TSRC’s research has highlighted the fact that a relatively small proportion of the population are responsible for the majority of volunteering, charitable donations and civic participation. This group can be thought of as a ‘civic core’ just over a third of the population that together provide 90% of volunteering hours, four-fifths of the amount given to charity, and nearly 80% of participation in civic associations. New research on the civic core offers further insight into these figures and what they mean.
The civic core has some common characteristics. They are more likely to be middle aged, professional, highly educated, say that they are “actively practicing” their religion, and to have lived in the same neighbourhood for over 10 years. It is perhaps not surprising that they are also likely to live in more affluent areas. It is not possible to know whether those donating money or volunteering are doing so within their own areas, but the statistics are enough to suggest that the most prosperous communities may be more able to transfer responsibilities to voluntary organisations and volunteers.
Our research breaks the civic core down further, into a primary and secondary core. We measure levels of participation in three types of activity - volunteering, donating to charity and participating in civic associations – and the primary core are those that provide a high level of at least two of these. This primary core constitutes 9% of the population. This 9% provide over half of all volunteering hours, over 40% of all charitable giving, and around a quarter of all participation in civic associations. It is interesting to note that high levels of both volunteering and donating are rare. Those in the secondary core give relatively high amounts of money, or contribute large amounts of time, but rarely both.
When thinking about efforts to encourage more volunteering, this implies that we might need to think about the size of the contribution being made. We may be able to ‘nudge’ more people into giving ‘slivers of time’ but will this make a real difference in the overall input? In some subsets of the population, such as well-educated middle-aged women, engagement is already very high, suggesting that it would be hard to increase their input much further.
Furthermore these figures do not measure those who take part in informal volunteering or provide unpaid care. Ongoing research in TSRC is looking at the relationships between these activities and the more formal dimensions of engagement discussed in this paper. All of this highlights the importance of understanding individual circumstances and the different ways in which people contribute to civic life.
This work also highlights how much is already being done by the general population. Our research shows that while a small number of people provide a high proportion of total effort, the majority of people are engaged on some level. Only 15% did not engage in any of these activities. We may want to think about the civic core in terms of how much some people are doing, rather than how little others are doing. This is not to say that more input can't be encouraged, but we have to be realistic about how much more we can expect from voluntary initiative. And we should also acknowledge that the outcome is likely to be uneven across communities.