Five key insights on volunteering from our Time Well Spent report

Last Friday, we launched our Time Well Spent report, the result of a year’s work asking the public about their volunteering experiences. Using a YouGov public opinion panel, we asked more than 10,000 people a range of questions about how and why they volunteered. Questions that you (the volunteer management community) helped put together. Thanks!

Why is this such a big deal? Well, the world is changing faster than we have ever seen. This directly influences how people see the world. This includes what people expect from their volunteering. However, the last comprehensive look at how and why people volunteer was the national Helping Out survey in 2007 and a lot has changed since then. As one of our members put it: “I’ve been relying on Helping Out for so long now, it’s great to have some up-to-date research!”

I’m not going to lie – there is a lot of data to get thorough! So much that we’ll be producing reports throughout the year to help you get your head around it. As a starter, here are five things which jumped out for me.

Different people expect different things

Shocking, right? However, this is quite a crucial one for volunteer managers. Over a third of volunteers felt things could be better organised; but, around a quarter felt there is too much bureaucracy. What is a volunteer manager to do!?

There could be a couple of reasons for this. Perhaps it shows the need to have proportional management for the types of roles you have. Or, that different groups have different views on the same type of management. One area (discussed at the launch) which I think we could delve into further is if we are starting to over-manage and under-lead volunteers?

Those who could benefit most are least likely to volunteer

We know volunteering offers a huge stack of benefits. However, the most significant differences between volunteers and non-volunteers are socio-economic status and education levels. It seems that volunteering is excluding people. Specifically, those who can’t afford to help or don’t have the qualifications.

This doesn’t need to be the case. One of the key reasons why people don’t get involved in volunteering is it hasn’t crossed their minds – they have never been asked. Given that four-fifths of volunteering takes place in local communities, local volunteer centres have never been more important.

It’s important to be social

The social aspect of volunteering has been apparent for a while and it is still true today. Around one in five people start volunteering to meet people or make new friends. And 68% of volunteers believe it helps them feel less isolated.

Surprisingly, the groups who were most in agreement that volunteering made them feel less isolated were 18-24 (77%) and 25-34 year olds (76%). For me, this highlights just how important it is to invest in getting volunteers to socialise together through inclusive and age-appropriate methods.

Those who have never volunteered are more likely to be:

•       25-54 years old

•       from lower socio-economic groups (C2DE)

•       educated to a lower level

•       male

•       unemployed or not working

•       living in an urban area.

People are less likely to want to designate time to volunteer on a regular basis

We’ve suspected this for a while – and now the public has spoken. Only 30% of those thinking of volunteering in the next year want to give time on a regular basis. Most (about half) would rather dip in and out, or only attend a one-off event.

This is a good trend to be aware of and many organisations are now starting to look at the relationship with a volunteer as a lifelong thing. I also think this is a good tactic for recruitment. Volunteering with a new organisation can be hugely intimidating, especially if you are expected to sign up to a lengthy period of regular volunteering. My advice – start off small and see if you can build that relationship over time.

Don’t underestimate the power of ‘thanks’

We’ve all met those volunteers… You know, the ones who say they don’t want thanks. Or cringe at a certificate. Or would rather we spend our time supporting service users than throwing a party. The research supported this, with only 40% saying recognition is important.

However, we don’t always realise the full impact of someone’s words on us – and that seems to be the case here. ‘Thanks’ is strongly associated with satisfied volunteers and the most popular method was a verbal or written thanks from the organisation. So, time to dust off the thank you cards and get Volunteers’ Week into the diary.

The NCVO National Volunteering Forum took place last Friday and was heavily focussed on the report. Learn more about the insights and discussions by watching our video of key sessions from the day.

What next?

Need help using this latest research? Investing in Volunteers is a great way to make sure your volunteer involvement is up to date with all the latest in good practice. We’ve also started to update our guidance on NCVO Knowhow and will let you know if anything major changes.

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Shaun Delaney Shaun is volunteering development manager at NCVO, overseeing strategy for volunteer management and good practice. Previously, he was head of volunteering at Samaritans and is currently a volunteer trustee of Greater London Volunteering.

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