Volunteering has always been a cornerstone of community engagement in the UK. It's a way for us to give back, make a positive impact, and connect with our local communities. However, our recent research has shown that there’s been some stagnation in volunteering figures. As of this summer, only one in five (21%) members of the public claim to have volunteered in the past three months. This figure isn’t a major departure from recent trends, though it does fall short of the 31% of the public who were volunteering in September 2021.
The concern here is that volunteering is one of the main ways that charities can continue to engage with the public and receive support during less economically viable periods. As we continue through the cost-of-living crisis, we’ve been hoping to see volunteering figures on the rise – but this hasn’t been the case. This week, we’re looking at some of the reasons why the public might not be stepping up to volunteer for charities, and how we believe your organisation can help them to overcome these barriers to entry.
BARRIER: TIME CONSTRAINTS
The demands of modern life can leave people unable to find any time for volunteering. People’s working lives often involve long hours and irregular shifts, leaving them drained at the end of the day. Plus, many members of the public are responsible for taking care of family members, be it children, elderly parents, or other dependents. The time and energy required to fulfil volunteering responsibilities can make it difficult to consider jumping in to help charities out.
SOLUTION: Organizations can address the time dilemma by offering flexible volunteering options. Short-term, virtual, or micro-volunteering opportunities can appeal to individuals with busy schedules, allowing them to contribute without committing extensive time.
BARRIER: FINANCIAL PRESSURES
Economic concerns and the rising cost of living can force individuals to prioritize paid work over volunteering. Financial stability has become more difficult to ensure, and so earning a living has naturally become a greater priority among the public than whether they can volunteer.
SOLUTION: Encouraging employers to support employee volunteering initiatives can break down the dichotomy between paid and unpaid work, ensuring that working people are given the flexibility to engage with charities. These programmes can also lead to more widespread participation and awareness of the opportunities that are available. Volunteering opportunities for young people might also be advertised with an emphasis on work experience and skill development in order to promote the value of volunteering and its benefit on a CV!
BARRIER: LACK OF AWARENESS
Many members of the public might not be aware of the volunteering opportunities being made available to them. Charities are now having to operate within a growing number of media channels, and it can be difficult to identify which are the most impactful when it comes to promoting your brand and the opportunities you offer. Plus, the UK has seen many of its traditional community ties weaken, harming the likelihood of finding volunteering options through religious or community gatherings.
SOLUTION: Brand tracking. Having a handle on how effectively you’re engaging with the public makes it easier to understand how to promote your volunteering opportunities. As well as this, an organisation can look at demographics in order to learn how to advertise roles better towards younger people, for example, as and when an opportunity calls for it.
BARRIER: VOLUNTEERING ALTERNATIVES
Some individuals prefer to support causes through direct financial contributions or online advocacy rather than hands-on volunteering. This shift toward alternative forms of engagement has without doubt been impactful on traditional volunteering figures.
SOLUTION: Embracing varied support methods. Of the members of the public who have volunteered in the past three months, 29% did so by volunteering to raise money for a charity. This is a significant leap up from the historic rate of this activity, and was interestingly adopted across the generations. Charities should identify which methods of support are popular and try to capitalise on these where possible. It might be viable to opt for a support type more likely to garner interest where another call-to-action simply doesn’t muster much help.
While the stagnation of volunteering is a concerning trend, it's not insurmountable. As we continue to track the trends in volunteering in the UK, we’ll be sure to share our main takeaways and hopefully help to give charities a leg-up when it comes to capturing the hearts and minds of would-be volunteers. For more information about our research with the public or how brand tracking could help you to engage more volunteers, consider downloading a briefing pack below.