4. Volunteer motivations and values

4.1. What motivates people to volunteer?

Wanting to make a difference remains the primary motivation to volunteer.

In our 2019 Time Well Spent research, the main reason people started volunteering was to make a difference. This remained largely the same in 2023 (see chart 5). ‘I wanted to improve things/help people’ remains the top reason to start volunteering (40%), followed by the cause being important (34%), and having spare time (31%). As indicated in 2019, this combination of personal and practical motivations seems to be the key for engagement.

Making a difference is the top reason people give for being likely to continue volunteering[1] (46%), alongside the group, club or organisation itself (also 46%). For more information, see section 6. The similar findings between 2019 and 2023 highlight that while the impact of the pandemic and other external factors have affected many aspects of volunteering, the core motivations for volunteers have not changed.

As well as being the primary motivation for volunteers to start and continue their volunteering, other data from our survey confirms the importance of making a difference to prospective, as well as current, volunteers.

For the 2023 survey, we developed 10 statements that address different aspects of volunteering, and we asked respondents to rate each one.[2] They were not asked about their own volunteer experience, but about their general attitudes to and perception of what is important to volunteering. Note this was not asked in 2019, so there is no comparative data. The results, summarised in chart 6 (below), show that people see making a difference as the most important aspect of volunteering (with a result of 4.57). This aligns with it being a primary motivation for people, as above. Being able to influence the group is considered least important, with a score of 3.77.

Not feeling pressured for their time is important to current and prospective volunteers.

Wanting to make a difference is seen as the most important aspect of volunteering. But ‘not feeling pressured to give time’ (see chart 6) follows as the second most important statement to survey respondents (4.55). This suggests that while people are committed to wanting to make a positive impact, it is important for them to feel they are giving their time freely. In section 5 we consider how volunteering can impact people negatively, where it feels too much like paid work, or volunteers believe unreasonable expectations are placed on them.

4.2. How do motivations vary by demographic?

Motivations and values vary by demographic, especially age. This reflects individual priorities, life stage and context.

While there is a consistent core motivation that drives the majority of volunteers, a one size fits all approach is not likely to be effective for attracting prospective volunteers. Different groups prioritise different things. This is particularly noticeable in our Time Well Spent 2023 research in relation to age (see chart 7).

One of the most common motivations for the youngest age group (18 to 24 year olds) to volunteer is to help them progress in their career or gain a recognised qualification. A quarter (25%) cite this. Older volunteers (aged 55 years and over) are much more likely to respond to the feeling of a need in their community (34%), or someone asking them to give help (26%). This compares to 19% and 12% of 18 to 24 year olds respectively.

Social affluence affects motivations. People from more affluent social groups (ABC1[3]) are more likely than people from less affluent social groups (C2DE) to be motivated to start volunteering because they want to improve things or help people – (43% versus 35%). However, this was among the top motivations for both groups. Finally, women are more likely to say that the cause is important to them (41%) than men (28%).


  1. Respondents could choose up to three reasons.

  2. We used a six-point scale for this question. 1: Not at all like me. 6: Very much like me. We explain how we presented and analysed this question in the Appendix.

  3. Please see the Appendix for more information about the classifications used for different social groups.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 27 June 2023