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6 in 10 charities still struggling with volunteer recruitment

Melanie May | 31 May 2024 | News

A man with his arms folded, wearing a white t-shirt with the word volunteer on it. By RDNE Stock Project on Pexels

More than half of voluntary organisations are still finding volunteer recruitment difficult, with no improvement seen in the last 12 months, according to a new report.

Present Struggles, Past Origins: Current Challenges in Volunteering Amidst Two Decades of Decline by Nottingham Trent University’s VCSE Data and Insights National Observatory and Pro Bono Economics (PBE) is part of a quarterly barometer on the voluntary sector, which saw more than 560 organisations take part in the latest wave.

Lack of time and interest are key barriers to volunteering

The survey found that 61% of charities are finding it difficult to recruit volunteers, and and around half (47%) have not seen an increase in numbers over 12 months. Key barriers are lack of time (59%) and lack of interest (50%).


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The study also found little improvement for organisations who do not have enough volunteers to meet their objectives, with four in 10 still in this position and 82% of those finding recruitment difficult.

According to the study, organisations are less likely to invest in recruitment methods which require time, money and skill. There has been a decline in in-person recruitment events and social media activity with 84% mainly using word of mouth to recruit volunteers.

Retention issues

The survey last focused on volunteering in Spring 2023, with concerns voiced then over decreasing numbers. As well as difficulties recruiting, volunteer retention is now a problem for 1 in 3. Almost 70% said volunteer family and caring responsibilities were a significant barrier to retention, with work responsibilities and a decline in flexible working also having an impact.

Almost double – 42%, compared to 23% – said that the commitment is too big for their volunteers and 42% noted the time contributed by their volunteers has increased over the last year, a slight increase on last Spring (35%).

Professor Daniel King, Director of the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory at Nottingham Business School, part of NTU, said: 

“The results of this wave are very similar to last Spring, which shows that there are some perennial challenges facing voluntary organisations.


“It’s hard out there, and while some organisations are adapting and having some success, others are experiencing tensions with balancing the needs of the organisation with the needs of volunteers.


“Volunteers’ Week shines a spotlight on the fantastic impact volunteering has for people and for organisations, but longstanding challenges highlighted in our report are requiring the sector to think differently about volunteer participation.”


What are charities doing in response?

Some of the charities who responded to the survey reported that they are changing the way they do things to try and improve volunteer recruitment:

“We have a part time volunteer co-ordinator which has made recruiting and retaining volunteers and filling rotas more straightforward. She has introduced rewards and social activities to maintain morale. She has also worked with the local college to recruit young people on Duke of Edinburgh and this has slightly changed the age profile. Some of these young people have stayed with us at the end of their placements.”

“Our pool of older, more experienced volunteers has declined since COVID-19 meaning we are now in a position where we don’t have the capacity to train newcomers. We have trialled some training and workshop days in an attempt to fast-track newcomers so they can come in and use our facilities to practise/undertake some training solo. We have also created a training pack for new volunteers, which contains practical training activities they can undertake at home whilst they are waiting for a more experienced volunteer to become available to shadow.”