Answering the top-five questions about volunteering in England

One of the most common enquiries we get at the Institute for Volunteering Research is where to find the latest statistics on volunteering. There’s a lot out there and it can be pretty tricky to find it, and then make sense of it. We’ve tried to make this as easy as possible by putting all of the main data in one place on our website, which we’ve just revamped.

The five most common questions and where to find the data to answer them

1. How many people volunteer?

The Community Life survey is the best source of data we have on overall levels of volunteering. It’s a robust survey and its large sample size means that it gives good figures for different demographics and the nine regions of England. The website can be a little tricky to navigate, but table three will probably be the most useful. And before the Community Life survey we had the Citizenship Survey, which goes back to 2001, annually. The questions for volunteering are the same in both surveys which means the results are comparable and we therefore have data on rates of volunteering for more than a decade.

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2. How does volunteering in England and the UK compare to the rest of the world?

This is a tricky one. Different countries use different surveys and have different questions,  meaning the results aren’t directly comparable. But there are some – albeit not many – pieces of research that look at volunteering rates across different countries. These results are directly comparable because they’re using the same methodology, and one of the best is the Volunteer Management Project run by Johns Hopkins University.

If you want to know what’s happening to rates of volunteering in the rest of the UK, have a look here for the latest surveys in:

3. Where can I get stats on volunteer management?

This is a shameless plug for our own research, I’m afraid, but there aren’t many surveys looking at volunteer management – we published Valuing Volunteer Management Skills in 2010 and Management Matters in 2008.

4. What’s the best source of information on employer-supported volunteering?

The last national survey of volunteering, ‘Helping Out’, was published in 2007 so it’s a few years old now but it has a whole chapter on ESV (chapter nine) and remains probably the best source of statistics available for England. This survey is also the best place to look for detailed information on things like volunteer motivations, benefits, and drawbacks, for all types of volunteering.

5. What’s the economic value of volunteering?

A good place to start is a recent blog by my colleague Matthew Hill, in which he explored some of the ways to put an economic value on volunteering. Similarly, a blog by two researchers in the Czech Republic outlines five things you need to know about calculating the economic value of volunteering. And closer to home, Andy Haldene, the Bank of England Chief Economist, recently gave an excellent speech examining the opportunities and challenges of putting a social value on volunteering.

More questions?

This is far from an exhaustive list so if you have any other questions or sources of data we’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to add it to our website.

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Nick Ockenden is an NCVO research associate and former head of the research team. As part of this role he led the work of the Institute for Volunteering Research, where he worked from 2005.

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