Although volunteering has been done for years, the last year has seen a significant rise in people giving up their free time to help those in need. Are becoming more empathetic, or are we becoming more prepared to work for free?

A rising trend 

NCVO’s January 2019 survey included around 10,000 participants, finding that four in 10 Britons volunteer, with seven in 10 claiming that they have volunteered at least once in their life.

In comparison to Europeans, it would appear that we’re doing the most. In Italy, only 9% of the total population say that they’ve volunteered and 51% of Dutch 15-24-year olds engage in societal activities as a volunteer at least once a year. 

NfpSynergy’s 2017 report found that the number of 16-24-year olds volunteering has seen a significant rise over the last 13 years, up from 15% to 29%. A comparable percentage change was seen in 25-34-year olds over the same period. It can depend on which societal bracket people are from too, with those from higher socio-economic groups (ABC1) more likely to have volunteered recently than those from lower groups (C2DE). 

Data from Google search has also found similar results. When looking at search volume in the UK around the term “volunteering near me” from December 2017 to December 2018, the following data was captured: 

Country Difference in search volume*
England +83%
Scotland +85%
Wales +85%
Northern Ireland  +366%
United Kingdom +124%

England, Wales and Scotland have all increased in the number of searches, however Northern Ireland has seen a three-fold increase. This could be down to the substantial push from male suicide campaigns to raise awareness and encourage fundraising, following the announcement that the country has the highest suicide rate in the UK. There is also a high level of competition for skilled positions in the country and volunteering is one way for people to differentiate themselves from the rest. 

Why are we volunteering more?

Beside there being more exposure to charities seeking volunteers, why are we becoming more selfless?  Volunteering has now been acknowledged as part of the wider health policy, with the NHS five-year plan highlighting the need for community volunteering. This is down to the mental and physical health benefits that can be reaped from volunteering. 

NCVO also found that many volunteers said that this improved their mental health and helped prevent them feel lonely. 77% of those surveyed revealed that volunteering had improved their mental health and 53% claimed their physical health had benefitted from the activity. 90% of participants felt that they made a difference through volunteer work and 89% claimed it led to them meeting new people, both of which may also be reasons in higher volunteering figures. 

Although many are deciding to volunteer on their own accord, there is encouragement from schools, universities and employers. NfpSynergy’s findings also revealed that volunteering rates peaked at 33% among 16-24-year olds in 2013/14 but in 2017 this peak was also discovered in 24 to 34-year olds. This suggests that people who began volunteering at school and university are continuing to do so as they get older. It could be that people do need an extra push to start giving back but when they do, they realise the benefits. 

10% of volunteers volunteered due to support from their employer. As companies push to better their workforce and company, volunteering has been realised as a great way to improve mental health and get the brand involved in local causes. For example, men’s white shirt retailer CT Shirts allows their employees one day volunteering per year to encourage them to get involved with the local community. Similarly, Accenture, a large consulting firm, provide their staff with three corporate volunteering days to help a charity. 

As volunteering has been found to improve mental wellbeing, this is beneficial to deal with the current mental health crises that many are experiencing. Hopefully more and more people will realise the benefit, which will help themselves and society.

*Percentage difference is between number of searches for ‘volunteering near me’ in December 2017 and number of searches in December 2018.