Getting involved: How people make a difference – new report out today

Today we’re launching our publication Getting Involved: How people make a difference (pdf, 3.4MB), part of our Almanac series of publications that aim to improve understanding of civil society and inform current debates.

Drawing on data from a wide range of sources and full of the latest statistics, this new publication looks at who gets involved, how and where people get involved, and whether participation has changed over time.

No overall decline in involvement

There is no overall decline in involvement, but trends differ slightly according to activity. While levels of volunteering and charitable giving have remained relatively stable, many types of organisations have seen a fall in their memberships, including trade unions and religious organisations. One area that has grown significantly over the past years is ethical consumerism which is based more on individual actions and perhaps more embedded in people’s everyday lives or driven by lifestyle choices.

People get involved in many ways

More than half of the UK population is a member of an organisation, over one in four people formally volunteer once a month, including 700,000 charity trustees, and about one-fifth is involved in social action in their community. Around six in 10 people donate to charity in a year, with a quarter giving every month. Each year, incredible amounts are raised by individuals, for instance in 2015, £185m were raised through bake sales alone. People also take part in political action, ranging from voting to campaigning, signing petitions and protesting, and consuming in more ethical ways by purchasing ethical goods, recycling or sharing things.

People are engaged almost everywhere

People are involved in a wide range of activities in many different places, at a local, national and international level, within organisations and groups, online and offline. Many community groups and charities are highly dependent on the involvement of people who willingly give their time for free. But people don’t just volunteer in the voluntary sector, significant numbers are also engaged in public services: over three million people volunteer in the health and care sector, there are about 300,000 school governors and about 100,000 volunteers in public libraries. Furthermore, technological advances have added to the diversity of activities. Virtual volunteering has provided people with flexible opportunities to give their time and technology has led to new ways of giving, including crowdfunding platforms, contactless payment and digital currency.

Diversity is clearly an issue

While there is a huge variety in activities and places, the picture is quite different when looking at who gets involved. Levels and type of involvement vary a lot according to demographics, with people in higher social grades and a higher level of education being more likely to engage. This is particularly the case with more formal activities, such as trusteeship, that tend to attract the well-resourced and educated. Additionally, a disproportionate amount of time is given by only a small group of people, the civic core. Much emphasis has been put on the potential of technology in removing some of the barriers to getting involved, but despite the growth in online opportunities, the divide continues to exist.

What drives involvement?

Tackling this lack of diversity remains a real challenge. There is a clear need to better understand what drives people to get involved and what prevents them from engaging. People engage for very personal and often complex reasons, and their involvement changes according to life course, age, personal situation and interests. Who gets involved also reflects social and economic trends, for instance people in low-paid jobs or under pressure to care for others might not be able to find the time to volunteer. A good understanding of individual context and the wider environment is key to the development of opportunities that people are drawn to and able to engage with.

Find out more

You can find all the data in the full publication (pdf, 3.4MB). For more insights look out for our future blog posts on the policy and practice implications.









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Lisa Hornung is a data and research manager in the research team at NCVO. She leads on the data collection, analysis and communication of the UK Civil Society Almanac. More widely, she helps to ensure that NCVO remains at the forefront of voluntary sector data collection and analysis.

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