Number of charity shop volunteers drops by nearly a quarter in three years 

03 Oct 2022 News

The number of volunteers at charity shops in the UK has fallen by 24% since 2019, new data has revealed. 

Charity Finance magazine’s Charity Shops Survey 2022 shows that charities have lost tens of thousands of volunteers over the past few years, an issue exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The annual survey, which collected data from 49 charities this year, asked respondents how they performed post-pandemic and how they believe the current economic challenges are likely to affect their retail operations in the foreseeable future.

Continuous decline in volunteering levels

In 2019, the Charity Shops Survey revealed that the number of volunteers in charity shops was declining after increasing the previous year. 

The latest survey shows that the trend continued in 2021-22. The 41 respondents that responded to both surveys reported having 100,054 volunteers three years ago, compared with 75,913 now (24% decrease).

This represents an average of 22 volunteers per shop back then compared with 18 now. 

For instance, the British Heart Foundation, which had 691 shops and stores at the end of March, recorded a 27% decrease in volunteering levels. 

The charity acknowledged in its latest annual report that the pandemic had a devastating impact on its volunteer base. 

Referring to the period when restrictions remained in place, it said: “The pandemic and Covid-19 restrictions have challenged our 35-year-old retail operation like never before. People were tentative about returning to the high street and we received less donated stock and saw a significant reduction in volunteer numbers.”

Impact of Covid-19

Respondents said in the survey that they have struggled to operate as usual due to volunteers not returning to their roles once the restrictions lifted. 

The overall decline in the number of volunteers was partly driven by two factors. Some vulnerable and older volunteers who were shielding during Covid-19 were afraid or reluctant to return for fear of catching the virus.

Recent research from NCVO explains that some people who were already volunteering before the pandemic and continued doing so during its peak suffered from emotional fatigue and felt burned out.

CRUK: Attracting volunteers is a ‘key challenge’

In response to the latest survey, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) said that encouraging more volunteers back after Covid-19 remains “a key priority for us and has been a challenge we continue to face”.

It added: “The impact of Covid-19 on volunteer numbers is an issue for the short-term given how much we rely on our volunteer cohort for the smooth running of our shops. We’re also working with high vacancy rates which, coupled with stronger competition in recruitment, are a challenge for the sector as a whole.”

Meanwhile, Shooting Star Children’s Hospices said: “Currently, our biggest issue is finding cover for sickness and absences both for staff and volunteers. Also, recruitment is difficult. Volunteers are more transient and many need to find paid jobs and are finding this relatively easy once they have added their volunteer experience and skills to their CVs.

“Volunteers are also making up for lost time with booking holidays. We’re also seeing a younger cohort of volunteers and many of our volunteers who used to be the mainstay of charity shop volunteering are either reluctant to return their role because of Covid-19 worries, looking after grandchildren or working longer to supplement their pension.”

And St Rocco’s Hospice said: “Our biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining a sufficiently large volunteer workforce to open all of our shops for maximum trading hours. Volunteering is changing, with volunteers staying with the charity sector for a shorter period. Longer term, charities need to promote recycling and the green agenda to attract a different set of volunteers and customers.”

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