Amy McGarvey: We need a renewed effort to provide quality volunteer experiences for all

27 Jun 2023 Voices

NCVO’s research and insight manager discusses what the Time Well Spent 2023 report says about the experience of volunteers…

The latest Time Well Spent findings, based on a survey of over 7,000 adults across Great Britain, look at what volunteering and the volunteer experience look like now following a few years of significant change since the original survey in the series was published in 2019.

It considers what volunteer-involving organisations and policymakers might focus on as we look towards the future.

Satisfaction is high, but lower than it was

The good news is that 92% of recent volunteers say they are very or fairly satisfied. These high levels of overall satisfaction are a testament to those who have worked with volunteers keeping them engaged and supported throughout some challenging years. 

But we know that volunteers haven’t been immune to the stresses and strains of the past few years: around a quarter of recent volunteers say their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work and 24% say that their volunteering organisation has unreasonable expectations of them in terms of how much they do.

These figures have both gone up since 2019, and worryingly, among volunteers who say they are unlikely to continue with their volunteering in the next 12 months, 14% say it’s because “it causes me too much stress” (previously 9%). 

Our previous research shows that many volunteers felt fatigue and burnout during the pandemic years – and recent data from Pro Bono Economics and Nottingham Trent University found that more charities believe their volunteers’ wellbeing has declined than increased. 

To ensure satisfaction remains high, it’s essential that we recognise the pressures volunteers experience and continue to make efforts to support their wellbeing. 

Efforts in equity, diversity and inclusion are yet to be realised

Global movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo put a spotlight on equity, diversity, and inclusion in recent years, and we’ve seen this reflected across the sector.  

However, our latest results show that there is still more to do to ensure that all volunteers have equally positive volunteer experiences. Some groups who reported being less satisfied in 2019 remain less satisfied: our findings show that younger volunteers are less likely to be satisfied than older volunteers (82% of 18-24 year olds versus 96% of 55 and over), and disabled volunteers are less satisfied than non-disabled volunteers (88% vs 94%). 

Our initial analysis indicates that volunteers from ethnic minority communities are less satisfied compared with white volunteers, but we are planning to explore their experience in a dedicated piece of work which we’ll share in the Autumn… so watch this space. 

Flexible volunteering is key 

The trend of volunteering remotely (by phone or online) that we saw grow in the pandemic is here to stay. We know that 18% of recent volunteers exclusively volunteer in this way now. 

Encouragingly, those who do volunteer remotely feel just as satisfied, supported, and connected as those who don’t. More generally, 82% of volunteers agree that their volunteering organisation is flexible, and we know that non-volunteers say that flexibility is the factor most likely to encourage them to volunteer. 

What all this shows is that we need to continue developing and showcasing the flexibility of our volunteering opportunities. 

Financial concerns an increasing barrier to volunteering  

Wanting to improve things or help people is the key reason volunteers get involved (40%). However, it has to work practically for people and fit into their lives. The main barrier to volunteering is about not wanting to make an ongoing commitment (33% of non-volunteers). But there has been a notable increase of non-volunteers who say that “worries about being out of pocket” are a barrier too.

Interestingly, this is highest among 18-24 year olds (18%). In the context of a cost of living crisis, this isn’t surprising – yet only 55% of recent volunteers say their volunteering organisation would reimburse expenses if they wanted them to. This was the same as in 2019 – which indicates that while the context has shifted, practice hasn’t yet.  

What next? 

Ultimately, despite the significant external changes to volunteering, one thing has stayed the same: people volunteer because they want to make a difference. As we look ahead, we need to renew efforts to provide quality volunteer experiences for all so that people can continue to dedicate their time to the causes that matter to them.  

We know that there are challenges that need to be addressed, from lower satisfaction among diverse groups and practical barriers like financial concerns. There’s little we can do to influence personal circumstances, but we can influence the experience people have while volunteering and ensure that we work to remove barriers to participate that people experience. 

The Vision for Volunteering is one opportunity for the sector to re-think what the future of volunteering looks like, looking to the next decade to see how volunteering needs to change for the better for volunteers, volunteer-involving organisations and their wider communities. Ensuring that awareness and appreciation, power, equity and inclusion, collaboration and experimentation are at the heart of the volunteer experience. 

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