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Is volunteering time well spent?

Published : 19/09/23 | Categories: Volunteering |

NCVO’s (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) most recent research into volunteer experience shows that while volunteering remains overwhelmingly a satisfying experience, there is room for improvement.

Volunteering plays a significant part in so many people’s lives – whether because they volunteer themselves or because they benefit from what volunteers do. Volunteers give of their time freely and for the benefit of others. It clearly matters that the time they give is spent well, so that volunteering remains a satisfying and beneficial experience for all concerned.


The Time Well Spent research by NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) gives us a deeper understanding into volunteer experience. The first report, published in 2019 drew on survey data from 10,103 adults across Great Britain. This latest report, Time Well Spent 2023 involved a further large scale survey of 7,006 adults across Great Britain, through YouGov’s online panel.

Much has changed since the first report was published four years ago. COVID-19 challenged and changed volunteering in various ways (see our report The future we create: lessons from pandemic volunteering in Wales). It also changed the way we work. Brexit has had its impact on the workforce, leaving a notable shortfall of workers in health and care.

Global movements such as Black Lives Matter and #Metoo have raised awareness of minority experiences. The cost of living crisis has made people question more closely how they use the money and the time that they have – and at the same time has increased demands on voluntary sector services and hence on volunteer time.

The survey data was gathered toward the end of 2022 and responses will have reflected experiences during and following the period of COVID-19 restrictions.


Whilst a slight decline in formal volunteering is evident from the Community Life Survey (which applies to England) – particularly since 2019, with 27% of respondents reporting taking part at least once in the past year – the NCVO research found that public sector volunteering has increased (from 17% to 23%), possibly due to initiatives such as NHS Responders in England.

However, the pandemic gave rise to new forms of volunteering which may have blurred the boundaries between what is understood to be formal or informal volunteering, The reported decline may not reflect the trends in more informal types of volunteer activity.

Overall, volunteer satisfaction continues to be high (92% of respondents who have volunteered in the past year being very or fairly satisfied with their experience). Satisfaction continues to be lower amongst particular groups: younger volunteers, public sector volunteers, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, and disabled volunteers.

Key to volunteer satisfaction is the feeling of being supported and recognised, a culture of trust and respect and a sense of belonging to the organisation.


Local community or neighbourhood groups are the most frequent organisations for volunteers to contribute to (21%), followed by health, disability and social welfare (17%).

‘Wanting to improve things/help people’ remains the main motivation (40%), followed by having spare time (31%) and feeling connected to the cause/organisation (30%).

‘Making a difference’ is reported as the most important aspect of volunteering, followed by ‘not feeling pressured to give time’. More than a quarter (26%, up from 19% in 2019) feel their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work, this being more likely within the public sector and organisations with a paid coordinator. Research on Volunteering and wellbeing in the pandemic showed that many felt fatigued or even burnt out after the challenging years of COVID and this needs to be appreciated.

As expected, motivations vary by demographic. 25% of 18 – 24 year olds were motivated by their career or qualifications and interested in gaining skills. Overall, however, 60% people reported using their professional skills in their volunteering,

Good volunteer management caters for the mix of motivations that are both altruistic (a desire to help others) and instrumental (benefits to oneself) and recognises that motivations can change over time.


Flexibility is highly valued – both in the amount of time committed and in the way that time is used. Assurance about flexibility is one of the main things that would encourage more non-volunteers to volunteer.

The financial impact of volunteering is an increasing concern, especially for younger age groups. Interestingly 28% of volunteers said they could not claim expenses from their organisation and a further 16% did not know. Reimbursement of out of pocket expenses is important to ensure equitable access to volunteering opportunities.

Slightly fewer volunteers (than in 2019) reported seeing a wide range of backgrounds amongst those volunteering alongside them, which suggests that there is more to be done to improve the diversity of volunteers generally.

The research included a boost sample of people from minority communities. Analysis of this data will be published later in the year in order to explore the volunteering experiences of minority groups more fully.


For more information you can read the report in full, watch a recording of the launch event or see a short video on five key take aways.

This summary briefing was written by Helpforce Cymru. Helpforce is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.

The Helpforce page on our website includes links to recent articles, blogs and case stories.

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