - 43 per cent
  • Gave time to charity / cause - 30 per cent
  • Supported people -  23 per cent
  • Tutored, coached, mentored someone – 18 per cent
  • Helped improve local areas – 15 per cent
  • Campaigned for something - 8 per cent. 

In 2017, theYoung People and Volunteering in Scotland 2016 Survey was published,  recording that just over half of all young people (52 per cent) were participating in volunteering, a much higher rate than the adult volunteering rate for Scotland, which was 27 per cent. In seven years therefore, since the first survey of youth volunteering had been undertaken in 2009, there had been a 19 percentage point increase in youth volunteering. 40 per cent of young people were volunteering in their own spare time, and the most common frequency of volunteering noted was about once a week, with 30 per cent of young people choosing this option.

The top five areas in which young people would be interested in volunteering were:

  1. sport and exercise
  2. children or young people's groups (outside of school)
  3. children or young people (in school)
  4. hobbies/arts/recreation/social clubs
  5. local community or neighbourhood groups.

Volunteer Development Scotland provides further information and research on young people’s participation.


The Scottish Household Survey 2018 also analyses volunteering data, including by age. Volunteering was lowest among men aged 25 to 34 compared to all of the other age groups under 75. 28% of women aged 16-24 report providing unpaid help to groups, clubs and organisations in the past 12 months compared to 24% of men in the same cohort.

Support to young volunteers

It is up to the individual organisations involving young people as volunteers whether or not they want to pay expenses. Some organisations may not be able to afford this or may not realise that it is good practice, as it can help in reducing the barriers to volunteering which disadvantaged young people may face.

The type of expenses which could be covered include:

  • travel
  • meals
  • phone calls/postage
  • clothing (i.e. protective/uniforms)
  • training.

Volunteer Scotlandrecommends that organisations should have a volunteer agreement in place which explains the support and supervision provided, training given, insurance cover, health and safety guidelines and what expenses are provided.

Volunteering does not affect any entitlement to social welfare benefits which the young person may have. Benefits may still be payable while volunteering –for example, where the only form of payment received by the individual is in the form of travel expenses. More detail on volunteers’ entitlements is available from theGOV.UK website.

Quality Assurance (QA)

There are no mandatory standards of quality applying to the organisations and projects in which young people participate. Organisations in receipt of government funding must comply with the specific terms of their grant.


The Investing in Volunteers (IiV) quality standard recognises good practice in the four main areas of volunteer management:

  • planning for volunteer involvement
  • recruiting volunteers
  • selecting and matching volunteers
  • supporting and retaining volunteers.

The Standard is managed byVolunteer Scotland, which is funded by the Scottish Government to support the skills development of both paid staff and volunteers through training, volunteer development tools, policies and good practice.

Volunteer Scotland has produced a series of good practice guides, including one onvolunteer equality and diversity and another oninclusive volunteering.

In September 2016, Education Scotland publishedHow Good is the Learning and Development in our Community? Evaluation Resource. This outlines an approach to self-evaluation which can be used by senior managers, local managers or practitioners working directly with young people, adults and community groups. At the heart of the document is a set of quality indicators and performance measures which will help practitioners identify the strengths in their practice and where further development is required.

HM Inspectors will use the same set of quality indicators and performance measures in conducting a community learning and development (CLD) inspection. These inspections are based around alocal authority area, with a focus on the partnership delivery of CLD.

Education Scotland also issued a parallel tool in 2017 to support third sector organisations to evaluate their performance and identify priorities for action entitledHow Good is Our Third Sector Organisation? Evaluation Resource.

The Scottish Government, as part of the Volunteering Action Plan, funded Youth Scotland, the network of youth clubs and groups, to implement a project to explore the potential for a quality framework for the voluntary youth work sector. Although the research included young people, the primary focus was on volunteers of all ages working with young people in youth work, rather than on young volunteers.

Target groups

Education Scotland's 2015 publicationA Review of Youth Awards in Scotland, notes the benefits of volunteering, particularly to those who have become disengaged from education. It also notes that:

‘All local authorities and in some cases third sector partners have elements of targeting in their approach to youth awards to support disadvantaged and minority groups [...] Most national youth award providers have a strategic approach to inclusion and specifically target some of their work towards young people with additional support needs, for example those with a disability, young offenders, young carers and minority ethnic groups’.