Experience of volunteering
- Almost all (96%) recent volunteers report being very or fairly satisfied with their volunteering with their main organisation, and almost seven in ten (69%) have or would recommend it to others.
- Volunteer journeys vary, so volunteer-involving organisations have a wide range of expectations to meet. Some groups tend to be less positive about certain aspects of their experience than others, including younger volunteers compared with older volunteers, occasional volunteers compared with frequent volunteers, public sector volunteers compared with civil society volunteers and disabled volunteers compared with non-disabled volunteers.
- Positive experiences are likely to lead to continued participation. How people experience the different elements of the volunteering journey matters for their overall satisfaction and likelihood to continue.
Volunteering is a positive experience for most
There is a balance to strike between organising volunteering effectively and over-formalising it
- The majority of volunteers feel positively about how their volunteering is managed, including feeling well supported (83%) and recognised enough (84%), both factors that are strongly associated with satisfied volunteers.
- However, around one-third of volunteers (35%) feel that things could be much better organised. This needs to be balanced with not becoming too bureaucratic or formalised, which some volunteers also felt (24% and 13% respectively).
- Most are happy with the way their time is managed, but one in five (19%) feel their volunteering was ‘becoming too much like paid work’ – this proportion of volunteers is higher in more formalised settings.
Spotlight: Volunteering in the public sector
Getting the balance right is particularly challenging for public sector organisations
Organisation and management of volunteers is highlighted as a particular challenge for public sector organisations. Public sector volunteers were twice as likely as civil society volunteers to say that their volunteering is ‘too structured or formalised’ (20% vs 10%) and almost a third feel that there is ‘too much bureaucracy’ (32% v 21%). These perceptions may reflect the nature of public sector organisations (typically larger in size, more formalised processes)
The proportion of public sector volunteers feeling like their volunteering is becoming ‘too much like paid work’ was also higher (24% vs 16%). Focus groups with public sector volunteers revealed this feeling was attributed to a sense of obligation combined with not being appreciated.
While not unique to public sector organisations, the wider environment of public services being under financial pressure had contributed to a feeling of growing pressure and increased expectations on volunteers.
Relationship with the organisation
- 87% of recent volunteers agree there is a culture of respect and trust – a factor that is important for satisfaction and retention.
- Most feel a sense of belonging to the organisation (85%), especially those who volunteered frequently, but a lower proportion feel they had opportunities to influence the development of the organisation (66%).
- Over three-quarters of volunteers feel the organisation communicated with them the ‘right amount’ about the difference being made by the organisation, but they are more likely to say the level of communication is ‘too little’ (13%) than ‘too much’ (2%).
Volunteers largely feel positively towards their organisation but even more could be communicated about impact
Quality of experience
- The quality of the volunteer experience matters in engaging existing volunteers over their lifetime and attracting new volunteers.
- Overall, a quality experience is time well spent for volunteers. A number of key features make up a quality experience for volunteers: it is inclusive, flexible, impactful, connected, balanced, enjoyable, voluntary and meaningful.
A quality volunteer experience has several key features
Putting it into context
While the findings focus on formal volunteering, there is a spectrum of formality within volunteering for groups, clubs or organisations – from large organisations with paid staff and more formal procedures to more self-organised grassroots community groups. As well as the challenge of meeting a variety of volunteer expectations, volunteer-involving organisations must balance volunteers’ needs with their own organisational needs. Therefore, the findings highlight the importance of being proportionate, recognise the varying contexts, but try not to overburden volunteers unnecessarily.
The insights provided on the volunteer experience also highlight the value of stepping into volunteers’ shoes, and not just looking at measures in relation to the numbers of those involved but also the quality of their experience.
More data and research
- Read the full Time Well Spent report, especially section 5 on the ‘volunteer experience’
- Read the Time Well Spent focused report on volunteering in the public sector
- Read our blog posts with different perspectives on the Time Well Spent report
- See our Pathways through Participation report
Links and resources
Notes and definitions
The findings on this page are based on the Time Well Spent report, looking at the volunteer journey and experience.
- 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.
- Public sector volunteers: Volunteers who identified the sector of the organisation they volunteer for as ‘Public sector - ie a public service, body or institution (eg NHS, local council, school, library, police, etc)’.
- 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.