How many people volunteer and what do they do?

Overview

  • Nearly four in ten (38%) people volunteered formally (ie with a group, club or organisation) at least once in 2017/18. This gives an estimate of 20.1 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. In 2017/18, 53% of people informally volunteered at least once, and 27% of people took part in informal volunteering regularly.

Over time

  • Rates of formal volunteering have not changed since 2016/17, with the proportion of those who volunteer at least once a year only increasing by 1%. This increase was not statistically significant – that is the increase is too small to be certain it is not just due to chance. Regular volunteering was the same as the previous year.
  • Informal volunteering also remained unchanged, going up 1% for those who volunteer at least once a year, and with no difference for regular volunteering.
  • Longer term trends can be seen in the chart below, but due to a change in survey methodology last year, they are harder to compare. See more in the notes and definitions.

Overall levels of volunteering have remained stable

Lifetime participation

  • Around seven in ten of people who took part in the Time Well Spent survey (69%) have volunteered formally at some point in their lives.
  • Among those who have volunteered at some point, people are more likely to say they have been occasionally involved throughout their life (55%), rather than been consistently (22%) or hardly (21%) involved. Volunteers are 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 participation

  • Over half (55%) of recent volunteers reported giving time to more than one organisation. For their main organisation, around two-thirds (67%) volunteer for civil society organisations, but a significant minority (17%) volunteer for public sector organisations.
  • 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%).
  • Employer-supported volunteering made up a small part of volunteer participation, with 10% of recent volunteers giving time in this way.

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

More data and research

Notes and definitions

The findings on this page comes from two sources: the Community Life Survey for the overview of participation levels and trends over time, and the Time Well Spent report for lifetime involvement and volunteer participation. 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.
  • References to volunteers’ 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.