Small charities hit hardest by volunteering falling to record low, say researchers

21 May 2024 News

By Elroi/Adobe

Small charities are being most greatly affected by the rates of formal volunteering dipping to an all-time low, according to new analysis.

According to Pro Bono Economics’ (PBE) analysis of the latest VCSE Sector Barometer survey, four in 10 charities say their number of volunteers has been insufficient to meet their main objectives in the last 12 months.

But it found that small charities are struggling the most, with 65% reporting recruitment difficulties over the last 12 months, compared with 58% last year.

Meanwhile, 42% of large charities reported volunteer recruitment difficulties in May 2024 compared with 51% this time last year.

Volunteer recruitment

PBE compared its findings to the government’s latest Community Life Survey, which found that 16% of people in England volunteered at least once a month in 2021-22, a record low and down from 27% in 2013-14. 

The government survey also found that, in 2021-22, 49% of people who did not volunteer said the main reason was their work commitments.

Some 53% of the more than 500 charities surveyed for the Barometer reported that a lack of time was a key barrier to their volunteer recruitment efforts.

Small charities in particular said that people are giving up volunteering with them in order to care for others, with 64% reporting it as a barrier to volunteer retention, compared with 52% of large charities.

Although unpaid, volunteers are not cost-free, and using volunteers effectively takes resources to manage, oversee, and support those that are giving up their time. 

Some 8% of small charities responding to the Barometer reported having a dedicated volunteer manager, compared with 39% of large charities and 27% of medium-sized charities. 

Flexible volunteer approach

PBE suggests in its analysis that flexibility and infrastructure support could help combat a decline in volunteering,

“In a changing world, where people are constantly being pulled in so many different directions, the sector needs to harness its flexible and adaptable nature in its approach to volunteer recruitment and retention – because that’s what volunteers are seeking,” it says.

“Potential volunteers want to see flexible opportunities and assurances that they can give back to their communities in small ways at first, which don’t overwhelm their already stretched time.”

A fifth of small charities that responded to the Barometer had used local volunteering centres to attract volunteers.

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