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Research reveals mixed impact of pandemic on volunteering

Melanie May | 24 May 2021 | News

Volunteering report cover

With Volunteers’ Week 2021 coming up on 1-7 June, new research shows that the pandemic has had a mixed impact for charities and volunteer numbers, with around a quarter of charities reporting an increase in numbers since March 2020, compared with 36% who saw a decline.

The research also reveals increased positivity among charities, greater diversity among UK volunteers, and the rise of the digital volunteer.

The data from the seventh monthly Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer, led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Nottingham Trent University and Sheffield Hallam University, also reveals that 38% of voluntary sector organisation reported a decline in the amount of time contributed by volunteers, with 29% reporting an increase since the beginning of the pandemic. The range of activities undertaken by volunteers had also reduced for 40% of charities.


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However, in the past month, 20% of organisations said they expected an increase in volunteering, with 19% expecting a decrease – the first time more have expected an increase. Demand is also expected to increase with 66% of organisations in May compared to 59% in April expecting greater demand for their services in the short term.

Diversity in volunteering

The pandemic has also seen a shift in the diversity and range of volunteers participating.

31% of the organisations included in the research experienced a decrease in the number of older volunteers (50+) actively engaged in their organisation, with this age group more likely to be impacted by the pandemic’s restrictions. And, alongside almost a quarter of all respondents reporting an increase in the number of people volunteering with them since March 2020, many organisations also reported a significant shift in the diversity and range of volunteers participating. With people volunteering because of furlough or having more time due to lockdowns, many reported new volunteers coming forward from a diverse range of age, gender, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.

Digital volunteering on the up

Online and digital volunteering has seen an expansion however. 92% of the organisations surveyed stated that they had moved services online in the past year as a result of the pandemic. This led to an increase in the number of volunteer roles being carried out remotely in 39% of organisations. As a result of the increased presence of digital, 26% of the respondents found it necessary to recruit volunteers with different skill sets to their normal volunteers.

Outlook more positive among charities

The research also shows a gradual but consistent decrease from 80% to 64% across the seven months of the survey in the number of organisations expecting the pandemic to negatively impact their ability to deliver their objectives. For the first time during the pandemic, more organisations (22%) expect their short-term financial position to improve than to deteriorate (19%).

Among other findings, the research also showed:

Alex Farrow, head of networks and influencing at NCVO, said:

“Overall, we see a mixed picture for formal volunteering during the pandemic, with some organisations seeing many new volunteers, from all walks of life, many volunteering for the first time. Other organisations have struggled, either through volunteers having to shield, or having to suspend volunteering altogether.


“The increase in volunteer diversity during the pandemic is welcome and overdue, and the new opportunities and flexibility opened up by digital and micro volunteering are exciting for the sector. We need to consider what measures can sustain these changes and ensure volunteering is open to all.


“It is right that we all take the time to thank volunteers this Volunteers’ Week for the huge impact they have made in the past year. As we move out of lockdown this is a pivotal moment for all volunteer engaging organisations to build on the positives we have seen in the pandemic and plan strategically for the future of volunteering.”