Read aloud or translate

Is there a crisis in the voluntary sector?

Amy McAfee, Volunteer Coordinator 6 June 2024

Volunteer recruitment at a record low: our top 5 tips for finding creative ways to encourage participation volunteering.

Only 27% of people reported participating in formal volunteering in 2021/22. This participation rate is the lowest recorded by the Community Life Survey.

One of the most commonly talked about issues in the volunteering sector is low volunteer recruitment numbers — and, particularly, the reduced numbers of volunteers within charities. 

The Community Life survey shows a trend of increasingly reduced voluntary activity:

  • In 2021/22, 27% of respondents reported participating in formal volunteering at least once in the last year (approximately 12 million people in England).
  • This is lower than 2020/21, which was 30% and approximately 14 million people. And lower than rates between 2013/14 and 2019/20 (between 36% and 45%).

Prior to 2020, levels of voluntary activity were much higher than the levels we see today. Many factors are attributed to this, but most voluntary sector organisations agree that the most significant impacts have been the long-lasting effect of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis.

People simply have less time to volunteer. This may be due to increased childcare expectations, the need for second jobs or late retirement. 

With this in mind, our Volunteering team wanted to reflect on their experiences — we are now experiencing comparatively elevated levels of volunteer applications — and offer our top 5 tips for keeping recruitment numbers high.

  1. Roles should respond to volunteers’ lifestyles. People will not change their lifestyles to fit in with your role or opportunity. Try to think if there’s something you can do to change your opportunity and make it more realistic for people to volunteer.
  2. Think about who your opportunities will appeal to and target your marketing. Outreach is key. Often, people do not volunteer because they have not thought about volunteering, so try to present your opportunity to the general public as well as to volunteer centres. Think about who each role may appeal to and target your messaging to those groups.
  3. Ensure your opportunities are accessible for people with disabilities. Many of our volunteers have physical disabilities, so remote opportunities really work for them. On the flip side, this provides us with volunteers who have great relevant life experiences to better help our clients.
  4. Help people see a benefit to volunteering for your organisation and value your volunteers by investing in them. Do you offer training, shadowing, references, and real-life experiences to help people into employment? Do you have roles that allow people to tangibly see the benefit they provide to your clients?
  5. Roles should be specific, and volunteers should know where they fit’ with your staff/​other volunteers. If volunteers have clear tasks within their roles, they will better understand what’s expected of them and will be more likely to stay engaged with a programme.

We would love to hear about volunteering in your organisation or community and any insights you might have.