How many people volunteer?
- Slightly over a quarter (27%) of people over 16 years old in England have volunteered formally with a group, club or organisation at least once in 2021/22. Based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) population estimates, this means 12m people in England have formally volunteered at least once in the last year, which which is estimated 14.2m people in the UK.
- Under one in five (16%) people report volunteering formally at least once a month, about 7m people in England, (8.3m in the UK).
- Informal volunteering (giving unpaid help without being involved in groups, clubs, or organisations) is less visible. In 2021/22, 46% of the population (approximately 21m people in England, 25m in the UK) have volunteered informally at least once a year and 26% (12m in England, 14.2m in the UK) did so at least once a month.
12 million people in England have volunteered through a group, club or organisation in 2021/22
- From 2019/20 to 2020/21, rates of formal volunteering in England dropped sharply both for at least once a month (from 23% to 17%) and at least yearly (from 37% to 30%), due to the covid-19 pandemic. In 2021/22, monthly formal volunteering has been maintained at the same level (at 16%) but with a further decline in volunteering at least once a year (to 27%). Both of these are the lowest rates recorded by the Community Life Survey. Formal volunteering levels remain well below the pre-pandemic levels in 2021/22.
- In contrast, regular informal volunteering (at least once a month) had increased from 28% in 2019/20 to 33% in 2020/21, reflecting a different impact of the pandemic. However, in the most recent 2021/22 results, this has dropped back to 26%, in line with the pre-pandemic level. Less regular informal volunteering (at least in the last year), which had not increased in 2020/21 (54%), has also dropped to 46% in 2021/22, the lowest rate recorded so far.
- 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.
- The ongoing decline in 2021/22 since the covid-19 pandemic 2019/20, formal volunteering has implications for the sector when looking at recruitment and retention. This is, of course, likely to have been further impacted by the cost of living crisis since late 2021. These challenges may be greater for smaller organisations. As seen in the profile section, the number of micro-sized charities has increased in 2020/21, in contrast to a decline in the numbers of charities of all other sizes. Recruitment presents specific challenges for these very smallest charities, with an income of under £10,000 per year.
- These challenges are likely to be greater for certain groups within the population, with a need to create flexible, inclusive and accessible volunteering opportunities. Possible challenges are discussed further in the next section.
Levels of formal volunteering fell dramatically in 2020/21, with little further decline in 2021/22
More than half of the population gets involved in informal ways of volunteering
- In addition to formal volunteering through 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.
- The covid-19 pandemic and its strict social distance restrictions drove informal volunteering. In 2020/21, more than half of people (54%) volunteered informally at least once a year and a third (33%) did so at least once a month. With the end of all covid restrictions in March 2022, regular informal volunteering (at least once a month) has dropped back to 26%, in line with the pre-pandemic level (28%). About 46% volunteer informally at least once a year, recording the lowest level since 2013/14.
A little more than a quarter of the population are regularly involved in informal ways of volunteering and less than half did so at least once in 2021/22
Motivations to volunteer
- About half (48%) of formal volunteers in England say they volunteer because they want to improve things/help people. This remains the top reason to start volunteering. It has stayed the same as the level observed in 2021/22 (48%).
- The next two top motivations are:
- personal connection to the cause (33%)
- spare time to volunteer (30%).
- The top three reasons have remained relatively unchanged over the years.
- It is less common to start volunteering in order to:
- gain new skills (15%)
- improve career prospects (7%)
- get qualifications (2%).
- Slightly less than a quarter (23%) of volunteers did, however, start because they wanted to use their existing skills.
- These motivations offer a range of factors that could be used in recruitment.
Most people volunteer because they want to improve things or help people. Personal connection to the cause and having spare time are also important reasons to start volunteering
Volunteering causes, sectors, and places of volunteering activities
- The findings in this final section are taken from our Time Well Spent survey, conducted among adults aged 18 and over in the UK.
- About 1 in 5 recent formal volunteers (21%) have volunteered for local community or neighbourhood groups, making it the most popular cause to volunteer for. Health/disability/social welfare and hobbies/recreations/arts/ social clubs follow, with 17% and 16% of recent volunteers giving their time to these organisations respectively.
- About 6 in 10 recent formal volunteers have volunteered for a third sector/civil society organisation, while slightly less than a quarter (23%) have volunteered for a public sector organisation, according to Time Well Spent.
- Remote volunteering has become more common in recent years, thanks to covid-19. About 1 in 3 (31%) recent formal volunteers have volunteered over the phone or online, making it the third most common place of volunteering. A smaller proportion (18%) volunteer exclusively remotely.
- Remote volunteering can offer a way into recruitment for people who would find volunteering in person challenging. This could be due to time or health reasons, for example. However, digital exclusion, a lack of access to technology and low levels of digital skills or confidence can all limit people’s access to online volunteering opportunities.
People volunteer for a range of causes, while volunteering in the third sector is most common. Remote volunteering (volunteering online or over the phone) is the third most common ‘place’ people volunteer in.
More data and research
- Community Life Survey for 2021/22 by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
- Time Well Spent 2023 report – especially section 3 on volunteer participation.
- Take a look at research on the impact of the pandemic including:
- Time Well Spent report on:
- 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 come from two sources.
- The Community Life Survey 2021/22 for the overview of participation levels and trends over time.
- The Time Well Spent 2023 report for lifetime involvement and volunteer participation.
Differences in sample and methodology should be noted. See our section on methodology for more information.
Comparing longer-term trends has been made more difficult due to a change in survey methodology from face-to-face interviews to an online/paper version which respondents complete themselves. More on this can be found in the methodology section.
The new data using online and paper surveys suggest that volunteering rates might be slightly lower than previously thought. However, across the same methodology, levels of involvement remain stable over time.
- 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 organisation were asked to identify the organisation they gave the most unpaid help (the most time or resources, for example). If they had given time to two equally, they were asked to choose the one they helped most recently.