Almanac 2017: Five things I have learned about volunteering

This year’s Civil Society Almanac, launched on Tuesday, gives us an updated and detailed picture of volunteering in the UK. Drawing on data from the government’s Community Life Survey and other sources, the message overall is that volunteering is in a stable state with rates of volunteering largely unchanged from the previous year. There are a lot of facts and figures to digest, so here are my thoughts on the most interesting findings about volunteering in this year’s Almanac:

Pronounced differences between age groups

There have always been variations in the levels of volunteering between age groups, but in recent years this has become more marked. If you are aged 26 to 34 you are far less likely than a 16 to 25 year old, for example, to volunteer at least once a month through a group, club or organisation – 21% compared to 32%.

Last year we reported on the sharp increase in young people’s volunteering, however, rates of regular formal volunteering among young people have dropped slightly for the first time since 2010/11 from 35% to 32%. Those aged 16 to 25 are still though the group most likely to volunteer on a regular basis, and irregular volunteering (participating at least once in the last year) shows a small increase this year among young people.

Time spent volunteering hasn’t changed

Regular volunteers committed the same number of hours on average in 2015/2016 compared to the year before – spending 11.6 hours per month volunteering through a group, club or organisation. This has remained relatively stable since 2001, which is pretty heartening considering the concerns repeatedly raised about the perceived pressures on our time. Interestingly though, other research from ONS has shown a dip in the time committed to volunteering over the last 15 years – Nick Ockenden’s blog post provides a useful summary.

Stalling growth in employer-supported volunteering

Involvement in employer supported volunteering hasn’t changed much over the last couple of years – 8.1% of employees participated at least once in the last year in 2015/2016 compared with 8.3% in 2014/15. NCVO’s manifesto for the 2017 Election highlights the importance of getting more employers to allow time off work for volunteering, including time off for charity trustees.

Most employees still do not have an employer supported volunteering programme available to them despite the evidence that points to the benefits for businesses, staff and communities. Research shows that where schemes are available uptake amongst employees is high. Andy Curtis’ blog post on IVR’s research in this area points to how employer supported volunteering could be boosted if companies and charities worked more collaboratively to develop activities and partnerships.

Barriers to volunteering in deprived areas

People in deprived areas are less likely to volunteer than those in the least deprived areas – 15% volunteered regularly in the most deprived areas of England compared with 36% in 2015/2016. A review of evidence from Leeds Beckett University explores these patterns in more detail, highlighting how lower levels of personal and social resources in the areas, including the contact people have with diverse organisations and networks, acts as a barrier to participation in volunteering.

If you are interested in delving further into the findings from this year’s Almanac, the Almanac website includes further data on volunteer profiles, volunteer activities, and motivations and barriers to volunteering.

If you are an NCVO member, you can also go to the members’ area of the Almanac website to download:

  • a PDF of the publication
  • the presentation from the launch
  • an additional slide pack of key findings.


Thanks to Gareth Lloyd and Nick Ockenden for their analysis of the data which helped inform this blog post.

This year’s Almanac is supported by Cazenove Capital.

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Joanna is a senior research officer at NCVO. She leads work on volunteering impact assessment, impact evaluations, and providing support to organisations to assess the difference volunteers make. She is also interested in volunteer management and youth engagement.

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