How many people volunteer and what do they do?

Overview

  • Over a third (36%) of people volunteered formally (ie with a group, club or organisation) at least once in 2018/19. This gives an estimate of 19.4 million people who formally volunteered during that year.
  • Over one in five (22%) people formally volunteered regularly (at least once a month) in that year (11.9 million people).
  • Informal volunteering includes a wider range of activities and is defined as giving unpaid help to someone who is not a relative (for instance, transporting or escorting someone, or sitting with or providing personal care for someone who is sick or frail). In 2018/19, 52% of people informally volunteered at least once, and 26% of people took part in informal volunteering regularly.

Over time

  • Rates of formal volunteering (at least once a year) largely remained stable since 2015/16, however in 2018/19 levels have dropped by one percentage point to 36% for the first time since then. Regular formal volunteering (at least once a month) remained unchanged from the last two years.
  • Informal volunteering remained stable, going down 1% for those who volunteer at least once a year – but this decrease was not statistically significant (ie increase is too small to be certain it is not just due to chance). The same applied to regular informal volunteering (at least once a month).
  • Longer-term trends are harder to compare due to a change in survey methodology in 2015/16. See more under ‘notes and definitions’ on this page.

Levels of formal volunteering remain largely unchanged

Informal volunteering

More than half of the population gets involved in informal ways of volunteering

  • In addition to formal volunteering that takes place through groups, clubs and organisations, people get involved more informally in society which is captured within informal volunteering.
  • Informal volunteering includes activities like giving advice, providing transport, doing the shopping or providing childcare for someone for free who is not their relative or friend.
  • In 2018/19, one in two people informally volunteered at least once a year (52%) and about a quarter (26%) of people informally volunteered at least once a month.

Lifetime participation

  • Around seven in ten of people who took part in the Time Well Spent survey (69%) had volunteered formally at some point in their lives.
  • Among those who had volunteered at some point, people were more likely to say they had been occasionally involved throughout their life (55%), rather than been consistently (22%) or hardly (21%) involved. Volunteers were also more likely to be lightly involved than heavily involved when they give time.
  • Only a small proportion (7% of all respondents) say they have been consistently and heavily involved over time.

Most people have formally volunteered at some point in their lives, dipping in and out of involvement over time

Volunteering activities

  • Over half (55%) of recent volunteers reported giving time to more than one organisation. For their main organisation, around two-thirds (67%) volunteered for civil society organisations. 17% volunteered for public sector organisations but the scale of participation should not be underestimated.
  • Volunteers were involved in a range of activities, most commonly relating to organising events (39%), administration (28%), raising money and taking part in sponsored events (27%) and getting others involved (27%). People mainly volunteered locally, in their own neighbourhoods (81%).

Volunteers get involved in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities

Spotlight: Employer-supported volunteering (ESV)

A small proportion of volunteering takes place via employers, mostly in large organisations.

Employer-supported volunteering made up a small part of volunteer participation, with 10% of recent volunteers giving time in this way.

Awareness of opportunities may be a barrier in the first instance. Among those working for an employer at the time of the Time Well Spent survey (across all respondents, not just volunteers), a quarter said they did not know whether their employer provided ESV opportunities or not.

Those who worked for an employer and were aware of ESV opportunities were more likely to work for an employer with more than 250 employees, with the highest proportion being those working for an employer with over 1,000 employees (37%).

Over half (55%) of recent ESV volunteers reported using their existing professional or occupational skills in their volunteering, a higher proportion than non-ESV volunteers (50%). The commonly used skills among ESV volunteers were management skills, communication and marketing skills, and administrative and secretarial skills.

More data and research

Notes and definitions

The findings on this page comes from three sources:

Differences in sample and methodology should be noted. See methodology for more.

Trend data

Comparing longer term trends has been made more difficult due to a change in survey methodology from face-to-face to an online/paper version which respondents complete themselves. More on this can be found in the methodology section. The new data using online and paper surveys suggests that volunteering rates might be slightly lower than previously thought, however, across the same methodology levels of involvement remain stable over time.

Specific terms

  • Formal volunteering: giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.
  • Informal volunteering: giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not a relative.
  • Regular volunteering: where people volunteer at least once a month.
  • Recent volunteers: those who have given unpaid help in the last 12 months.
  • Main organisation: for those who have given time to more than one organisation these respondents were asked to identify the organisation they gave the most unpaid help to (the most time, resources etc). If they had given time to two equally, they were asked to choose the one they helped most recently.