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First-Timers: Kickstarting a Volunteer Revolution

I’m often asked the question - why do people volunteer? As you’d expect, there’s no one definitive answer. The reasons for volunteering vary greatly, with a complex tapestry of motivations and emotions underpinning the decision.

What I do know is the potential for volunteering to positively impact society is enormous.

Volunteering one’s time is perhaps the most generous gift you can give. Whether it’s supporting people to age better, helping the NHS or volunteering your time to support something completely different, by working together we have can affect positive, tangible change. My vision is for everyone in Britain to consider volunteering as a part of who they are, a part of how they choose to live their lives.

The challenge? How do we inspire more people than ever before, from more diverse backgrounds, to volunteer? Working with researchers at CASS Business School, we recently took an in-depth look at the British public’s attitudes towards volunteering, honing in what we can learn from the mind-set of first-time volunteers. The results are published in our new report, First-Timers: Kickstarting a Volunteer Revolution.

The highlights

Our findings confirm the UK as a generous nation. But while over half of adults say they have volunteered at some stage in their life, there is a significant proportion of people who have never been involved. A huge pool from which to recruit.

In the last year alone, the equivalent of 1.3 million new volunteers stepped forward to gift their time. And it is by exploring these first timers and the public as a whole, we can derive a better understanding of the motivations behind the decision process – as well as examine what stops us. Specifically, the study found:

  • Nearly a third (29%) of first-timers said their decision to volunteer was influenced by cuts to community projects and local services, with a similar proportion (27%) citing concern for older people and care cuts.
  • Altruism wasn’t the only driver. First-time volunteers reported wanting to meet people and make friends (36%) and simply to have fun (30%).
  • Many still struggle to overcome barriers to volunteering, with work commitments (cited by 40% of respondents) and children and home responsibilities (20%) common reasons for ‘why not’.
  • Among all volunteers, respondents felt more useful (60%), fulfilled (56%), socially aware (53%) and more connected to the local community (52%) as a result of volunteering their time

Starting the revolution

Based on these findings, the report goes on to make a series of suggestions for organisations reaching out to first time volunteers. This includes making it easier for people to get involved, developing more flexible and micro opportunities and reinforcing the benefits of volunteering.

I believe the gift of voluntary service is one anyone can make, and everyone should believe they have the opportunity to give. This is why at Royal Voluntary Service we are already working to grow newer forms of volunteering to make it easier for people to play their part. This includes opportunities to volunteer online and micro volunteering. New routes that allow people to make short but impactful gifts of time.

We have also recently started inviting, and actively encouraging, volunteers to bring their children with them (where appropriate) to make it just that little bit easier for parents, carers and grandparents to give their time. It is proving to be a fantastic way to connect the generations together, as well as helping embed the idea of volunteering into people’s minds at an early age. There is a great joy in volunteering, and to inspire more people to step forward, organisations like Royal Voluntary Service have a responsibility to convey these benefits and inspire people. We also need to play a bigger role in celebrating the successes and achievements of volunteers. Volunteers should no longer be unsung heroes.

For eighty years our volunteers have proved that “all things are possible”, and that by working together we can change lives, change communities and change society.

So are you ready to join the volunteer revolution?

First Timers: Kickstarting a Volunteer Revolution was authored by authored by Dr Justin Davis-Smith, Nick Ockenden and Dr Helen Timbrell. To read the report in full please visit here.

*The data is based on a sample of 4,000 UK adults, boosted by 500 people who volunteered for the first time since 2013.

Posted by Catherine Johnstone at 09:00 Thursday, 14 March 2019.