Trends in volunteering

On average, two-fifths of adults volunteer formally once a year and a quarter of adults volunteer at least once a month. The number of people volunteering formally once a month has fallen slightly from 29% in 2005 to 25% in 2009/10 [1]. The value that volunteering adds to the UK economy is in excess of £21.5billion [2]. The impact of spending cuts on charities, coupled with government’s desire to increase voluntary action (see Big Society agenda) may in time lead to increased volunteering.

Interest in volunteering is growing [3]. The rise can be attributed to rising levels of unemployment in the current recession which is prompting people to seek ways to use their time productively and gain skills that will help them get back into work. On the other hand, the increasing busyness of many people’s lives can be a barrier to volunteering (see time and energy deficit).  

Demand for short term volunteering opportunities and one-off activities is increasing (sometimes described as ‘episodic volunteering’). Long term commitment to organisations is falling as people’s participation becomes more fluid (see also rise of single issues). At the extreme, there is a growth in ‘micro volunteering’ whereby people volunteer for very short periods of time, usually on a non-committal basis.

People want volunteering to be fun and sociable. As people’s time becomes limited, volunteering opportunities which fulfil the objectives of ‘leisure time’ gain traction as they enable people to volunteer while having fun with old or new friends.

People are also attracted to volunteering when there is something in it for them. For example, Rock Corps ( encourages young people to take up one-off 4-hour volunteering opportunities in exchange for concert tickets and Time-banking schemes are gaining more prominence.

What are the implications?

  • More professional volunteer structures as the expectations of volunteers change.
  • Greater need to tailor volunteering opportunities to fit with people’s busy lifestyles and changing expectations
  • Growing expectation from volunteers to be rewarded (by the organisation and/or its (commercial) partners) in relation to the amount of time they invest.
  • Increased levels of complexity for organisations and particularly for those who manage volunteers.
  • A difficulty in recruiting and retaining volunteers for longer term roles.
  • Challenges in matching increasing demand with actual volunteering opportunities.

Moving forward

With increased interest and demand for volunteering opportunities the number of volunteers is likely to increase across the public and voluntary sectors.

  • How can your organisation respond to the rise in demand for volunteering opportunities?
  • Should you invest in volunteer recruitment and management?
  • Are the volunteering opportunities you are offering meeting the needs of a more diverse pool of potential volunteers?
  • How might the services you offer change with increased reliance on volunteers as opposed to staff?
  • What motivates your volunteers? Will the “Big Society” and spending cuts lead to different kinds of volunteers wanting to get involved?

Time-banking and initiatives that reward people on the basis of the amount of time they spend volunteering, are growing in prominence.

  • Are there existing time-banking schemes which your organisation can connect to in order to take advantage of their body of volunteers and provide an existing scheme of incentives to your incumbent volunteers?
  • Are there commercial partners you could work with, e.g. leisure service providers, which could provide benefits that you can make available to your volunteers?
  • Do you have the systems in place to track and record the participation of your volunteers?
  • How can you maintain the flow of incentives and/or migrate people from incentive-based volunteering to habitual volunteering?

People expect short volunteering opportunities which they can dip in and out of.

  • How can your organisation manage workflow to ensure tasks assigned to volunteers do not disappear into the ether once they cease volunteering? Are there Task Management or File Sharing websites you can use to manage a carousel of volunteers?
  • To what extent can your organisation change its working procedures to accommodate the times that volunteers are willing to give their time to your organisation? What impact will this have on the timescales which your beneficiaries and staff are used to?

People expect volunteering to be sociable.

  • How can your organisation nurture your community of volunteers? Are there opportunities for volunteers to be brought together after a volunteering experience, e.g. going out to dinner or to the pub?
  • Does your organisation accommodate people who want to volunteer on a project with one or more friends?

A continued shift towards more short term volunteering away from longer term commitments may mean it becomes harder to fill longer term roles.

  • Could offering more flexible volunteering opportunities help you keep committed volunteers engaged in your work (e.g. flexible hours or drop-in centres)?
  • Do people have to be on-site to volunteer with you? Could they contribute from a distance?
  • Are you able to clearly demonstrate the link between volunteering and employability to attract longer term commitments?

Want to know more?

Citizenship Survey: 2009-10 (April 2009 – March 2010), England

Published by: Communities and Local Government - a government department

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? A report providing detailed information and statistics on volunteering activity and civil renewal.

How useful is this? Data from the Citizenship Survey is used widely by organisations and individuals in publications and reports on the VCS. The survey has now been discontinued.

Dramatic increase in number of volunteers as recession takes hold

Published by: Volunteering England

Date: April 2009

Format: Web

What is it? Press release highlighting the increase in numbers of people looking for volunteering opportunities during the recession.

How useful is this? Gives statistics on the increse in enquires to Volunteer Centres and Volunteer Involving Organisations for volunteering opportunities. Provides views from leaders of volunteer infrastructure and volunteer involving organisations on the impact of the recession for their sector.

The benefits of volunteering for employability - key findings

Published by: The Institute for Volunteering Research

Date: April 2009

Format: Web

What is it? Gives a summary of the key benefits of volunteering for employability found as part of the research

How useful is this? Provides useful and accessible information on the benefits of employability from volunteering from the perspective of a variety of organisations and volunteers. The full report will be published shortly and will also provide good practice advice for Volunteer Centres on employability focused projects.

Future Focus 2: What will our volunteers be like in 5 years time?

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? An NCVO Foresight publication examining the main trends in volunteering and how these may impact upon organisations.

How useful is this? This publication looks at 6 different drivers with a constant theme of how they may impact upon volunteers in the future. It provides existing case studies as well as questions for your organisation to think about surrounding opportunities and challenges. The drivers examined are: "More 'professional' volunteering", "The ageing population", "Time poor society", "Weaker ties to geographical communities", "Consumer culture", and "Changing ideas about volunteering".

Other comments: The full set of future focus publications can be found here.

Participation: trends, facts and figures

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2011

Format: PDF

What is it? An NCVO Almanac looking at all aspects of participation, including volunteering.

How useful is this? The layout provides efficient access to relevant facts and figures surrounding participation.  It discusses each area in detail, highlighting and examining trends.  The sections on volunteering are particularly useful.

Other comments: The annual Civil Society Almanac is also an excellent source of information regarding volunteering.  It provides details analysis of the voluntary sector and civil society more broadly.


  1. Citizenship Survey: 2009-10 - Communities and Local Government [back]
  2. The UK Civil Society Almanac 2009 - NCVO [back]
  3. The link between volunteering and employment - The Institute for Volunteering Research, 2009 [back]
Last updated at 10:45 Fri 11/Mar/11.

Recent comments

Natalie's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Has your organisation experienced a rise in volunteers from other sectors as a result of the recession? Join in the discussion where members are debating the greater diversity of volunteers' backgrounds as a result of the recession and whether they will stay or go once it's over. What do you think will happen?

Both trends in volunteering and the professionalism of volunteering are likely to impact on mental health service providers. A large proportion of service providers afford mental health service users and others with opportunities to volunteer and support service users securing volunteering: significant number of service providers rely on volunteers to support their services, for example gardening, eco-therapy, student placements in counselling services, lunch clubs, outings, etc.

Providers could see a considerable rise in the number of service users seeking to return to work or enter the workplace through volunteering. Changes in public spending levels and any resultant pressure on funding may also lead to providers wishing to make more use of volunteers. As anti stigma works leads to a positive impact it is likely mental health service providers may be able to attract volunteers from a larger pool.

It might be worth reviewing how support is given to people especially around one off or short term volunteering. Thinking about supporting those people with fluctuating needs in volunteering may also be useful.

Reviewing how your organisation attracts and retains volunteers is likely to be essential, as is reviewing risk management regularly.

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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