How many people volunteer?
- Almost a third (30%) of people over 16 years old volunteered with a group, club or organisation at least once in 2020/21. Based on ONS population estimates, this means 16.3m people formally volunteered last year.
- Almost one in five (17%) people reported volunteering at least once a month, about 9.2m people.
- Less visible is informal volunteering, which includes giving unpaid help to someone who is not a friend or relative. In 2020/21, 54% of the population (29.4m) volunteered informally at least once a year and 33% (17.9m) did so at least once a month.
- Rates of formal volunteering at least once a year remained relatively stable since 2015/16 which was at 37% in that year and 2019/20, and often fluctuated in between, until 2020/21.
- Similarly, regular informal volunteering has also remained stable with only a small change between 52% in 2018/19 and 53% in 2017/18 and 2019/20.
- The pandemic saw the numbers of people formally volunteering at least once a year drop from 37% to 30% in 2020/21. Those who formally volunteered at least once a month fell from 23% to 17%. However, informal volunteering saw a small increase (2%) during the same period.
- This is supported by the Respond, Recover Reset monthly barometer survey of voluntary organisations from September 2020 to December 2021. Organisations reported volunteering levels dipped during the second wave of the pandemic but rose from March 2021 onwards as the country started to come out of lockdown
- Long-term trends are harder to compare due to a change in survey methodology in 2015/16. Please see more under ‘notes and definitions’ on this page.
Levels of formal volunteering fell significantly from 2019/20 to 2020/21
More than half of the population gets involved in informal ways of volunteering
- In addition to formal volunteering via groups, clubs and organisations, people volunteer informally in their communities.
- Informal volunteering includes activities like going shopping, providing childcare or doing housework for someone for free who is not a relative or a friend.
- In 2020/21, more than half of people volunteered informally at least once a year and a third (33%) did so at least once a month — slightly up on the previous year.
- About seven in ten people who took part in the Time Well Spent survey (69%) had formally volunteered at least once in their lives while 31% had never done so.
- Among those who had volunteered, people were more likely to say they had been occasionally involved throughout their life (55%), rather than consistently (22%) or hardly (21%) involved.
- Only a small proportion (7% of all respondents) said they had been consistently and heavily involved over time.
Most people have formally volunteered at some point in their lives, dipping in and out of involvement over time
- Over half (55%) of recent volunteers gave time to more than one organisation. For their main organisation, about two-thirds (67%) volunteered for civil society organisations while 17% volunteered for public sector organisations.
- Volunteers undertook a range of activities, often related to organising events (39%), administration (28%), raising money and taking part in sponsored events (27%) and getting others involved (27%). People mainly volunteered in their own local neighbourhoods (81%).
- Recent research including the latest Time Well Spent report and Mobilising Voluntary Action confirmed the shift in settings and types of activities. This included more digital volunteering, new settings such as the NHS and mutual aid groups, and new activities such as food and medicine deliveries, helping at vaccination centre, and befriending.
- While many volunteers will have remained doing these traditional activities, many of these would have shifted online or socially distanced during the pandemic.
People volunteer in different ways, reflecting their lifestyles, values and priorities. The way they get involved has changed during the pandemic
More data and research
- Download more Almanac data
- Download the Community Life Survey for July 2021
- Read the Time Well Spent report, especially section 3.3 on Volunteering over people’s lifetime and section 4 on the Volunteer context
- Take a look at research on the impact of the pandemic including the latest Time Well Spent report and Mobilising Voluntary Action policy response and impact.
- See the Time Well Spent report on volunteering in the public sector
- Read the Time Well Spent report on employer-supported volunteering
- Have a look at the Getting Involved report, highlighting different ways of how people make a difference
- Take a read of the ‘Respond, reset, recover’ data on volunteering including a special report on volunteering during the pandemic
Links and resources
Notes and definitions
The findings on this page comes from two sources.
- The Community Life Survey 2020/21 for the overview of participation levels and trends over time.
- The Time Well Spent report for lifetime involvement and volunteer participation.
Differences in sample and methodology should be noted. See our section on methodology for more information.
Please note that the Community Life Survey 2021/22 has been delayed for release until January 2023, so we are unable to provide more recent figures.
Formal volunteering trends are taken from the Community Life Survey and the now defunct Citizenship Survey.
Comparing longer-term trends has been made more difficult due to a change in survey methodology from face-to-face interviews for the Citizenship Survey to an online/paper version for the Community Life Survey which respondents complete themselves. More on this can be found in the methodology section.
The new data using online and paper surveys suggests that volunteering rates might be slightly lower than previously thought, however, across the same methodology levels of involvement remain stable over time at least until 2020/21.
- Formal volunteering: Giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.
- Informal volunteering: Giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not a relative.
- Regular volunteering: Where people volunteer at least once a month.
- Recent volunteers: Those who have given unpaid help in the last 12 months.
- Main organisation: Respondents who have given time to more than one organisations were asked to identify the organisation they gave the most unpaid help to (the most time, resources for example). If they had given time to two equally, they were asked to choose the one they helped most recently.