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How people volunteer and choose to give their time is not a static thing. It changes over time and this change can be influenced by many different aspects of what is happening in people’s lives and their relationships with those around them. For many, some of the most important relationships they have are with their family (in the broadest sense of the word), and we know that these relationships can play a significant role in shaping attitudes and behaviours. We also know that there are practical implications of being part of a family that influences how people spend their time and ultimately whether they volunteer or not. We have known this for some time, but we have never fully understood the role of family within volunteering.

The partnership that came together to work on this research wanted to learn more. Although we come from very different organisations, we share a common goal: to get more people volunteering and to make volunteering more inclusive so that people who are less likely to get involved can also experience the benefits of volunteering. Formal volunteering in a group or organisation currently doesn’t work for everyone, and addressing this diversity challenge will require volunteer-involving organisations and funders to think differently about the type of volunteering they offer and how it’s supported and managed. This may become even more pressing as we begin to understand the impact of covid-19 in worsening inequalities within our society. Volunteering is an important part of the solution, but it is also part of the problem if we aren’t able to make volunteering and the benefits more accessible to all.

Covid-19 has been challenging for everyone, including for families who have had to deal with the stressful realities of lockdown and social distancing. However, as communities have come together in response to covid-19, there have been some indications of positive changes for volunteering and families. Opportunities could emerge from stronger family ties created by more time spent living and working together, flexible working could open up time for those who felt they were too busy and a digital offer may continue to be something that enables people to fit volunteering in around a busy family life. So, although this research was conducted before covid-19, the learning and practical considerations within it feel more relevant than ever as communities and individuals start to rebuild and renew the connections between them.

We have found real value in the collaborative approach to funding this research, and the process of working together has had a positive impact in itself: strengthening relationships between our partnership of volunteering-involving organisations, researchers and funders and identifying shared objectives that could support future work. Our range of perspectives have also helped to shape the practical guidance, so that it feels relevant to a broad spectrum of volunteer-involving organisations that share our passion for opening up volunteering to new groups of people. Insights from research projects like this can help to shape volunteering practice.

Sport England, the Greater London Authority (Team London), Pears #iwill Fund and the Scouts are proud to support this research.


We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who have been involved in this research project. We are particularly indebted to our five case studies organisations, their staff, volunteers and wider family members: Kids Run Free; Little Village; St John Ambulance; St Mary’s church, Wendover; The Whitworth. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting and working with you, and we are very grateful to you for sharing your stories and experiences so openly and honestly. Thank you.

We are also particularly grateful to our funders: Sport England, the Greater London Authority (Team London), Pears #iwill Fund and the Scouts. Without your support – both financial and intellectual – this project would not have been possible.

We would also like to thank the partnership group that helped guide the study: Donna Bennett, the Scouts; Shaun Delaney, NCVO; Stuart Fox, Brunel University; Truly Johnston and Jennifer D’Souza, Greater London Authority; Bridget McGing, Pears Foundation; Kristen Natale, Sport England; Colin Shearer, Churches Conversation Trust. And the wider set of individuals and organisations, too numerous to mention by name, who expressed interest in the study, shared information about their experiences of family volunteering, commented on draft reports and/or reflected on our emerging recommendations.

Research team

This project has been led by NCVO, in partnership with the University of Birmingham and the University of Salford. The research team has included: Véronique Jochum (study lead, design and case studies), Amy McGarvey (case studies), Oliver Chan (mapping) and Joanna Stuart (literature review, case studies) from NCVO; Daiga Kamerāde (study design and Time Use Survey analysis) from the University of Salford; Angela Ellis Paine (lead author, study design and case studies) from the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham.

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 16 May 2023