What are the benefits of volunteering

Overview

Volunteering can benefit a variety of stakeholders, from volunteers themselves and the organisations involving them to service users and the wider community

The Volunteering Impact Assessment Toolkit identifies four areas worth considering by organisations and programmes that involve volunteers:

  1. Human capital: people’s knowledge, skills and health including increased confidence and reduced stress levels.
  2. Economic capital: benefits or costs with a financial value, for example, income that volunteers may get in the future because of their experience or cost savings to the community.
  3. Social capital: more cooperative relationships between people, such as new friendships developed between volunteers.
  4. Cultural capital: a sense of one’s own identity and understanding of others’ identity, for example, feelings of belonging to a group and an increased understanding of other people’s points of view.

In light of these potential benefits, volunteering is seen as contributing to some key policy agendas such as wellbeing, social cohesion and employability.

How much

  • People volunteer in a wide range of contexts, making a significant contribution to the delivery of services and activities across the country. Many organisations depend on the involvement of volunteers and would not be able to function without them.
  • The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for 2016 estimated the economic value of volunteering in the UK to be £23.9bn based on estimates of total hours spent carrying out frequent formal volunteering from the Community Life Survey and wage rates from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.
  • The ONS approach is based on calculating how much it would cost to replace volunteers by paid staff. However, this method does not capture the value of informal volunteering and the wider impacts of volunteering on the community and on individual volunteers.
  • Another method using subjective wellbeing data estimated the value to frequent formal volunteers themselves to be around £70bn.

The economic value of volunteering is estimated at £23.9bn, but this does not capture its wider social value in many different settings

Number of volunteers listed by type of organisation

Perceived benefits

  • In the Time Well Spent survey, the most common benefits volunteers reported were enjoyment (93%), a sense of personal achievement (90%) and feeling that they make a difference (90%).
  • Over three-quarters (77%) agree it improves their mental health and wellbeing. Over two-thirds (68%) agree it helps them feel less isolated – this is even higher among younger volunteers (77% for those aged 18–24 and 76% for those aged 25–34).
  • Those who volunteered regularly (at least once a month) were more likely to experience the highs and lows of volunteering: they were more likely feel a range of benefits compared with occasional volunteers, but also more likely to feel some of the more negative impacts such as too much time being taken up and being in conflict with others.

Volunteers feel they benefit from their volunteering in a range of ways

Impact on volunteers

There is strong evidence on the link between volunteering and improved mental health and wellbeing

  • Evidence reviews highlight that volunteering contributes to improving mental health and wellbeing and indicate a causal link between the two.
  • There is growing evidence as well that volunteering can improve people’s social connections, which in turn contributes to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Volunteering is also associated with increased physical health, but evidence of a causal relationship is weaker than for mental health.
  • The evidence regarding the link between volunteering and employability is more mixed.

More data and research