Is there a crisis in volunteer recruitment? Data from across the country seems to suggest that at the very least the number of people volunteering on a regular basis is going down. This is true for both existing volunteers stepping away from volunteering, and for the numbers of new volunteers coming forward to help out.
What could be behind this trend? NCVO’s Time Well Spent survey 2023 suggests that many people, over a third of those asked, stop volunteering because of a change in circumstances, and this can be a variety of things from finding paid work, to moving house, to being unwell. A surprising find however was that 14% of respondents said that volunteering simply caused them too much stress and that’s why they had stopped doing it.
We know that times are tough right now. People from across our communities are struggling to pay bills, buy food, find work, and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. When times are hard, volunteering can be quite low down on people’s list of priorities and it might not even be on the list at all. It can be hard, if not impossible, to think about helping others when we need help ourselves.
This is one not-so-obvious way in which the cost of living crisis, climate change, political upheaval, and all the other challenges we’re facing at the moment impacts on our lives. When times are good, when people are comfortable and secure, they find it much easier to give their time and skills to support their communities.
The irony is that the tougher times get, the more we need volunteers, and yet it is precisely the reason why fewer people volunteer!
When it comes to even starting to volunteer in the first place, the biggest barrier is not wanting to, or being able to, offer a regular commitment. So one way to encourage more people into volunteering might be to find ways to offer more flexible opportunities. Although volunteer engagement is, in many areas, on the decline, we also know that people’s natural desire to help isn’t diminished – it’s just that circumstances are working against them. Tapping into those instincts in different and innovative ways might be vital if we are to be able to continue supporting the most in need.