What are the benefits of volunteering?

Overview

Volunteering can benefit a variety of stakeholders, from volunteers themselves and the organisations involving them to service users and the wider community 

The Volunteering Impact Assessment Toolkit identifies four areas worth considering by organisations and programmes that involve volunteers.

  1. Human capital: people’s knowledge, skills and health including increased confidence and reduced stress levels.
  2. Economic capital: benefits or costs with a financial value, eg income that volunteers may get in the future because of their experience or cost savings to the community.
  3. Social capital: more cooperative relationships between people, such as new friendships developed between volunteers.
  4. Cultural capital: a sense of one’s own identity and understanding of others’ identity, eg feelings of belonging to a group and an increased understanding of other people’s points of view.

In light of these potential benefits, volunteering is seen as contributing to some key policy agendas such as wellbeing, social cohesion and employability.

Scale

Volunteering is present in many different settings 

Volunteers make a significant contribution to the delivery of services and activities across the country. For instance:

  • 6.2 million people volunteer at least twice a year to support sport and physical activity in England
  • the Charity Retail Association estimates that more than 233,000 people volunteer in charity shops across the country
  • the estimated number of school governors in England is 350,000 and these are just one group of volunteers giving unpaid help in an education setting[1].
  • approximately 39,000 people volunteer directly in police services, in roles such as special constables, police support volunteers, and Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) volunteers[2].
  • the number of volunteers in health and social care is estimated at over three million.

Economic value

  • Estimating the value of volunteering is fraught with difficulty and as a result, it is often under-estimated.
  • The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated the economic value of volunteering in the UK to be £23.9bn in 2016, based on the total number of hours of unpaid help given by volunteers to organisations and groups at least once a month (ie people who volunteer formally and frequently) from the Community Life Survey and wage rates from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.
  • The ONS approach is based on calculating how much it would cost to replace formal volunteers by paid staff. However, this method does not capture the value of informal volunteering (volunteering that doesn’t take place in the context of a group or organisation), nor the wider impacts of volunteering on the community or on individual volunteers.
  • A method using subjective wellbeing data estimated the value of volunteering to those who formally and frequently volunteer themselves to be around £70bn.

Perceived benefits

  • In the Time Well Spent survey, the most common benefits volunteers reported were enjoyment (93%), a sense of personal achievement (90%) and feeling that they make a difference (90%).
  • Over three-quarters (77%) agree it improves their mental health and wellbeing. Over two-thirds (68%) agree it helps them feel less isolated – this is even higher among younger volunteers (77% for those aged 18–24 and 76% for those aged 25–34).
  • Those who volunteered regularly (at least once a month) were more likely to experience the highs and lows of volunteering: they were more likely to feel a range of benefits compared with occasional volunteers, but also more likely to feel some of the more negative impacts such as too much time being taken up and being in conflict with others.

Volunteers feel they benefit from their volunteering in a range of ways 

Impacts on volunteers

There is strong evidence on the link between volunteering and improved mental health and wellbeing 

  • Evidence reviews highlight that volunteering contributes to improving the mental health and wellbeing of volunteers and indicate a causal link between the two.
  • There is growing evidence as well that volunteering can improve people’s social connections, which in turn contributes to their mental health and wellbeing.
  • Volunteering is also associated with increased physical health, but evidence of a causal relationship is weaker than for mental health.
  • The evidence regarding the link between volunteering and employability is more mixed.

More data and research

Footnotes

  1. Balarin, M., Brammer, S., James, C and McCormack, M.: Business in the Community/ University of Bath (2014) The School Governance Study

  2. Britton, I. Knight, L. and Lugli, V.: Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice (2018), Citizens in Policing Benchmarking Report