For the great majority of people volunteering is a positive experience, however some volunteers are less likely to have a positive experience than others, including younger, Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), and disabled volunteers. This report – which builds on NCVO’s Time Well Spent research – looks at organisational approaches to diversity and inclusive volunteering.

Covid-19 has changed so much in our lives and society. Volunteering is no different. People on furlough leave who may have never volunteered before came forward to support their communities. Micro-volunteering opportunities – people giving small amounts of time rather than a regular commitment – became much more commonplace. Yet in parallel, self-isolation of vulnerable groups, services moving online overnight and changing economic circumstances have created new barriers to getting involved for some groups of people. It remains to be seen how these changes will impact on diversity in volunteering in the longer term.

Even before the pandemic, NCVO’s Time Well Spent research showed that diversity in volunteering was an issue. Those from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to volunteer than those from higher socio-economic groups. People over 65 are also more likely to volunteer than younger age groups. Furthermore, younger, BAME and disabled volunteers report a less positive volunteering experience.

Put simply, volunteering is not inclusive of all people and communities both in terms of levels of participation and the volunteer’s experience of being involved.

At NCVO we believe in the power of volunteering to change lives. Volunteering can improve mental health, social networks, employment readiness and life chances. And of course, there are also benefits for the people and communities supported by the 11 million+ people who volunteer regularly in the UK. There is huge value created when a service is provided by someone who has given up their time freely. Involving volunteers also puts communities at the heart of services, making services more responsive to need.

This is why we are determined to drive change and support an expansion in the diversity of volunteers so that everyone can get involved and all communities can experience the benefits.

We know that if we want inclusive volunteering to happen, organisations need to approach diversity holistically and across everything they do. Many of the learnings identified in this research are applicable more generally to creating more equitable, diverse and inclusive organisations in the voluntary sector and beyond. NCVO itself is on its own diversity journey looking to engage better with a wider range of people from all walks of life.

We also found in our research that volunteering can be overlooked when organisations examine their approaches to diversity and inclusion. In order to move past outdated concepts of ‘helper and helped,’ we must first identify the barriers embedded in our volunteering infrastructure.

Covid-19 has put volunteering centre stage in the eyes of decision makers and in the wider public conscience. As plans are developed for recovery and renewal of the country post-covid, it is critical that volunteers are recognised as an important part of our social infrastructure. But if we are to maximise their role in society, it is equally important that volunteering truly speaks to the breadth of people who are and would want to be involved. We hope this research will support policy makers, volunteering infrastructure, leaders of volunteer-involving organisations and volunteer managers to prioritise diversity in their plans for volunteering. We also hope it will support organisations take practical steps to create cultures that are inclusive of all who want to give their time.

Priya Singh

Chair, NCVO


Our thanks go to the many organisations, staff and volunteers who participated in this research through workshops and interviews and who provided our team with useful insights. Special thanks go to our colleagues in the volunteering development and policy teams, for their expertise in practice, policy, and EDI. Finally, we thank the NCVO board of trustees for their continued support and enthusiasm for the project.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 31 August 2022