An estimated one in four of the adult population volunteer formally on a regular basis, and two in five volunteer at least once a year, representing significant levels of economic and social activity.
Volunteering statistics distinguish between formal and informal volunteering:
- Formal volunteering means giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation,
- Informal volunteering means giving unpaid help to individual people who are not relatives, and not through a group, club or organisation
According to the Community Life Survey 2017/18 from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:
- 25% of adults in the South West (aged 16+) took part in formal volunteering at least once a month in the last year. Applying this proportion to Somerset’s resident population would equate to approximately 115,000 regular volunteers in the county.
- 71% of adults in the South West engaged in any form of volunteering in the last year (formal or informal).
- The South West continues to have one of the highest rates of volunteering of any region in England.
- Nationally, volunteering rates are highest in the 65 to 74 age group and lowest in the 26 to 34 age group.
The UK Civil Society Almanac from the NCVO reports that:
- Among those who formally volunteered at least once in the last 12 months, the most frequent reasons given for volunteering were to improve things/help people (61%) and that the cause was considered important (39%).
- Less frequently mentioned reasons included: to get on in my career (7%), feeling there was no one else to do it (8%), and to get a recognised qualification (3%).
- Sports organisations, clubs and groups attract the most volunteers, with half of those who have formally volunteered in the past year doing so with a sports club, organisation or group.
The Volunteering Experience
In January 2019, NCVO published Time well spent: A national survey on the volunteering experience, focusing on volunteering through groups, clubs and organisations and including data on recent and lapsed volunteers. Findings included:
- 96% of volunteers said they were very or fairly satisfied with their volunteering.
- 68% of recent volunteers agreed that their volunteering helped them feel less isolated, with highest proportions in the 18 to 24 age group (77%).
- Volunteers working full time were more likely to say they preferred using skills and experience that were different from their day-to-day work (39% v 30%).
- Around 1 in 4 felt there was too much bureaucracy around volunteering.
The report makes a number of recommendations for organisations about what makes a good quality volunteer experience.
Volunteering Focus Group report
In 2018, Somerset County Council commissioned Spark Somerset and Engage to run five focus groups in Somerset, with the aim to gain further local insight in to why people volunteer, what barriers there are to volunteering and volunteer support.
The research found that, predominantly, people were very positive about volunteering. People had a strong community focus and got clear personal benefits from volunteering. However, a number of themes emerged, describing the negative experiences people have had. Participants were very clear how these could be managed with good volunteer management principles.
Recommendations in the report are based on improving volunteer management in volunteering organisations across Somerset. You can download the full report here.
Volunteering and Health
In 2008, Volunteering England commissioned the University of Wales to undertake a systematic review of research on Volunteering and Health to ascertain the effects on individual volunteers and on health service users. The review was based on 87 research papers (published since 1997). It identified qualified evidence that volunteering could deliver health benefits both to volunteers and to health service users. Volunteering was shown to decrease mortality and to improve self-rated health, mental health, life satisfaction, social interaction, healthy behaviours and coping ability.
A 2013 report, Volunteering in Health and Care, by the King’s Fund found that volunteers played an important role in improving people’s experience of care; building stronger relationships between services and communities; supporting integrated care; and reducing health inequalities. A further King’s Fund report published in 2018, Volunteering in General Practice: Opportunities and Insights, explored ways in which volunteers were involved with, and contributed to, general practice.
Economic Value of Volunteering
The nature of the voluntary sector’s finances and the available data make it difficult to quantify the value to the wider economy. The sector’s contribution can be considered in terms of its spending, the people it employs or the contribution volunteers make.
The replacement-cost approach: This considers how much it would cost to replace volunteers with paid staff. National research from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) looked at the number of regular formal volunteers (around 15 million) and multiplied it by the average number of volunteer hours and the median hourly wage for paid roles equivalent to volunteer roles. This gave a value of £23.9bn for regular formal volunteers for 2012/13, or around £1,500 a year each.
The wellbeing approach: Research by the Department for Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office put a figure on the wellbeing benefits of volunteering to volunteers themselves. It measured the increase in an individual’s self-reported wellbeing associated with frequent formal volunteering (identifying a 1.9% higher 'life satisfaction' than non-volunteers). It then calculated the amount of monetary compensation that they would need to maintain their level of wellbeing if they stopped volunteering (estimated at £13,500 per year for frequent formal volunteers, at 2011 prices).
Social Action Volunteering
Research from the University of Birmingham (2017) found that participants who first engaged with service or volunteering under the age of 10 were more than twice as likely to have developed a ‘habit’ of social action than those who began from ages 16-18. Strong support networks and encouragement from schools were identified as key factors contributing to a lifelong ‘habit of service’ and social action.
Ofsted’s common inspection framework, introduced in 2015, placed emphasis on the need for schools and colleges to provide a curriculum rich in personal development to enable children and young people to contribute to wider society. In 2016, Ofsted worked with ‘Step Up To Serve’ and #iwill campaigns to highlight examples of good social action practice in schools, colleges and other education providers.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned an independent review of Full-Time Social Action (defined as 16 hours a week or more, for 6 months or more) for young people (aged 16 - 25), published in 2018. The review found:
- Committed forms of social action over an extended period have been shown to play a critical role in developing a young person's life chances, improving job prospects and wellbeing.
- Full-Time Social Action plays a central role in achieving wider government priorities; in particular, achieving greater social mobility and social inclusion for young people.
- Young people from the poorest backgrounds tend to be the least likely to access structured social action opportunities, even though they may benefit significantly from participating.
NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations)
Somerset County Council - Volunteering (links to information on volunteering opportunities within Somerset)