7.1 Key findings
Recent volunteers’ likelihood to continue volunteering
- The majority (80%) of volunteers say they are likely to continue volunteering with their main organisation over the next 12 months.
- Key reasons for continuing are the volunteers’ attachment to the organisation (52%) or the cause (49%), but some reasons are stronger than others for different groups.
- The most common reason for not continuing is changing circumstances (33%), but around one in five said that they felt they had done their bit; 15% cited health reasons, which was higher among older volunteers.
- Reasons for discontinuing that related to volunteer management or relationships with others were not commonly stated. However, they were more likely to be cited by those who are dissatisfied overall.
Lapsed volunteers’ experiences and reasons for stopping
- Lapsed volunteers (who volunteered in the last three years but not in the last year) are mostly positive about their experience of volunteering when looking back (93% are satisfied with their experience of volunteering with their main organisation).
- However, they are less positive than recent volunteers. This could be for a range of reasons, including having a different perspective on their experience because of the time that has passed.
- When asked why they stopped their volunteering, the highest response was that there was no reason in particular (28%). Where a reason was given, it most often related to circumstances, it being a one-off activity or event or feeling they had ‘done their bit’.
Factors associated with being likely to continue
- Further analysis (using a multivariate logistic regression analysis) highlights that, whilst people often report stopping volunteering because of changing circumstances, experience also affects whether they continue.
- Some factors seem to be particularly strongly associated with continuing to volunteer, including factors also associated with overall satisfaction: namely enjoyment, feeling like they belong to the organisation, there being a culture of respect and trust, making a difference and not feeling that things could be better organised.
- Additionally, not being pressured to do more or to continue and not feeling that too much of their time is taken up are strongly associated with continuing to volunteer.
7.2. How likely are volunteers to continue?
Most say they are likely to continue volunteering.
Four-fifths (80%) of volunteers reported being likely to continue volunteering with their main organisation, with over half (53%) saying they are ‘very likely’ to (Figure 45). Frequent volunteers were more likely to continue than occasional volunteers (85% vs 75%)
The likelihood of continuing to volunteer for the organisation was greater among those who were satisfied.
The proportion of volunteers who said it was likely they would continue giving time to their organisation was much higher among satisfied volunteers, with 83% of satisfied volunteers saying they were likely to continue.
In contrast, just under a third (31%) of dissatisfied volunteers reported being likely to continue.
Some groups are more likely to continue than others.
Across all groups, the majority were more likely to continue than not. However, some groups are more likely to continue than others. Table 11 highlights some of the groups who are less likely to continue.
7.3 Why do volunteers continue or stop?
7.3.1 Reasons volunteers give for continuing
Volunteers say they are most likely to continue with their main organisation because of the organisation itself and the cause.
Figure 46 shows that among those who said they were likely to continue, the most common reasons for this (up to three could be selected) were the organisation itself (52%), the cause (50%) and by the difference they were making (37%).
These top reasons were mostly consistent across different groups, although there were some volunteer groups who were more likely to cite certain reasons.
- Public sector volunteers were more likely to report ‘the difference I’m making’ as a reason for continuing than those volunteering for civil society organisations (45% vs 36%).
- 18–24 year-olds and public sector volunteers were more likely to cite skills or experience they were gaining: 32% of 18–24 year-olds selected this reason for continuing their volunteering, compared with between 5% and 20% of other age groups. This reflects earlier findings (section 4.3.1) showing the importance of skills development for young volunteers. Public sector volunteers were also more likely to cite skills and experience than those volunteering for civil society organisations (17% vs 10%).
- Older volunteers and those volunteering with organisations without paid staff are more likely to continue because of lack of people to take their place: 16% of volunteers aged 55+ gave this reason, compared with 6% of 18–34 year-olds. Additionally, 13% of those with an unpaid coordinator and 17% of those with no coordinator gave this reason, compared with 9% of those with a paid coordinator.
7.3.2 Reasons volunteers give for being unlikely to continue
Those not likely to continue giving time to their main organisation cite changing circumstances as their key reason but many also feel they have ‘done their bit’.
Among those who said they were unlikely to continue, the most common reason for this was having less time due to circumstances changing, with a third of volunteers (33%) selecting this reason, followed by feeling they had ‘done their bit’, which was cited by around one in five (21%) (Figure 47).
Health reasons were cited by 15% of volunteers overall, but this was more likely to be reported by older volunteers (26% of people aged 55+ compared with 8% of people aged 18–34), disabled volunteers (34% compared with 3% of non-disabled volunteers) and those from lower socio-economic groups (21% compared with 12% of higher socio-economic groups).
Experience-related reasons were less frequently mentioned but were higher among those who said they were dissatisfied.
Reasons relating directly to the volunteer experience and management were less frequently mentioned; only 8% cited not being happy with the way their volunteering was managed as a reason for being unlikely to continue. However, those who said they were dissatisfied overall were much more likely to cite this reason (30%) than those who were satisfied (4%).
7.3.3 Lapsed volunteers’ experiences of volunteering and the reasons they stop
Most lapsed volunteers look back on their volunteer experience positively.
Lapsed volunteers (who volunteered between one and three years ago) were generally positive about their experiences of volunteering during that time period (where they had volunteered for more than one organisation, this related to the main organisation they gave time to).
They reported a high level of overall satisfaction (94%) and reflected positively on different aspects of their volunteering experience.
They also identified a range of benefits from their volunteering, with enjoyment (86%) and feeling like they made a difference (83%) ranking highest.
In general, lapsed volunteers are less positive than recent volunteers.
Whilst they were positive in their perceptions overall, lapsed volunteers were less positive than recent volunteers. The proportion of ‘very satisfied’ volunteers was much higher among recent volunteers than lapsed ones (54% vs 41%) and there was a higher proportion of lapsed volunteers who said they were ‘dissatisfied’ than recent volunteers (6% vs 4%).
Lapsed volunteers were also more likely than recent volunteers to say they had not recommended volunteering with the organisation they gave time to and were not likely to (31% vs 24%).
In some cases, issues of recall may explain differences between the two groups. Lapsed volunteers’ perceptions of volunteering may differ because they are looking at an experience in the past rather than one in the present. However, lapsed volunteers still emerged as being less satisfied with their volunteering than recent volunteers. Reasons for this could include having a poor experience of volunteering (see further discussion below).
Lapsed volunteers most commonly say there is ‘no reason in particular’ why they stopped their volunteering.
Lapsed volunteers were asked about their reasons for stopping their volunteering with the organisation they gave time to (within the last three years). ‘No reason in particular’ was the most common response (28%).
Lapsed volunteers and recent volunteers who said they were unlikely to continue were given different possible reasons to pick from, so the data cannot be compared directly.
However, similar reasons were commonly given as reasons for stopping, such as having less time, it being a one-off activity or event, ‘feeling I have done my bit’ and health issues (see Figure 48). As with recent volunteers, reasons relating directly to their volunteering experience itself were not common.
7.4. Food for thought: What matters most for retaining volunteers?
A multivariate logistic regression analysis67 was undertaken, focusing on recent volunteers, to identify what factors might be significantly and independently associated with their likelihood of continuing to volunteer (as with overall satisfaction – see sections 5 and 6).
As seen previously, this analysis involved looking at demographic factors (age, sex, social grade, ethnicity, disability), types of volunteering and a range of experience and impact questions.
The key findings of this analysis are as follows.
Experience matters for the retention of volunteers.
The analysis shows that it is the statements summarising how volunteers felt about their experience and the impact it has on them that are most strongly associated with the likelihood to continue, rather than the influence of demographic factors.
Whilst people most commonly stop volunteering due to changing circumstances, and only a minority say they have stopped volunteering for reasons relating to the management of their volunteering (see section 7.3.2), the regression analysis shows that whether they continue or not is, in fact, associated with how volunteers feel about their experience – including how it is organised and managed.
Unpicking people’s experiences is not easy, as they are made up of many different factors. Volunteers themselves are not always able to say why they stopped volunteering. When they can, they often cite more than one reason.
Other research exploring why people start, continue and stop participating has also found that volunteers stop being involved because of a poor-quality experience, as well as other more practical factors, such as a lack of resources (eg time, money or health) or a life event.68
Some key aspects are most strongly associated with continuing to volunteer.
Despite this complexity, the regression analysis has drawn out a number of key factors69 relating to the experience and impact of volunteering, which are most strongly associated with people’s likelihood to continue volunteering, as shown in Table 12.
Some factors (asterisked* in Table 12) were also were seen to be strongly associated with overall satisfaction (see sections 5.5 and 6.4). This points to the importance of these aspects for the retention of volunteers, as we know that satisfied volunteers are also more likely to continue.
Some factors emerged specifically for continuing to volunteer, notably time-related issues (feeling pressured to do more or continue and too much time being taken up) outlined in section 6.3, which highlights potential issues of burnout.