2020 Advocacy – A year in review



Ireland’s Public Affairs Officer, Heber Rowan, takes a look back at the last year and how our advocacy efforts strengthened and evolved throughout the year. 

2020 was a year unlike any other. It was a year that showed the value of volunteering to Irish society and how important our work is for volunteers and organisations that involve volunteers.   

With the COVID-19 restrictions in place, Volunteer Centres supported frontline efforts to combat COVID-19 as part of the Community Call initiative.  

The pandemic’s restrictions on Irish society resulted in a huge upswelling of public support for volunteering with almost 23,000 people signing up to the national volunteering database I-VOL for COVID-19 related roles since March 

What we did this year 

Like everyonewith the onset of the COVID-19 restrictions we had to make changes to the way we worked and how we continued to deliver on our advocacy objectives 

With the conclusion of the February 2020 general election leading to a coalition government in June, we were delighted to welcome the appointment of the first ever Minister of State for Community Development and Charities, Joe O’Brien TD 

With the COVID-19 restrictions having a massive impact on the fundraising efforts of Irish charities and community groups, we supported the efforts of the Wheel, the Charities Institute and others to advocate for a stability fund. This fund was a welcome relief to many volunteer involving organisations facing difficult times. 

To highlight the range of personal stories involved in the COVID-19 response we developed a collection of stories, How Irish communities stepped up to the mark – Stories of Irish Volunteering during COVID-19. Working with the network of Volunteer Centres, we highlighted inspiring stories of the breadth and diversity of volunteering in the midst of the summer lockdown. It was also distributed to a range of public representatives to highlight the work and also to provide a longer term record of the change that occurred in Irish volunteering this year. 

Additionally, we launched our prebudget submission which requested appropriate funding for the national volunteering strategy,  I-VOL, eight new volunteer centres nationally and an overall request for 10% extra funding for the network of Volunteer CentresTo drive this forward, we lobbied a range of government and opposition spokespeople to consolidate our message and highlight our concerns for the sector as a whole.  

This year we were unable to undertake our normal in person meeting with Oireachtas members broadly though we were glad to get a virtual meeting with Minister Joe O’Brien. It was wonderful to have the Minister’s support and understanding of our work throughout our conversations.  

In Budget 2021, an increase of 45% from €3.5 million to €5.1 million was allocated towards supporting the voluntary sector. 

In October, the Department of Rural and Community development published its call for its statement of strategy and we presented our views on behalf of the sector.  

Crucially, the Department published the first ever National Volunteering Strategy in December after extensive public consultations. Volunteer Ireland and the network of Volunteer Centres have been advocating for a national volunteering strategy for many years. We are delighted to have played an important role in its development and look forward to seeing the exciting new initiatives contained within to diversify, strengthen and broaden the scope of volunteering across Ireland.  

What we learned

We learned that even in the most extraordinary of circumstances, communities will  continue to help those in need. It reminded us of the necessity to take a dynamic and creative approach to supporting volunteers. With the new national volunteering strategy in place, we relish the opportunities ahead to do just that.  

What’s next for 2021? 

With seven new Volunteer Centres opening in 2021, we intend to support their advocacy efforts by providing a range of training and materials for them. We will continue to support the network of Volunteer Centres with an updated advocacy resource toolkit. 

With the many deliverables ahead of us from the national volunteering strategy we have our work cut out for us and we’re very much looking forward to it! Thank you for your support this year and next.  

75% of population volunteered during pandemic

According to new Ipsos MRBI statistics commissioned by Volunteer Ireland, three-quarters of the population volunteered their time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March this year.

The most popular activities were grocery shopping (40%), befriending someone who was lonely (31%) and collecting prescriptions (29%).

According to Nina Arwitz, Volunteer Ireland CEO, the high level of volunteering is no surprise. “As a society we have always been very good at giving back and this pandemic has been no different. What’s really interesting about these statistics is that the most common form of volunteering was at a very local level, in people’s communities, helping someone in need. The pandemic has seen a huge rise in informal volunteering whereby people see a need in their community and come together to help.”

Other popular activities included doing someone’s cleaning or gardening (24%) and walking someone’s dog or helping with a pet (12%). Many people also did more than one type of activity, with over half of respondents (57%) doing three activities.

A significant statistic is the fact that 62% of respondents intend to volunteer post COVID-19, with 40% of those saying they would like to do so with an organisation. According to Ms Arwitz this presents a great opportunity for organisations.

“The current pandemic has demonstrated the good will and generosity of people across the country. Many people may have volunteered for the first time during COVID-19 because they saw a need and felt compelled to act, and in many cases because people had free time that they didn’t have before. This outpouring of goodwill represents a unique opportunity for organisations that engage volunteers to look at how they can harness this and attract new people who were so drawn to giving back during the pandemic.”

“Looking towards 2021, this is a great time for organisations to see how they can enhance their volunteering programmes and engage new volunteers. I’d encourage any organisation thinking about this to contact their local Volunteer Centre for support or check out volunteer.ie for a host of resources and upcoming training courses.”

The full research can be viewed here.

About the Ipsos MRBI Statistics

The overall objective of this research was to measure the impact of COVID-19 on volunteer participation in Ireland. A telephone (CATI) survey was conducted via Ipsos MRBI’s Omnipoll service on behalf of Volunteer Ireland. 1,000 interviews were conducted among a nationally representative sample of individuals aged 15+. Fieldwork was conducted from the 16th to 30th September 2020. At the analysis stage, the data was weighted in line with the latest CSO estimates of the population.

Volunteer Ireland Welcomes Ireland’s First National Volunteering Strategy

National Volunteering Strategy 2020 - 2025

Volunteer Ireland has welcomed the publication of Ireland’s first National Volunteering Strategy, launched by Minister Joe O’Brien On December 5th 2020. The five year strategy lays out a comprehensive plan to foster and support volunteering well into the future.

The strategy is the culmination of years of hard work and collaboration between Volunteer Ireland, Volunteer Centres and Government. Ireland is known across the globe for our generosity in giving time and lending a hand, currently sitting at number one in Europe and number ten in the world for volunteering time.

According to Volunteer Ireland CEO Nina Arwitz, our high levels of volunteering make the strategy all the more important. “Ireland already has a strong culture of volunteering with over a quarter of the country giving their time each year. This strategy is about grounding and supporting that culture so that it exists well into the future and has the chance to grow. This year in particular has shown us the importance of volunteering to our communities and the positive impact volunteering has on society.”

“Volunteering is constantly evolving – how organisations engage volunteers is changing and how people want to give their time is changing. This strategy aims to enhance existing supports and structures to ensure that volunteers and organisations continue to flourish and we can continue to meet their changing needs.”

On Volunteer Ireland’s role in delivering the strategy, Arwitz added “Along with the network of Volunteer Centre across the country, we have represented the views of volunteers and organisations throughout the process to ensure a robust and focused strategy. The key now will be ensuring there are adequate resources to deliver the actions within the strategy and that an implementation group is convened without delay.”

“As the national volunteer development organisation, we look forward to delivering many elements of the strategy in partnership with Government and other stakeholders in the sector. Ireland has always been a leader in volunteering and volunteer management; this strategy gives us the chance to embrace that role and pave a way forward.”

Download the National Volunteering Strategy 2021  – 2025

Find out about the scoping exercise and submissions.