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Ahead of the launch of Volunteers’ Week 2021, 1-7 June, new research has revealed a far more mixed impact from the pandemic for charities and volunteer numbers than many headlines have suggested.
The research also reveals increased positivity among charities, greater diversity among UK volunteers, and the rise of the digital volunteer.
The latest data (May 2021) from seventh monthly Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer, led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Nottingham Trent University and Sheffield Hallam University, shows that despite large numbers of first time volunteers coming forward during the pandemic, just 24% of charities reported an increase in volunteer numbers since March 2020, compared with 36% who saw a decline.
38% of voluntary sector organisation also reported a decline in the amount of time contributed by volunteers, with just 29% reporting an increase since the beginning of the pandemic. The range of activities undertaken by volunteers had also reduced for 40% of charities.
However, in the past month 20% of organisations said they expected an increase in volunteering, with 19% expecting a decrease. This is the first time more have expected an increase and follows positive trend. This mixed volunteering picture is set against an increased number of organisations (66% in May compared to 59% in April) expecting greater demand for their services in the short term.
However, the pandemic has brought several positive changes to UK volunteering, including many organisations reporting a significant shift in the diversity and range of volunteers participating.
31% of the organisations experienced a decrease in the number of older volunteers (50+) actively engaged in their organisation. This is because they are more likely to be impacted by the restrictions the pandemic has imposed on in-person activities. This decrease has been reported by 18% of the respondents regarding disabled volunteers and 9% for the number of volunteers who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic.
The new data also shows the expansion of online and digital volunteering. 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.
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%).
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.”
Daniel King, professor of organisational behaviour at Nottingham Trent University and project lead, said:
“The pandemic has seen a shift in not only who has been volunteering but also how they are volunteering. Many people who have had to shield or look after their families have been unable to volunteer, at least in person. This has meant voluntary organisations have reduced volunteer capacity and at the same time they have had to engage more with volunteers to support their wellbeing. This reduces their capacity further.
"However other people, either because they had more time through furloughing or have wanted to help their community, have been able to volunteer, sometimes for the first time. This has opened up new ways of volunteering, through digital and remote practices, and introduced a more diverse group in terms of skills and demographics than would otherwise have been involved in volunteering. This is a real positive of the pandemic.”
Among other findings, the research also showed:
Two years ago the UK went into its first national lockdown, the final report of the Charity Covid-19 Impact Barometer survey project, led by Nottingham Trent University, with Sheffield Hallam University and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations
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