Motivations and barriers to volunteering


  • Among recent volunteers, ‘wanting to improve things or help people’ is the most common reason people started volunteering with their main organisation (45%).
  • Other common motivations include having the spare time (26%) and wanting to meet people or make friends (24%).
  • Broadly, these motivations reflect wider evidence – but they vary by demographics, reflecting individuals’ life stage and priorities. Our Time Well Spent research highlights that while people are generally more likely to be motivated by using existing skills than gaining them, among 18–24 year-olds, gaining new skills is their highest priority.

The most common reason people volunteer is to improve things or help others


  • Having work commitments is the biggest barrier for not taking part in formal volunteering or not volunteering more frequently (49%), followed by ‘doing other things with my spare time’ (35%) and looking after children/the home (23%).
  • While competing priorities were most commonly cited, other research (Time Well Spent, 2019) highlights that perceptions of volunteering may also put people off. Among those who had started looking into volunteering but did not go on to take it up, perceptions that it is too time-consuming and not flexible enough put people off most.
  • Among those who have never volunteered formally, one of the biggest barriers is that they ‘have never thought about it’.

Competing priorities are the biggest barriers to volunteering


Changing circumstances may mean people stop volunteering, but a good quality experience also matters

  • From our Time Well Spent research, eight in ten (80%) recent volunteers said they were likely to continue to give time to the same organisation in the next 12 months.
  • Among those who are not likely to continue, people most commonly said it is due to having less time because of changing circumstances (33%) and feeling they have done their bit (21%).
  • Further analysis also highlighted that whether volunteers continue or not is also associated with how volunteers feel about their experience. Key factors which are strongly associated with the likelihood to continue include enjoyment, making a difference, not feeling pressured to do more or to continue, and not feeling too much time is taken up. See more in the Time Well Spent report (page 86).

Future engagement

  • Among those who were not already involved but open to future engagement, flexibility and being asked directly were the factors most likely to encourage them to volunteer.
  • Among all volunteers and non-volunteers, opportunities that generated most interest from a presented list included: making use of existing skills and experience, activities that look fun and enjoyable to be part of and combining with an existing hobby or interest.
  • Those who have not been involved recently were more likely to be interested in dipping in and out of volunteering or taking part in one-off events, than getting involved on a regular basis.

Fitting in with people’s lives is important for encouraging future involvement in volunteering

Putting it into context

It is worth considering that individuals’ motivations change over time and the reasons why people start, stop and continue needs to be looked at alongside other factors, such as context, the triggers that get them started and the resources needed to volunteer. Previous research has shown that people driven to participate (through personal motivations and triggers) are discouraged by access to practical resources (eg time, money, health and access to transport), learned resources (eg skills, knowledge and experience) and felt resources (eg confidence and sense of efficacy).

More data and research

Notes and definitions

The findings on this page comes from two sources: the Community Life Survey 2018/19 and the Time Well Spent report, looking at the volunteer journey and experience.

Specific terms

  • Formal volunteering: giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.
  • 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.
  • The further analysis to identify factors strongly associated with continuing to volunteer was done using multivariate logistic regression analysis. Details can be found in Appendix 2 (p99) of the full report.