8 Feb 2019

Research conducted by NCVO sought to find out more about volunteers’ experience, in order to inform recruitment practice and policy.

Time well spent

More than 10,000 adults undertook an online survey and the data was weighted to reflect key characteristics of the national population (England) in regard to age, gender, education and social grade.

Who gives time?
Seven out of every 10 people surveyed had volunteered at some point in their lives, mostly through groups, clubs and organisations.  Involvement is frequently 'light touch - dipping in and out of opportunities over time, depending on what else is happening in their lives. It is a minority that sustain intense involvement over their lifetime - but these are the people that so many organisations depend upon.

Current or recent volunteers tend to be older, better educated and from higher socio-economic groups.  Some demographic groups that are underrepresented in formal volunteering participate in more informal ways, such as neighbourly acts.

Volunteers are most likely to give their time in their own local neighbourhood and for third sector organisations, though some volunteer for public sector organisations such as the NHS or police.  A significant proportion took part in one or more 'one- off' events rather than volunteering on a regular basis.

Volunteering experience
Satisfaction levels are high, however some frustrations were reported.  In particular, young volunteers, disabled volunteers, occasional volunteers and those involved with the public sector reported less positive experiences - so there is little room for complacency!

Public sector volunteers were twice as likely to agree that their volunteering was 'too structured or formalised' than third sector volunteers.  On the other hand, over a third of volunteers agree that 'things could be much better organised.'  There is a challenge to get the right balance here between too much bureaucracy and poor organisation.

Frequent volunteers often felt under pressure to give more of their time than they wished.

Volunteering can be a burden when it starts to feel like work, and the risk of this appears greater in public sector settings.

Improving career prospects is a significant motivation for volunteering among 18 - 24 year olds but not for older age groups; far more want to use the skills and experience that they already have - and to do something that is different from their day to day work, if they are in full time employment.

Volunteers experience a wide range of personal benefits of volunteering, including enjoyment and wellbeing.  Many, especially younger volunteers, say that it helps them to feel less isolated.

Volunteers are most likely to continue volunteering in the future if they feel part of an organisation or common cause and, not surprisingly, if they enjoy the experience.

An eight point summary of what a quality volunteering experience looks like can be described, under the following headings: inclusive, connected, voluntary, flexible, balanced, meaningful, impactful and enjoyable.

These eight points are an excellent starting point for reviewing volunteering practice, and to ensure that volunteering is indeed time well spent.

Download the full report or a summary

Read a blog about the launch of the Time Well Spent report, which took place on 25th January.  You can also link from here to the live stream recording from the launch event.