Why people volunteer and why they stop – what the latest data tells us

The UK Civil Society Almanac provides a comprehensive overview of the UK voluntary sector with a lot of information on finance, workforce and volunteering. Ahead of the Almanac 2018 launch in May, we’re giving a sneak preview of the latest data on motivations and barriers to volunteering.

People get into volunteering to do good

Almost half (49%) of the people who had formally volunteered[1] at least once a year in 2016/17 got involved because they wanted to improve things or help others. People also got involved because the cause was important to them (32%) and when they had spare time to do it (28%). Less frequently, people volunteered to get on in their career (7%) or to get a recognised qualification (2%).

In most cases, people get involved in groups or organisations with which they have a personal connection

People who volunteer at least once a year for a club or organisation most often found their volunteering opportunity through someone else already involved in that group or organisation (48%). Other common routes to volunteering were being a service user of the group or organisation (23%), and through school, college or university (22%). People also find out about volunteering opportunities online, with 10% of people reporting they found their roles on the internet or organisational websites. People very rarely found volunteering roles through national sources such as newspapers or TV. Finding out from local events and sources is somewhat more common (between 2% and 9%).

Most people stop volunteering because of changing circumstances

By far the most commonly cited reason for people to stop volunteering is lack of time due to changing home or work circumstances (51%), and 14% of respondents also mentioned the more specific issue of it taking up too much time. Almost a quarter (24%) of people said that they only got involved in a one-off event or activity. Other reasons for people to stop their involvement included moving away from the area (12%) and health problems or old age (11%).

Paid work is the main barrier to volunteering more regularly or to volunteering again

For respondents who had formally volunteered but not on a regular basis, the main reason given for not volunteering regularly was work commitments (62%), followed by commitments in the home or in caring for children (36%), along with other uses of spare time (36%). For respondents who had volunteered in the past (up to five years ago) but didn’t do so in the last year, the same three reasons predominated. Smaller proportions of people in both groups, former volunteers and irregular formal volunteers, reported illness (their own or someone they care for) or being the wrong age as a barrier to volunteering.

Watch this space

For more volunteering facts have a look our Almanac website and watch out for updated volunteering data in May 2018.


[1] Check out the Almanac website for definitions of formal volunteering

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Lisa Hornung Lisa Hornung is a senior data and research analyst 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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