In January 2019, NCVO published the Time Well Spent report, which focused on the experience of volunteering, as well as motivations and barriers to involvement through groups, clubs and organisations. It was based on a survey of over 10,000 members of the British public that was carried out by YouGov.

Following the main report, a series of focused thematic reports were published to explore specific areas of interest. For this, new primary research was carried out, alongside further analysis of the original survey data. These focused reports were on Employer-Supported Volunteering (June 2019), Volunteering in the Public Sector (January 2020) and Diversity and Volunteering (December 2020).

This new report retains the main area of focus of the Time Well Spent series – the volunteer experience – but in the context of the covid-19 pandemic and recovery. The setup of this research was informed by a short consultation with stakeholders, as well as the identification of a gap in evidence as volunteering research during this pandemic primarily focuses on the organisation perspective, rather than that of volunteers and their experience.

Ultimately, the findings of the research will feed into the Vision for Volunteering, our collaborative 10-year strategy for volunteering, by providing a better understanding of who volunteers are and how to ensure a quality experience.

Scope of the research

The covid-19 pandemic introduced major changes to the way we live, and volunteering was no exception. Lockdowns saw major changes to the way volunteering operated, and some of these changes have had a significant long-term effect. While existing research has produced a comprehensive review of how volunteering changed, there is a lack of research into understanding what these changes meant for volunteers themselves.

  • The focus is primarily on the experience of volunteers, in response to the changes in volunteering introduced by the pandemic. While doing so, the research also aims to piece together the evidence outlined in existing research.
  • In terms of the impact of the pandemic, particular areas are explored based on findings from the original Time Well Spent research, which has warranted further exploration on some of the issues covered less extensively in desk research. These include changes in volunteer recruitment and operations, motivations of new and existing volunteers, the role of digital technology, the emotional impact of volunteering during the pandemic, and barriers to volunteering.
  • The pandemic has accelerated the spread of informal volunteering organised privately or on a small scale, such as mutual aid groups and street support groups. While this research focuses on formal volunteering organised through charities and public sector bodies, reflections on mutual aid groups were included when they arose from participants.
  • Policies during the pandemic, especially those relating to social distancing and lockdowns, differed between each of the UK nations. To ensure a manageable scope, this research looks at the volunteering experience in England. For more information on differing policies in the four nations, see the Mobilising Voluntary Action report.
  • To cover the breath of the impact on volunteering, in this research the covid-19 pandemic is defined as the period between March 2020, the start of the first lockdown, and March 2021, the end of all covid-19 related restrictions.
  • Similarly, the word “volunteering” covers both formal and informal unpaid help offered to a group or an organisation.
  • This research draws on the original Time Well Spent report but does not necessarily build on its findings in great depth. We generally draw out key similarities and differences to demonstrate how volunteering has changed and remained unchanged in the three years since Time Well Spent took place.

The findings of the research will help NCVO member organisations to consider how to continue to provide a quality volunteer experience in the context of the changes of the last two years, as they look towards recovery and beyond. The research will also be made public, so that it can help volunteer-involving organisations more broadly and inform volunteering policy.

Overall aim and research questions

This research aims to look at how the covid-19 pandemic has impacted on the volunteer experience and what that means for their expectations, wants and needs going forward.

Specific questions include:

  1. How has the covid-19 pandemic impacted the experience of volunteers?
  2. What has changed for volunteer-involving organisations during the pandemic that has impacted volunteers and their experience of volunteering?
  3. What has the pandemic and changes within organisations meant for what volunteers expect/want/need from their volunteer experience going forward? And, how can volunteer-involving organisations meet these expectations, wants and needs?
  4. How do these impacts on the volunteer experience and implications of these for the future differ by different types of volunteers (those who paused and returned, those who continued to volunteer during the pandemic, new volunteers)?

Methodology and approach

The research was undertaken in three stages:

  1. Desk research: to review existing evidence on the impact of the pandemic on volunteer experience broadly and the types of changes organisations have made during the pandemic that have impacted volunteers.
  2. Workshop with volunteer-involving organisations: to get an initial understanding of the changes organisations have made during the pandemic that have impacted volunteers and their experience of volunteering, to identify the 4-5 aspects of a quality experience identified in the original Time Well Spent report which have been impacted most, and to discuss what organisations are doing going forward to provide a quality volunteer experience and what that means in light of the changes. The workshop was carried out in September 2021 and attended by representatives from 25 volunteer-involving organisations.
  3. 4 x Focus groups with volunteers to understand how the pandemic impacted on their volunteer experience, focus in on the key areas identified in the previous stage and explore in more detail and to understand what it means for engagement in volunteering going forward. The research interviewed two groups of people who volunteered before and during the pandemic:
    1. Groups 1 and 2: two groups of seven to eight individuals who volunteered before the pandemic and continued volunteering during the pandemic
    2. Group 3: seven individuals who volunteered for the first time during the pandemic
    3. Group 4: six individuals who used to volunteer before the pandemic but stopped during the pandemic

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 22 July 2022