5. How do volunteers experience ESV?

This section looks at the experiences of ESV volunteers based on Time Well Spent, and reflections on these findings from volunteer-involving organisations, brokers and employers from our qualitative research.

This includes overall measures, such as satisfaction and likelihood to recommend their volunteering, and more specifically, perceptions of volunteer management and support. It also explores the perceived benefits volunteers feel they get out of taking part.

5.1 What’s the overall experience of ESV volunteers like?

Overall, ESV volunteers are positive about their experience

Overall satisfaction is high, with around 9 in 10 (91%) volunteers who gave time through ESV in the last 12 months reporting they were very or fairly satisfied with their experience. Over three-quarters (76%) said they either had already or would recommend it to a family or friend, and the same proportion said they were likely to continue volunteering with the group, club or organisation in the next 12 months.

Volunteer-involving organisations, brokers and employers reported positive examples of ESV which resonated with these findings. There were a number of common factors mentioned in these examples – these are outlined below.

Those who have volunteered all speak about feeling they have helped others – be it inspiring kids to get into tech or providing extra hands to a charity running a soup kitchen – and they care about that, they know they are doing something other than just helping a company succeed.


However, ESV volunteers tend to be less positive than non-ESV volunteers

Despite a generally positive perception of their volunteering experience, further analysis highlights that ESV volunteers are, however, less positive than non-ESV volunteers. This is seen in overall satisfaction levels, most notably in the difference for those who report being ‘very satisfied’, with 56% of non-ESV volunteers reporting this compared with 39% of ESV volunteers.

While citing many positive examples, the majority of volunteer-involving organisations, brokers and employers responding to these findings were not particularly surprised by some of these less positive findings. Most commonly, participants felt that a key reason for lower levels of satisfaction was the fact volunteers may not be actively choosing the organisations they volunteer for themselves, and therefore may feel less engaged.

For volunteering, you have to be engaged and invested in what you’re doing… if you’re volunteering outside of work you’ve chosen to do it… and you’re going to get a lot out of it. If you’re being told by your employer ‘today you’re going to help at the homeless shelter’ your point of view isn’t taken into consideration.


Participants responding to the findings also felt that ESV volunteers’ perceptions experience may be impacted by, or related to volunteers’ expectations. Specifically:

  • volunteers applying ‘work’ expectations to their volunteering, for example in relation to the time taken to organise things, they may not take into account the resources required to manage activities, especially with resource-limited smaller volunteer-involving organisations
  • volunteers having unrealistic expectations of the impact they are able to make within short periods of time, where ESV volunteering takes place in a one-off or short-term context
  • volunteers not being prepared for what their volunteering would involve, ie not having their expectations managed in advance.

5.2 Perceptions of volunteer management and support

ESV volunteers are more likely to be critical of the organisation of their volunteering

Perceptions of volunteer management and support reflect the wider findings on overall satisfaction. Across different statements relating to specific aspects of their volunteer experience, ESV were more likely than not to be positive about their experience, whether it be finding the process of getting involved easy (85%), there being a culture of respect and trust in the organisation (80%) and feeling supported (75%).

However, they were less likely to be positive compared with non-ESV volunteers. This can be seen in table 1, which looks at a number of different aspects of their volunteering from the speed of the process of getting involved to the amount of bureaucracy and attitudes to risk.

Notably, just over half (51%) of ESV volunteers felt things could be much better organised – but there is a tension with people also feeling things were too bureaucratic (42%) and too structured or formalised (34%). Furthermore, a significant proportion – 41% of ESV volunteers – agreed that their volunteering feels like it’s ‘becoming too much like paid work’, much higher than the 16% of non-ESV volunteers who agreed with this statement.

While these tensions around the formalisation of volunteering are not unique to ESV, the higher proportions of ESV volunteers agreeing with these statements indicates that this poses a particular issue in this context. Some of these issues are likely to relate to the more formalised setting of ESV volunteering and employer involvement. It may also reflect the volunteer experience not being a key priority. This is covered in further detail in section 6.3 which explores the barriers to providing a quality volunteer experience.

ESV volunteers are more likely to feel recognition is important, but less likely to feel recognised enough

These less positive perceptions may also reflect feelings of not being valued enough for their time, which around one in five ESV volunteers reported (21% of ESV disagreed with the statement ‘I feel recognised enough for the unpaid help I give). Non-ESV volunteers again were more positive with only 10% disagreeing with the statement.

This may be even more of an issue when considering that ESV volunteers were more likely to value recognition: over half (55%) of ESV volunteers agreed that recognition was important to them, this was higher than non-ESV volunteers (37%). This indicates that for some ESV volunteers, their experience is not meeting their expectations when it comes to feeling valued for the support they give.

5.3 Perceived benefits of volunteering

ESV volunteers perceive a range of benefits from their volunteering

Despite some of these less positive perceptions of their volunteer experience, the majority of ESV volunteers perceive a range of benefits from participating, as shown in chart 4.

The common benefit they perceived, which aligns with volunteers’ key reason for getting involved in the first place, was feeling that they made a difference (84%). This was followed by it giving them a sense of personal achievement, and enjoyment and it broadening their life experience (all 83%).

As shown, the benefits they perceived were varied – including practical benefits such as gaining new skills and experience (76%), social benefits in meeting new people (82%), and personal benefits, in improved mental health and wellbeing (71%).

ESV volunteers were less likely to feel they gain from volunteering than non-ESV volunteers, but cite similar benefits overall

Chart 4 also shows how perceived benefits of volunteers compare between ESV and non-ESV volunteers. This highlights two key points:

Firstly, across a number of different impacts, a lower proportion of ESV volunteers perceived a benefit compared with non-ESV volunteers – this is likely to reflect the less positive perceptions overall highlighted in this section so far, as well as the fact that ESV volunteers may not be volunteering as frequently as non-ESV volunteers. The overall Time Well Spent research findings highlight that frequent volunteers were more likely to perceive positive impacts.

One of the most notable differences between the two groups was that 83% of ESV volunteers agreed that they enjoyed it, compared with 94% of non-ESV volunteers. The only notable benefits where ESV volunteers were much more likely to agree related to acquiring new skills and improved employment prospects. ESV volunteers were almost twice as likely to agree that it had improved their employment prospects(58% ESV vs 30% non-ESV). This, however, is likely to reflect the fact that ESV volunteers are more likely to be of a working age and status, and of a younger age profile (who we know from Time Well Spent are more likely to cite these benefits).

Secondly, while there are some differences in the proportions of ESV and non-ESV volunteers agreeing with these statements, the ranking of the perceived benefits was broadly similar. For example, the feeling of making a difference is among the highest benefits for both, and even though ESV volunteers were much more likely to say it improved their employment prospects, it is still ranked lowest among both groups.

This suggests that, as with motivations, while volunteering in a different context, the key benefits ESV volunteers feel they gain from their volunteering are very similar to non-ESV volunteers.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2019