3. What does ESV participation look like?

This section explores the levels of participation in ESV, including changes over time, who gets involved, and what participation looks like – from the perspective of volunteers, employers and volunteer-involving organisations.

3.1 What are the levels of ESV participation?

ESV makes up a small part of volunteer participation overall

Only 10% of recent volunteers (those giving time in the last 12 months) who took part in our Time Well Spent survey reported that their volunteering was through ESV[1]. Other estimates of ESV participation vary – the 2016/17 'Community Life Survey'[2] reported 6% of all survey respondents volunteering through ESV within the previous year. Older reports[3] suggest that between a quarter and a third of employees who have a scheme available to them participate at least once a year.

Differing definitions of ESV and ways of reporting the data (as outlined in section 2.5) make it difficult to make comparisons across these surveys[4], but all suggest relatively low levels of engagement overall.

ESV participation levels have broadly increased over the last decade, but with less clear evidence in recent years

The most reliable data tracking ESV participation levels over time broadly shows an increase over the last decade: people who took part in ESV in the previous 12 months increased from 5% in 2008/09 to 8% in 2015/16.[5] However, there is less clear evidence for recent years, in part due to a change of survey methodology and ESV not being included in the most recent survey.

In our qualitative research carried out for this report, many of the volunteer-involving organisations and brokers perceived growing numbers of requests for ESV over recent years, which had increased their focus in this area.

Going back a few years we would get the odd enquiry and send details out to our network…the volume of enquiries has now increased which made us recognise that we need to have a less hands-off approach and get more involved.


This perceived increase in demand suggests that new employers are getting involved in ESV for the first time. It is also likely to reflect existing organisations growing their ESV offer. For example, a university was looking to extend its volunteering programme for students to its staff on a more formal basis than previously, to support staff development and to make a bigger impact on their local community.

It remains a mixed picture, however. A recent survey[6] reported a decrease in the proportion of volunteer-involving organisations receiving employee volunteers from 82% in 2015 to 75% in 2017. At the same time, it highlights the need for ESV volunteers is increasing (82% said they needed employee volunteers in 2015, increasing to 93% in 2017).

3.2 Who is more likely to get involved in ESV?

ESV volunteers are more likely to be younger, male and from urban areas

Looking at the demographic profile of recent ESV volunteers from Time Well Spent data, including comparison with non-ESV volunteers[7], a number of key features are highlighted.

ESV volunteers are:

  • more likely to be younger: as shown in chart 1, the highest proportion of ESV volunteers were in the 25-34 and 35-44 age groups, and of a younger age profile compared with non-ESV volunteers. This is likely to reflect the age of the working population as well as the older demographic profile of the wider volunteering population.
  • more likely to be male: there was a higher proportion of male than female ESV volunteers (59% vs 42%). Furthermore, ESV volunteers were more likely to be male compared with non-ESV volunteers (59% ESV vs 45% non ESV). This may relate to working patterns.
  • more likely to live in urban areas: there was also a higher proportion of urban ESV volunteers compared with non-ESV volunteers (83% vs 75%). This is likely to relate to the younger age profile of ESV volunteers and the fact that larger organisations offering ESV may be more likely to be based in urban areas.
  • more varied in relation to both ethnicity and disability: compared with non-ESV volunteers there was a higher proportion of disabled (38% ESV vs 33% non-ESV) and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) ESV volunteers(16% ESV vs 4% non-ESV). However, some caution needs to be taken in interpreting these due to lower base sizes, and the BAME findings in particular are likely to relate to the younger age profile of BAME volunteers generally.

Larger employers and volunteer-involving organisations are more likely to be involved in ESV

Our Time Well Spent research supports previous evidence[8] that larger employers are more likely to provide ESV opportunities than small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Those who worked for an employer and were aware of ESV opportunities were more likely to work for an employer with more than 250 employees, with the highest proportion being those working for an employer with over 1000 employees (37%).

The recent CVN survey of volunteer-involving organisations[9] shows that larger volunteer-involving organisations are also more likely to be involved in ESV than smaller organisations: 80% of the surveyed organisations with more than fifty employees had engaged in ESV compared with around half (51%) of volunteer-involving organisations with up to five employees. Similar findings emerged when looking by income level.

Previous research has recommended that smaller employers and volunteer-involving organisations would benefit from getting involved[10], but this continues to be seen as a challenge. More on this can be found in section 6.6.

3.3 How do volunteers participate in ESV?

There are different forms of ESV – with varying degrees of employer involvement.

As highlighted in the introduction to this report, there are numerous definitions of ESV. This reflects its varied nature. Key variations are listed below.

A key factor determining these different ‘models’ of ESV was the degree of flexibility employers allowed. Some employers allowed volunteers to choose how they gave their time, whereas others had more restrictive conditions, such as only being able to volunteer through specified programmes or on a specific day.

One of the employers we work with give their staff 56 hours per year to volunteer and they can do this in whatever chunks of time they choose – so they can take up a mentor or coaching role.

Volunteer-involving organisation

There are a number of ways in which ESV volunteers are more likely to participate

Despite the variations outlined above, Time Well Spent findings highlight that there are some ways ESV volunteers are more likely to get involved:

Less frequent engagement was more common among ESV volunteers compared with non-ESV volunteers

Although frequent volunteering was common, ESV volunteers were more likely to be involved on an infrequent basis(less than once a month) compared with non-ESV volunteers (36% vs 27%) as well as in projects on a time-limited basis (17% vs 13%). They were also less likely to have a longstanding relationship with the organisation they were volunteering for – 71% had volunteered for the first time with the organisation within the last five years, compared with 53% of non-ESV volunteers.

ESV volunteers are involved in a range of activities – most commonly events-related

As seen in chart 2, the most common activities among ESV volunteers were organising or helping to run an activity of event (30%) and raising money and taking part in sponsored events (25%) – activities generally more suited to less frequent engagement which support the findings outlined previously (note, respondents could select more than one answer).

These activities mostly took place in volunteers’ own neighbourhood (70%), however a significant minority of just under a third of ESV volunteers (31%) said they volunteered in the UK, but outside their own neighbourhood (note respondents could select multiple locations). This is likely to reflect that volunteers giving time through ESV may be participating close to their workplace which may not be the same area as their home.

As with the range of activities undertaken, ESV volunteers support a variety of causes: children’s education/ schools (23%), health/ disability and social welfare (19%); and youth/ children’s activities (outside of school) (17%) were the most common.

Around half of ESV volunteers use their professional skills in their volunteering

The volunteering activities outlined in chart 2 do not provide a clear distinction between practical (eg painting, gardening) and skills-based volunteering (eg pro bono, skills sharing); they are likely to cut across some of the listed categories. Other evidence, however, indicates that practical volunteering is most common in ESV but skilled volunteering is also highly prevalent.[11]

Further analysis of Time Well Spent data shows that over half (55%) of recent ESV volunteers reported using their existing professional or occupational skills in their volunteering, a higher proportion than non-ESV volunteers (50%). The commonly used skills among ESV volunteers were: management skills (42%), communication and marketing skills (32%), and administrative and secretarial skills (32%).

Furthermore, 44% of ESV volunteers reported using other (non-professional or occupational) skills in their volunteering; note respondents could select both options.

ESV volunteers are more likely to undertake activities online compared with non-ESV volunteers

Respondents were asked the extent to which the activities they carried out as part of their volunteering involved being online (examples were provided, such as starting an e-petition, updating a website, responding to emails, etc). ESV volunteers most commonly undertake activities through a mix of online and offline.

However, compared with non-ESV volunteers, they were much more likely to say they carried out activities ‘exclusively online’ (20% ESV vs 4% non-ESV), and in turn, less likely to say they ‘never’ carried out activities online (22% vs 36%). This may reflect greater digital access among employed individuals, more virtual volunteering opportunities being available and taken up through ESV eg digital mentoring, and the younger demographic of ESV volunteers compared with non-ESV volunteers.

3.4 How is ESV organised?

There is not ‘one’ role responsible for managing and organising ESV

To add further complexity to the multiple groups involved in ESV (volunteer-involving organisations, employers, volunteers, sometimes brokers) those responsible for managing and delivering ESV were not in a set role or team that was consistent across organisations.

Within volunteer-involving organisations, some sat within volunteering teams, while others were in corporate partnership teams. Those responsible for managing ESV in employer organisations also varied, from fulltime positions dedicated to ESV to being an add-on to another role. This typically reflected how well established ESV was in the organisation.

ESV volunteering can be disconnected from other volunteering

Some volunteer-involving organisations perceived a disconnect between ESV and other volunteering taking place in the organisations. In some cases, this was reflected not just in the roles and team involved, but also in different systems being used to manage the two. This meant that those volunteering for an organisation could have different experiences depending on which team they went through.

ESV often struggles to be a priority

A common theme among participants in our qualitative research from across all groups (volunteer-involving organisations, brokers and employers) was that ESV was not perceived as a high priority within their organisations.

Other evidence supports this. For example, the recent CVN survey with volunteer-involving organisations showed that almost half (46%) did not feel that other teams across their organisation were bought in to the value of ESV, especially among middle and lower, than senior management. Additionally, only 11% of those surveyed reported having a strategy for managing their ESV.[12]

The problem is that it is never clear where ESV really sits. Whilst it is essentially volunteering, this is often the least well-resourced section of a charity… it takes a motivated staff team manager to recognise the possible value of ESV. A clear organisational ESV strategy would undoubtedly be helpful, but most may not have the resource, time or motivation... to warrant (or get buy-in for) producing one.

Volunteer-involving organisation

A perceived lack of priority was typically related to, or reflected in, organisations in a number of ways. These are outlined below.


  1. Where volunteers did more than one type of volunteering, this related to where ESV was their main volunteering

  2. DCMS (2017), Community Life Survey

  3. This draws on various surveys, cited in CIPD (2015), On the Brink of a Gamechanger?

  4. For example, the Community Life survey includes schemes for giving money in their definition of ESV

  5. DCMS (2009)/ (2016) Community Life Survey

  6. Three Hands (2018), Employee Volunteering: Is it working for charities?

  7. Non-ESV volunteers exclude those who have never had a job

  8. For example, Rochester, C. and Thomas, B. (2006) Measuring the impact of employer-supported volunteering: an exploratory study, estimated 70% of FTSE 100 companies had an ESV programme

  9. CVN (2018), The Current State of Corporate Volunteering –a third sector perspective

  10. CIPD, 2015

  11. CVN, 2018

  12. CVN, 2015

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 03 June 2019