7. Barriers and enablers to volunteering

7.1. What stops people from volunteering?

Not wanting to make an ongoing commitment is the primary barrier to volunteering.

We asked people who had not volunteered in the last three years (or ever), what was stopping them. The most common reasons were not wanting to make an ongoing commitment (33%), doing other things with their spare time (32%), and work or study commitments (23%). See chart 16.

Our 2019 report revealed similar key barriers, though the order of importance has changed.[1]

People who had not volunteered in the last 12 months, but had looked into it, gave several reasons for not proceeding with their volunteering enquiry. The most common reason was: ‘it involved more time than I could commit’ (21%). The second most common reasons were: ‘there weren’t any opportunities available that matched my interest, skills or experience’ (14%) and ‘it wasn’t flexible enough’ (14%). These are similar to our findings in 2019.

The negative financial impact of volunteering is an increasing concern.

In section 5, we saw how reimbursing expenses was not commonplace, with only 55% of volunteers saying that their organisation would reimburse them if they asked, and a further 16% unsure. Given the ongoing cost of living crisis, it is unsurprising to see that among non-volunteers, more people are concerned about the financial impact of volunteering.

When asked why they would not volunteer, the number of people who stated: ‘I'd be worried I might end up out of pocket (eg transport costs to go volunteer)’ rose from 5% in 2019 to 14% in 2023. This figure is even higher among younger people, with almost one in five (18%) 18 to 24 year olds citing it as a reason for not volunteering.

7.2. What would encourage people to volunteer?

A sizeable proportion of non-volunteers could be encouraged to get involved.

As shown in chart 16, almost three in 10 (28%) of those who had not volunteered in the last three years, or ever, state that ‘nothing in particular’ would encourage them to get involved. While this shows that there is a proportion of people who may never take up volunteering, it also shows that around seven in 10 could be encouraged.

Prospective and current volunteers value flexibility.

Our research shows that volunteers value flexible opportunities – for many, they make volunteering a more attractive prospect. Volunteering opportunities that allow volunteers to be flexible with how much time they commit (30%) and the way they give their time (26%) are most likely to encourage people who haven’t volunteered in the last three years, or ever, to start volunteering. See chart 17.

Concerns about flexibility may be rooted in perception rather than reality. As we saw in section 5, the vast majority of recent volunteers (82%) agree their group is flexible around the time they give.

Expectations around flexibility have already shifted as a result of changes during the pandemic, for both organisations and individuals, and some have adapted better than others. Volunteer Involvement: An introduction to theory and practice, provides an overview of the latest theory and practice for volunteer involvement. It suggests smaller organisations have been particularly good at adapting and being flexible, and larger organisations could learn something from this approach. It is likely that expectations around flexibility will continue to change, as we adjust to a ‘new normal’.

Proactively asking and signposting to opportunities may be a helpful first step to encourage people to volunteer.

Aside from flexibility, being asked to volunteer (15%) and knowing what opportunities are available (12%) are among the most likely ways that people could be encouraged to get involved. Therefore, actively asking and showing people how they can help could be a good way engage people not already involved to take part in volunteering.


  1. We surveyed a different group of people on this question in 2023 than in 2019. Please see the Appendix for more details.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 27 June 2023