An estimated 340,000 volunteers in the region work an estimated 25 million hours a year - saving charities and other third sector organisations around £300m a year, the IPPR North think tank has found.
It worked with researchers from Durham University to examine the role of volunteers within charities and found that 80 per cent of third-sector organisations are ‘highly dependent’ upon the contribution of volunteers for their day-to-day activities.
The think tank is now calling on policymakers to recognise the “considerable value” to the Northern economy, of people who give their time to support the causes and communities that they care about.
The report’s authors argue that policy-makers, including central and local government, as well as charitable foundations, should consider how they can also support those organisations that are most heavily dependent upon volunteers to survive and thrive. This should involve financial and in-kind support to enable small groups, who have been disproportionately affected by the effects of austerity, to continue to serve their local areas.
Report co-author and research fellow at IPPR North, Jack Hunter, said: “Many of the smallest organisations are often completely reliant on the contribution of unpaid volunteers who give their time willingly and on a regular basis.
“Without them, a vast swathe of civil society organisations would simply cease to exist, with huge consequences for places up and down the North, and for the state of the Northern Powerhouse economy.”
Community First Yorkshire provides practical support to voluntary and community organisations across North Yorkshire, and will next year launch an online directory of volunteering roles in the area. It also works to link up businesses with third sector organisations that are in need of trustees with particular skills - a “crucial” volunteering role that can often be overlooked.
Head of community and volunteer support, Mark Hopley, said trustees could be vital in progressing a small charity, and working with business could “strengthen connections with the broader community”.
“These ‘micro-volunteering’ roles can make a big difference to charities, from working on funding bids to marketing, and provide skills that charities desperately need,” he added.
Volunteer-run YUMI (York Unifying Multicultural Initiative) provides opportunities for people from different backgrounds and cultures to connect via its arts and food projects.
At times it has relied on between 40 and 60 volunteers, but relying so heavily on unpaid support can make it very hard to keep going as an organisation. Project co-ordinator Sara Muir said funding for a volunteer coordinator would mean more dedicated outreach work.
Report co-author Professor Tony Chapman, of Durham University added: “The very smallest charities are the most likely to rely upon the committed and sustained relationships with a small number of volunteers that are trusted to work regularly and independently. Rather than support to help them grow their volunteer base, such organisations are more likely to value financial and in-kind support to keep going.
“The bedrock of civil society is its core of micro and small organisations which work mainly at a neighbourhood level. It can be difficult to assess in conventional evaluation terms the impact of small charities that work with and rely upon volunteers the most but their contribution would be sorely missed if they were no longer there.”