National Survey on the Volunteer Experience results

Here are some of the key findings from the report Time Well Spent: A national survey on the volunteer experience, undertaken by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).

The survey explores how the people of Britain participate in volunteering, recently and over their lifetime. We know that not everyone will call their involvement ‘volunteering’ so in this survey we have tried to capture the range of activities that people undertake when giving time through groups, clubs and organisations, which is often referred to as ‘formal volunteering’ in the literature.


Most people have volunteered through groups, clubs and organisations during their lifetime More often than not, this involvement is light touch and involves dipping in and out of opportunities over time, shaped by what is happening in their lives. Those who sustain their involvement consistently and intensely over their lifetime are a minority, but these are the volunteers that organisations and groups are likely to depend on the most.

People aged 65 and over are the age group most likely to have volunteered recently and 25–34-year-olds are least likely. Those from higher socio-economic groups (ABC1) are more likely to have volunteered recently than those from lower socio-economic groups (C2DE).

Around 8 in 10 volunteers give time locally, within their own neighbourhoods. Nearly a quarter of volunteers exclusively volunteer as part of a one-off activity or dip in and out of activities. 10% of volunteers give time via employer-supported volunteering.


Volunteering is a positive experience, for almost all volunteers Satisfaction levels are very high – this is in spite of frustrations that some people report experiencing. Volunteers also cite a range of benefits they get from volunteering. This is a huge testament to the work of volunteer-involving organisations, which the majority of volunteers perceive to be supporting them well and recognising them for their contribution. It also sets a high benchmark for these organisations to continue to meet. Whilst overall perceptions are very positive, some volunteers tend to have less positive views about certain aspects of their volunteering, including younger volunteers, disabled volunteers, occasional volunteers and public sector volunteers. There are also indications that those from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds are less likely to be satisfied than white volunteers, however further research would be needed to support this. Although it is not clear whether these variations are due to differing expectations, experiences or both, the findings highlight that there is no room for complacency, particularly if we want to widen participation to a broader range of people.

96% of volunteers say they are very or fairly satisfied with their volunteering. Almost 7 in 10 volunteers had already or would recommend their volunteering to a friend or family member. 83% of volunteers feel well supported in the organisation they volunteer for.

Of volunteers who report negative experiences, the most common of these is too much time being taken up. Volunteers working full time are more likely to say they prefer using skills and experience that are different from their day-to-day whilst volunteering. Around 1 in 5 volunteers (19%) feel like their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work. This rises to 24% for those giving time at least once a week. 90% of volunteers feel they make a difference through their volunteering.

Feeling connected lies at the core of the volunteer experience. Among the different benefits people feel they gain from volunteering is a sense of connection. Volunteering, for most, involves being with others – very few report doing it alone. The majority of those who volunteer say they meet new people and have contact with people from different backgrounds. Many also say their volunteering has helped them feel less isolated, especially younger volunteers. People’s sense of a connection to the organisation they volunteer with and the cause it supports is also a key aspect of the volunteer experience. Most report that they feel a sense of belonging to an organisation and a culture of respect and trust – factors that are strongly associated with their likelihood to continue. Ensuring volunteers feel part of something – an organisation, a common endeavour – is key to the volunteer experience

Among people who had never volunteered but were interested in future volunteering opportunities, 42% were interested in opportunities that looked fun and enjoyable to be part of. 68% of recent volunteers agree their volunteering helps them feel less isolated. This is highest among younger volunteers. Key reasons for recent volunteers continuing to give time in the next 12 months are the organisation itself (52%) and the cause it stands for (50%). 93% of recent volunteers say they enjoy their volunteering.


Positive experiences are likely to lead to continued participation People are most likely to leave volunteering because of changes in circumstances, such as moving away or changing job. However, it is how people experience the different elements of the volunteering journey that is important for both their overall satisfaction and the likelihood that they will continue. This is true for all who have volunteered, regardless of who they are. Experience matters for future involvement. Given that people tend to dip in and out of volunteering, the findings suggest a good quality volunteering experience will impact their likelihood to keep coming back over their lifetime.


The research suggests a number of key features that make up a quality experience for volunteers. Different journeys and context mean that some of these elements will be more relevant than others. Across these different features, our overall conclusion is that, at its best, volunteering is time well spent. It is positive that most people who volunteer seem to agree, and more can be done to reassure potential volunteers that their time will be well spent.

To read the full summary visit here.