5. Volunteer experience and impact

5.1. What does overall volunteer satisfaction look like?

Most people are satisfied with their volunteering experience and report a positive impact on their lives.

Among our 2023 Time Well Spent survey respondents, 92% of formal volunteers who have given unpaid help in the last 12 months say they are very or fairly satisfied with their volunteering experience (this question focused on their main volunteering experience if they were involved in more than one). See chart 8.

Volunteers report positive impacts on their lives such as enjoyment (this was the case for 89% of respondents), making a difference (for 89%), a sense of achievement (for 88%), and increased social connection (for 87%). This is shown in chart 9 (below). Three-quarters of recent volunteers (75%) say volunteering improves their mental health and wellbeing. We saw in section 4 how some of these impacts, such as making a difference and enjoyment, are also the aspects of volunteering that people consider to be most important.

Perceptions of volunteer management reflect overall satisfaction. The majority of volunteers have positive views, when prompted, on aspects such as a culture of respect and trust (86% agree), the ‘right amount’ of communication from the organisation (77% agree) and the group, club or organisation being flexible around the time someone gives (82% agree).

However, since 2019, overall volunteer satisfaction and the likelihood of people continuing to volunteer have declined slightly.

While satisfaction is high, in 2019 it was higher, with 96% of volunteers saying they were very or fairly satisfied with their experience (vs 92% in 2023). Similarly, in 2019 80% of recent volunteers said they were likely to continue volunteering in the next 12 months. Our latest research shows this figure has dropped to 77%. A more detailed breakdown can be found in chart 10.

5.2. How does satisfaction vary by demographic?

Satisfaction remains lower among younger volunteers, disabled volunteers and people volunteering in the public sector.

Satisfaction with volunteering remains high, but some groups are less likely to be satisfied than others. A number of key groups stand out, including younger volunteers (18 to 24 year olds), disabled volunteers, and people volunteering in the public sector. We saw a similar trend in 2019, but satisfaction has fallen across all three groups.

Differences between younger and older volunteers

  • Younger volunteers are less satisfied than their older counterparts. In 2023, 82% of 18 to 24 year olds are satisfied with their volunteer experience, compared to 96% of volunteers aged 55 years and over. This gap is most visible for those who are ‘very’ satisfied (30% of 18 to 24 year olds vs 66% of people aged 55 years and over).
  • Younger volunteers are less likely to continue volunteering than their older peers (59% of 18 to 24 year olds vs 86% of people aged 55 years and over).
  • In 2019, younger volunteers were also less satisfied than older volunteers. However they were still very positive, with 94% of 18 to 24 year olds reporting they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ satisfied (vs 82% in 2023).

See chart 11.

Differences between public sector and civil society volunteers

  • In 2023, public sector volunteers are less satisfied than those volunteering for civil society organisations (87% of public sector volunteers vs 94% of civil society volunteers).
  • In 2019, public sector volunteers were also less satisfied than their civil society counterparts, but a higher proportion were ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ satisfied (94% in 2019, vs 87% in 2023). As we saw in section 3, there has been a rise in the number of public sector volunteers since 2019.

Differences between disabled and non-disabled volunteers

  • In 2023, disabled volunteers are less satisfied than non-disabled volunteers (88% of disabled volunteers report being satisfied with their experience vs 94% of non-disabled volunteers). 10% of disabled volunteers feel their volunteering has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing.
  • Disabled volunteers are less satisfied in 2023 than they were in 2019 (93% of disabled volunteers were satisfied in 2019 vs 88% in 2023).

Recent research with disabled volunteers, Volunteering Together: Inclusive volunteering and disabled people, also highlighted that while most felt largely positive about their experience, many encountered significant challenges. These challenges included practical barriers, as well as cultural and attitudinal barriers from the public, organisations, paid staff or other volunteers.

Volunteers’ perceptions of diversity among fellow volunteers have fallen.

In 2019 our research suggested volunteers from ethnic minority communities were less satisfied than their white counterparts (our findings were inconclusive due to low numbers of respondents).

Our data in 2023[1] indicates a similar trend, with 93% of white volunteers satisfied, compared with 78% of Black, Mixed or Asian volunteers. However, our follow up research with a larger group of volunteers from ethnic minority communities will explore their experience further.

Furthermore, a lower proportion of volunteers say that those volunteering alongside them are from a wide range of backgrounds. This figure has fallen from 73% in 2019 to 67% to 2023.

These figures reflect volunteer perception, not actual diversity data. As seen in section 3, research shows a mixed picture on the impact of the pandemic on diversity and inclusion.

Nonetheless, these findings highlight the need for continued efforts in this area. Against the backdrop of global anti-racism movements, we have seen a number of sector-wide, concerted efforts to tackle the lack of diversity and representation, explored in our joint report: Respond, Recover, Reset: The voluntary sector and covid-19. We also explore this in our Time Well Spent: Diversity and volunteering report.

5.3. How has remote volunteering affected experiences?

Encouragingly, remote volunteering has not negatively affected satisfaction, perceptions of support, or feelings of belonging.

As we explored in section 3, volunteering remotely (online or over the phone) is now increasingly common. But what impact has this had on volunteer satisfaction?

Our Time Well Spent: Impact of covid-19 on the volunteer experience report presented a mixed picture of volunteer experience. Encouragingly, in our latest data we see volunteering virtually has not impacted volunteer satisfaction. Satisfaction rates in 2023 are equal among people who volunteer exclusively by phone or online and those who volunteer exclusively in person (both 92% satisfied). Both groups also feel similar levels of support (82% and 81% respectively).

Interestingly, people who volunteer exclusively online have an even higher level of satisfaction (98%) and positive perception of being supported (89%).

In 2019, our data showed that people who volunteered exclusively online felt less of a sense of belonging compared with those who did not. In 2023, this imbalance has shifted. People who volunteer exclusively by phone or online[2] are now more likely to feel a sense of belonging compared to those who do not (88% vs 82%). A feeling of belonging is even higher for those who volunteer exclusively online (92%). There may be a number of reasons for this, including the rise in the use of programmes like Zoom and Teams to help keep volunteers connected.

In 2019 people who exclusively volunteered online were more likely to perceive tensions and conflicts in the organisation they volunteered for. This trend remained the same in 2023 (41% of people volunteering exclusively by phone or online agreed with this statement, vs 28% of people who do not volunteer online or by phone). The difference was present, but not as marked for those volunteering exclusively online (35%).

This could be because people interact with each other differently online, over the phone, and face-to-face. A 2021 study on workplace interactions by Portland State University commented how in a remote working world, incivility could go ‘more easily unchecked as people hide behind Zoom boxes or chat messages’. The study states that a lack of body language or tone of voice may also contribute.

5.4. What do volunteers think about the entry process?

While most volunteers feel happy with the entry process, over a third of 18 to 24 year olds expect it to be quicker.

Recent volunteers have positive views of the entry process, with 86% agreeing the process of getting involved is ‘easy and straightforward’. However, one in five (20%) say they ‘expected the process of getting involved to be quicker’.

In 2019, we highlighted that younger people in particular expected a faster entry process, with 22% of 18 to 24 year olds agreeing they expected the process to be quicker. In 2023, this figure has jumped to 33%.

5.5. How do volunteers feel about the way their volunteering is managed and supported?

Most volunteers continue to feel well supported and know how to raise an issue.

Our latest data shows 81% of volunteers feel well supported and 83% know how to raise an issue if needed. This is a testament to the volunteer managers who adapted throughout lockdowns, for example, to provide continuing support to volunteers.

Volunteering in England During Covid-19: Current issues and learning for recovery, a joint report by NCVO and partners, notes that supporting the mental health and wellbeing of volunteers has been a key focus for volunteer managers during and since the pandemic. In particular, this research highlights a focus on ‘reassurance and building confidence’ and supporting volunteers whose roles may have changed.

Most volunteers feel recognised for their efforts, but younger volunteers feel less valued (and value recognition more).

In 2023, four in 10 (40%) recent volunteers feel it is important to receive recognition for the help they give; a similar proportion to 2019 (39%). Interestingly, this is higher for younger people – 49% of 18 to 24 year olds and 46% of 25 to 34 year olds agree with this statement.

In reality, most are happy with the recognition they receive. In 2023, 82% of volunteers agree they feel recognised enough for their volunteering, compared to 84% in 2019. However, this is lower among younger respondents. Just 69% of 18 to 24 year olds and 76% of 25 to 34 year olds feel recognised for their volunteering, compared with 89% of volunteers aged 55 years or older.

Together, these findings show that younger people place greater importance on recognition but feel less recognised (and, as shown in section 5.2 above, they also have lower levels of satisfaction overall). These findings indicate that placing importance on recognising volunteers’ contributions could help create a positive experience overall, especially for younger volunteers. This might be through celebratory events such as Volunteers’ Week, or through regular communications highlighting the value of volunteers.

Practices around reimbursing volunteer expenses still vary.

In 2023, just over half (55%) of recent formal volunteers say that their group, club, or organisation would reimburse volunteer expenses if they want them to. An additional 16% do not know whether expenses would be reimbursed. When asked, 10% say they have experienced being out of pocket. Our 2019 report painted a similar picture, suggesting practices and communications around expenses have not changed. See chart 12.

The cost of living crisis has had a profound financial impact on volunteers and organisations. Volunteer Expenses: The true cost to charities, a report published in 2021 by the organisation vHelp, noted that 44% of organisations said that ensuring volunteers get paid expenses was a problem. Shifting out of Reverse, a survey of charities published by Pro Bono Economics and the Nottingham Trent University, showed that a third of charities (34%) cited the cost of living crisis as an issue for volunteer retention. Expenses are likely to play a more significant role in the experience of volunteers now than in 2019. We explore this from the perspective of prospective volunteers in section 7.

An increasing number of people feel the group, club or organisation they volunteer for places unreasonable expectations on them and feels too much like paid work.

Since 2019, there has been a slight increase in the number of volunteers who think their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work (19% in 2019 vs 26% in 2023). We have seen a similar increase in the number of volunteers who believe their group, club or organisation has unreasonable expectations in terms of what they do (17% in 2019 vs 24% in 2023). When asked directly about the negative effects of volunteering, volunteers’ most common concerns were that volunteering can take up too much time (13%) and that volunteers feel pressured to do more than they would like or to continue their involvement (10%). We saw a similar trend in 2019.

There may be a number of other reasons for this increase over time. For example, the increase in remote volunteering and time spent time on digital devices may have contributed to feelings of volunteering being more ‘work-like’. However, our data did not establish this correlation.

Although we have not seen a dramatic increase in these feelings, a number of factors indicate that volunteer-involving organisations should pay attention to these findings.

First, as we saw in section 4, not feeling pressured to give time is one of the most important aspects of volunteering for volunteers and non-volunteers alike. Therefore, feeling pressured to give time is likely to affect the overall satisfaction of volunteers.

We know from our Time Well Spent: Impact of covid-19 on the volunteer experience research that many volunteers experienced fatigue and burnout during the pandemic. Volunteering and Wellbeing in the Pandemic, a joint report by WCPP (The Wales Centre for Public Policy), WLGA (The Welsh Local Government Association), and WCVA (the national body for voluntary organisations in Wales), highlights challenging, stressful, and potentially traumatic experiences for some volunteers. This is particularly the case for those in direct contact with ill or vulnerable groups.

5.6. To what extent do volunteers use their skills in their volunteering?

More volunteers are using existing skills in their volunteering, but many disabled volunteers feel they have more to offer.

In 2019, half (50%) of recent volunteers reported using their professional skills in their volunteering and 52% told us they used non-professional skills. This increased to 60% and 63% respectively in 2023. At the same time, the proportion of volunteers who say they ‘have skills and experience they do not use, but would like to’ went down from 16% in 2019 to 12% in 2023. This indicates that more volunteers are contributing skills in the way they would like, which is positive news.

Less positive, however, is that disabled volunteers are more likely to say they have skills that they do not use but would like to. We saw a similar trend in 2019. Almost one in five (19%) disabled volunteers who reported that their day-to-day activities were limited in some way because of a health problem or a disability ‘a lot’ agreed felt they had underused skills, compared with just 11% of non-disabled people.


  1. The base size (number of survey respondents) for Black, Mixed or Asian volunteers in our 2023 data was 122. We also conducted dedicated research using a larger ‘boost’ sample of ethnic minority communities, which will provide more detailed findings about their experiences. We will share these findings in autumn 2023.

  2. The questions we asked about remote volunteering in our 2023 survey differ from those included in our 2019 survey. Please see the Appendix for more details.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 27 June 2023