Volunteer experience survey: The latest

Earlier this year, I wrote about the research we’re doing on the volunteer experience. A few months on, here’s the latest on what we’ve been up to.

One survey, 68 questions, 10,103 responses

Having carried out the survey in May (via YouGov’s panel), we are now in an exciting position. We have data from a nationally representative sample of over 10,000 people (in Great Britain, age 18+) responding to 68 questions on the volunteering experience, covering the perspectives of both those who currently volunteer and those who don’t.

What it covered and how we got there

The opportunity to explore such a broad topic came with its challenges, in particular prioritising what to include. A few key questions drove our decision-making process, supported by the information we gathered in the initial phase reviewing existing research and speaking to people across the sector:

  • What don’t we have already?
  • What will be most relevant to the sector now and for the future?
  • What would help us meet our key objectives?

This last question was important – in fact, part of the process was first refining these objectives. We had four broad aims for the survey and we designed our question areas around these:

  • Gaining a rounder view of participation and capturing the different ways people volunteer, and recent trends. This included frequency, types of volunteering and organisations volunteered for, and how volunteering is organised.
  • Understanding how volunteering fits into people’s lives, including the barriers and enablers for participation, whether opportunities are meeting needs and expectations, and what drives or prevents a meaningful experience.
  • Understanding people’s experiences across the volunteer journey, and exploring what a quality experience and management looks like from the volunteer’s perspective.
  • Exploring the impact of volunteering, positive and negative, both on the volunteers and those using the services.

We also captured demographic data and other information, such as perceived levels of wellbeing across a set of standard measures.

Publishing the findings

We are planning for the report to be launched in the autumn, as we want to ensure we make full sense of all this rich data and also add to our insights through potential qualitative research and stakeholder workshops (see below if you want to join us). We also plan to produce some further focused reports on specific issues and themes following the main report, so continue to watch this space.

Until then, here are some reflections of what the emerging findings have highlighted so far for me…

  1. The value of looking at the volunteer experience from different perspectives. Being able to look at a theme, for example time/commitment and volunteering, both from the perspective of those who don’t volunteer, as well from those who do, highlights some interesting differences in people’s perceptions vs the reality of their experiences.
  1. The findings as a prompt for discussion and debate. One of the aims of this research is to inform debate in the sector and while some of the data confirms what we might already know, there have also been a few ‘ooh’ moments so far, including differences by age group. Some of the initial things we’re finding around connectedness support the questions raised by my colleague John in his recent blog post.
  1. A chance to look to the future. We’ve tried to capture where things go next, as well as where things are now. We have asked everyone – from those who currently volunteer through to those who have never volunteered before, about their interest in different volunteering opportunities in the future. As we’d expect, current volunteers show most interest, but it is interesting to see where there might be opportunities to encourage involvement among those not already involved, and to create relevant, accessible and engaging opportunities for all.

Interested in joining the conversation? Let us know!

We’ll be carrying out some workshops in September to discuss implications of the findings. If you would like to join us, register your interest here. If you have any questions, comments or views to feed in, drop me an email or tweet @ncvoamy


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Amy works as a research manager and is leading on NCVO’s major piece of research about the volunteer experience. She also contributes to other parts of NCVO’s research programme on voluntary sector and volunteering.

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