6. Volunteer retention

Most people are motivated to continue volunteering for the same reasons that initially led them to volunteer. Chart 13 (below) shows the key reasons why people continue to volunteer. The group/club/organisation they help (46%), the difference they are making (46%), and their commitment to the cause (41%) are volunteers’ top motivators. These reflect the reasons volunteers gave for initially signing up to volunteer, as set out in section 4, and have largely not changed since 2019.

6.1. Why do people stop volunteering?

‘Changing circumstances’ is the main reason volunteers give for being unlikely to continue, but stress-related reasons are on the rise.

Volunteers who say they are unlikely to continue volunteering tend to cite practical, rather than experiential, reasons for doing so. Over a third (37%) of those unlikely to continue volunteering cite ‘having less time due to changing circumstances’ as a reason. See chart 14, below. Only 10% choose not to continue because they are unhappy with the way their volunteering is organised or managed.

Since 2019, we have also seen a slight rise in the proportion of volunteers citing ‘It causes me too much stress’ as a reason for not continuing (from 9% in 2019 to 14% in 2023). As we have seen in section 5, in 2023 more volunteers feel unreasonable expectations are being placed on them, which may relate to fatigue and burnout during the pandemic years. These experiences may be contributing to increased levels of stress, and therefore also affecting retention.

More recent research indicates volunteer wellbeing continues to be an issue. Shifting out of Reverse, a survey of charities published by Pro Bono Economics and the Nottingham Trent University, has found that more charities believe their volunteers’ wellbeing has declined over the past 12 months than believe it has increased.

‘Changing circumstances’ is also the most common reason that lapsed volunteers stop – though many lapsed volunteers could not give a reason.

When we asked lapsed volunteers (people who had volunteered in the last three years, but not in the last 12 months) why they had stopped, having less time due to changing circumstances was, again, the top reason (31%). Interestingly, the second most common response was ‘no reason in particular’ (20%). See chart 15 (below).

Few lapsed volunteers cited their volunteering experience as a reason for stopping.

6.2. How might volunteers’ experiences affect retention?

Volunteer experience still matters for retention.

As we have seen, many volunteers who stop volunteering do so for practical reasons, rather than as a result of negative volunteering experiences. However, it is worth noting that volunteers who are less satisfied are less likely to continue: only a quarter (26%) of dissatisfied volunteers say they are likely to continue. Conversely, 81% of satisfied volunteers say they are likely to continue, and the proportion is even higher for ‘very satisfied’ volunteers (90%).

In the context of fewer volunteers being likely to continue, and a decline in overall volunteer participation (see section 3), these findings highlight the need for a good quality volunteer experience that retains individuals.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 27 June 2023