Time Out; 4 common barriers to volunteering & how to overcome them

Picture of volunteers digging

Time Out; 4 common barriers to volunteering & how to overcome them

Our new volunteering data is in, so nfpSynergy researcher Amina Ali explores why some people are unable to volunteer and how charities can help solve the problem.

As National Volunteer Week arrives, it serves as a good reminder of the impact volunteers have and the importance of acknowledging, and celebrating, their achievements. However, recent research on volunteering in our Charity Awareness Monitor (regularly surveying a nationally representative sample of the British public) suggests that that there are still some perceived barriers to be broken down in order to engage more people in volunteering. Looking at how these barriers cluster together has provided some interesting insights.

"I can’t find a role that fits..."

Those whose barriers to volunteering are centred on difficulty in finding a role that fits tend to be younger (age 16-34). Finding opportunities that they consider interesting and suitable are viewed as the main problem and perhaps relate to the expectation of customisation from a younger generation.

Volunteer managers have an important role to play in engaging groups with these kinds of barriers to help them to find ways of giving time that work with their skills and interests.  

"What’s the point in volunteering...?"

Some people still don’t see the value in engaging in volunteering, believing that they would have nothing in common with other volunteers or just not seeing what the benefit would be for them.  The profile of those that undervalue volunteering is biased towards men, older people and lower social grades. Our research shows men and lower social grades are less likely to be recent charity donors and so this could be linked to a broader pattern of lower engagement with charities through formal or traditional methods like giving and volunteering, but possibly engaging in other types of community work.

Combatting the stereotypical image of volunteers and highlighting that they come from all areas of life could help reach those with this kind of barrier.

"I got no response from the charity..."

There are people who have an interest in volunteering but report that they either received no reply from their chosen charity or the charity couldn’t find a suitable position for them. Of course, many volunteers won’t be right for the charity they contacted, but a prompt reply and a thank you for their interest could help avoid alienating them or leaving a bad impression of the sector’s professionalism. For example, a young person with an interest in overseas aid may not have the skillset to be of use in disaster relief efforts on the ground, but some probing could uncover great web design or fundraising skills.

Where possible, taking the time to recommend another role or charity that would be a better fit helps avoid the spark of volunteer action dying out.

"I don’t have enough time..."

Difficulty around time commitment is a barrier most likely to be cited by women and those aged 35-54. This group is also more likely than the others to be in paid work and to be employed full-time.

The government’s proposal to provide people with three days of paid leave to volunteer could hit the mark for people who have the desire to volunteer but struggle with other commitments. There are already charities tackling this problem – The National Trust’s Big Family Day Out has been running for a couple of years and is one successful example of a charity giving employees from participating companies a chance to escape the office to volunteer outdoors with their kids.

Although there are a minority that won’t engage in volunteering anyway (plus some of these barriers may just be a smokescreen for refusal or disinclination), two thirds of the public would consider volunteering if they were able to do so ad hoc, helping out as and when they can. Understanding what the likely barriers to volunteering might be for people and how this could be linked to demographic profile or life stage is useful at many stages of the volunteering journey, from the creation of volunteer roles to recruitment and retention.

Our report The New Alchemy explores the volunteering landscape in more depth. It’s available for free here.

Amina Ali

Why not volunteer to leave a comment below? We'd like to hear about your experiences.

Submitted by Mike Bright (not verified) on 5 Jun 2015


Just want to touch on the section about not enough time.

I've written many times about this, in so far as the microvolunteering concept completely breaks down the barriers to people giving out excuses not to volunteer. A minimum of 10 seconds is all that is needed to volunter and help out a worthy cause, which I would argue most people can find at some point in their life! Most microvolunteering opportunities can be participated on an ad-hoc, on demand basis with no commitment beyond the action participated.

So why aren't the two-thirds of the population mentioned in the article, microvolunteering. It's about awareness, and the concept still has a long way to go to seep into the public's perception of what a volunteering activity looks like.

Here's one of the articles I've written about on the subject of excuses versus volunteering.


Submitted by A.M. (not verified) on 26 Aug 2015


I run a community group and find it extremely difficult to find volunteers to 'commit' to helping on a regular basis. The ad hoc does not work because we do not have enough volunteers to cover if someone does not show up. We have a community cafe and allotment both of which are understaffed. We have advertised etc etc to no avail. Most people seem to want to volunteer for the larger charities such as cancer research, age uk etc but as we are self funded we dont seem to attract them. Also with people working longer and women working more there is a shortage of people with spare time. i have a couple of regulars to help who are aged 80 plus. I worry for the future of our group as i just do not know how to interest people in volunteering. Of course there are always those who are not working for many reasons and we have encountered a few of these who have ended up being asked to leave because they are unsuitable due to volatile personalities, stealing, mental unstability etc.

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