Key findings from Time Well Spent 2023

Over the past four years the world has seen unprecedented change. While in many ways people have returned to a pre-pandemic life, the repercussions of lockdown continue to impact communities.

The cost of living crisis and external events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine have added to these issues. We’ve seen widening inequalities and deepening societal need for some of the most marginalised groups.

What does this mean for volunteering? Here we offer a preview of our ground-breaking Time Well Spent 2023 report, which reveals how much volunteering has transformed over recent years.

About Time Well Spent

Time Well Spent is NCVO’s research programme focusing on volunteers and their experience.

In 2018 we conducted a national survey of over 10,000 members of the UK general public. The survey was conducted through YouGov and explored:

  • volunteer participation
  • motivations and barriers to volunteering
  • the quality of volunteers’ experiences
  • the impact of volunteering.

At the end of 2022 we ran this survey again with 7,000 members of the public. We analysed the data and compared it to what we observed in 2018.

Here are some of our key findings so far.

Volunteer participation — signs of decline?

The impact of the ongoing crises can be clearly seen in recent data.

The latest Community Life Survey found the proportion of the UK population who had volunteered at least once a month in 2021/22 was 16%. This was down from about 23% in 2019/20, reflecting the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. Volunteer participation has not fully recovered since then.

While it’s difficult to compare an overall level, our survey data saw a drop in some key volunteering activities, reflecting the impact of the pandemic on certain volunteering activities.

  • Those raising money or taking part in sponsored events (down from 11% to 6%).
  • Those organising or helping to run an activity (down from 14% to 7%).
  • Those campaigning on behalf of the group, club or organisation (down from 8% to 4%).

Additionally, among recent volunteers, the overall likelihood to continue volunteering declined slightly from 80% in 2018 to 77% in 2022.

Most people said less time due to changes in circumstances is the main reason they’re stopping. Being unhappy with the way their volunteering group is managed and organised is much less common (10%).

This data suggests we need more focus on retaining volunteers, as well as recruiting them.

Volunteer satisfaction is lower

The vast majority of volunteers have a positive experience.

Among those who had volunteered in the last 12 months through a group, club or organisation (focusing on the one they gave the most help to), 92% say that they are either very or fairly satisfied with their experience.

They also report a range of positive impacts on their lives.

However, compared to the previous data, overall satisfaction levels have decreased slightly. In 2018, 96% of volunteers said they were very or fairly satisfied with their experience.

Our analysis suggests several contributing factors.

  • Volunteers are now more likely to think their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work (up from 19% in 2018 to 26% in 2022).
  • More volunteers felt their volunteering group or organisation had unreasonable expectations of how much they did (17% in 2018 compared to 24% in 2022).
  • There was an increase in public sector volunteers since 2018, who are less likely to be satisfied with their experience compared with third sector volunteers (87% very or fairly satisfied vs 94%).

There are still challenges around equity, diversity and inclusion

Since 2020, the voluntary sector has been working to improve diversity issues in its workforce. However, our data shows equity, diversity and inclusion continue to be a challenge in volunteering.

Fewer volunteers say that their volunteering group is diverse. In 2018, 73% of volunteers said there were people from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures in their group. In 2022 this has dropped to 66%. We’ll share further analysis of the experience of black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in the coming months.

As in 2018, younger volunteers in our new data continue to be less satisfied overall. 82% of 18–24-year-olds said they’re satisfied compared with 96% of those aged 55+.

It’s not enough just to improve overall volunteer participation. This data highlights volunteering opportunities also need to be inclusive and meet the needs of a diverse range of people.

Virtual volunteering is here to stay

Technology has played an increasingly important role in volunteering since 2020. Virtual volunteering (volunteering online or over the phone) is now the third most common place to volunteer. 31% of those who volunteered in the last 12 months did at least some of it virtually.

In 2022, we see volunteering online hasn’t impacted volunteer satisfaction. Volunteer satisfaction is nearly equal among those who did all of their volunteering virtually (95% satisfied) and those who volunteered face to face (93% satisfied).

During covid, organisations quickly adapted to make sure virtual volunteering was safe and rewarding. These results are testament to their hard work.

Volunteering motivations haven’t changed

In both 2018 and 2022 we found the top motivation for volunteering was wanting to improve things or help people. Recent volunteers also say making a difference is the key reason they’re likely to continue.

It’s important to remember this core motivation when recruiting volunteers. That, and simply asking the question. Around 1 in 5 (19%) people who hadn’t volunteered in the last 12 months said it was because they’ve never been asked.

Practical barriers need to be addressed

The practical aspects of volunteering shouldn’t be underestimated. This is especially true given the cost of living crisis and changing expectations around flexibility.

The issue of expenses is particularly notable.

  • 14% of those who haven’t volunteered through a group, club or organisation in the last 12 months are worried about out-of-pocket expenses (up from 9% in 2018). This figure was higher among 18-24-year-olds (20%).
  • Only 55% of volunteers say their volunteer group, club or organisation would reimburse their expenses if they wanted them to. 16% don’t know if they would.

This indicates organisations need to do more to ease concerns about volunteering expenses, particularly if they want to attract younger volunteers.

As well as the financial impact of volunteering, time is also an important factor. Among those who had considered volunteering in the last 12 months, the most common barriers were:

  • thinking it involved more time than they could commit (21%)
  • it wasn’t flexible (14%)
  • the opportunities didn’t matching their skills, interests or experience (14%).

However, experiences of flexible volunteering are largely positive. For example, 82% of those who do volunteer report their organisation is flexible with the time given.

Offering more flexible volunteering opportunities, such as virtual volunteering, could help attract new volunteers. For those already volunteering, continued support will be key, particularly given the burnout and fatigue seen during the pandemic.


Volunteer-involving organisations have adapted significantly to the profound changes in our society over the last few years. This latest data shows there is so much to celebrate, and even more to continue working on.

Making volunteering more accessible is a core objective of Vision for Volunteering – an exciting new project we’re working on with a range of partners.

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