How many people volunteer and what do they do?

Overview

  • Almost a third (30%) of people over 16 years old volunteered with a group, club or organisation at least once in 2020/21. Based on ONS population estimates, this means 16.3m people formally volunteered last year.
  • Almost one in five (17%) people reported volunteering at least once a month, about 9.2m people.
  • Less visible is informal volunteering, which includes a wider range of activities including unpaid help for someone who is not a relative. In 2020/21, 54% of the population (29.4m) volunteered informally at least once a year and 33% (17.9m) did so at least once a month.

16.3m people volunteered through a group, club or organisation in 2020/21

Over time

  • Rates of formal volunteering at least once a year have remained relatively stable since 2015/16 which was at 37% in that year and 2019/20, and often fluctuated in between.
  • Similarly, regular informal volunteering has also remained stable with small changes, being 52% in 2018/19 and 53% in 2017/18 and 2019/20.
  • However, the pandemic has seen formal volunteering at least once a year plunge by a fifth (20%) on 2019/20 levels while informal volunteering saw a small increase (2%) during the same period.
  • Long-term trends are harder to compare due to a change in survey methodology in 2015/16. Please see more under ‘notes and definitions’ on this page.

Levels of formal volunteering have remained largely unchanged since 2015 but fell dramatically in 2020/21

Informal volunteering

More than half of the population gets involved in informal ways of volunteering

  • In addition to formal volunteering via groups, clubs and organisations, people volunteer informally in their communities.
  • Informal volunteering includes activities like doing shopping, providing childcare or doing housework for someone for free who is not a relative or a friend.
  • In 2020/21, more than half of people volunteered informally at least once a year and more than a quarter (33%) did so at least once a month. This rose substantially during the Covid-19 pandemic (please see the spotlight on volunteering through the pandemic, below).

More than a quarter of the population are regularly involved in informal ways of volunteering and about half did so at least once in 2020/21

Lifetime participation

  • About seven in ten people who took part in the Time Well Spent survey (69%) had formally volunteered at least once in their lives while 31% had never done so.
  • Among those who had volunteered, people were more likely to say they had been occasionally involved throughout their life (55%), rather than consistently (22%) or hardly (21%) involved. When people do volunteer, they were more likely to be lightly involved than heavily involved.
  • Only a small proportion (7% of all respondents) said they had been consistently and heavily involved over time.

Most people have formally volunteered at some point in their lives, dipping in and out of involvement over time

Volunteering activities

  • Over half (55%) of recent volunteers gave time to more than one organisation. For their main organisation, about two-thirds (67%) volunteered for civil society organisations while 17% volunteered for public sector organisations. However, the scale of participation should not be underestimated.
  • Volunteers undertook a range of activities, most commonly related to organising events (39%), administration (28%), raising money and taking part in sponsored events (27%) and getting others involved (27%). People mainly volunteered locally, in their own neighbourhoods (81%).

Volunteers get involved in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities

More data and research

Notes and definitions

The findings on this page comes from three sources.

Differences in sample and methodology should be noted. See our section on methodology for more information.

Trend data

Comparing longer-term trends has been made more difficult due to a change in survey methodology from face-to-face to an online/paper version which respondents complete themselves. More on this can be found in the methodology section.

The new data using online and paper surveys suggests that volunteering rates might be slightly lower than previously thought, however, across the same methodology levels of involvement remain stable over time.

Specific terms

  • Formal volunteering: Giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.
  • Informal volunteering: Giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not a relative.
  • Regular volunteering: Where people volunteer at least once a month.
  • Recent volunteers: Those who have given unpaid help in the last 12 months.
  • Main organisation: For those who have given time to more than one organisation, these respondents were asked to identify the organisation they gave the most unpaid help to (the most time, resources for example). If they had given time to two equally, they were asked to choose the one they helped most recently.

Footnotes

  1. Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (2020) Community Life COVID-19 Re-contact Survey 2020.

  2. Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and NCVO (2021) Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and COVID-19.

  3. Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and NCVO (2021) Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and COVID-19 - May 2021.