Over-reliance on volunteers..?

Exploring evidence and patterns around current volunteering Perspectives

With the Vision for Volunteering movement focussing heavily on transformation and how volunteering feels for volunteers, the 2023 Time Well Spent report made interesting reading – particularly in light of the recent research VAC undertook surrounding volunteer motivation.

Analysis of volunteering trends and hearing the voices of those we so heavily rely on as a sector is a growing non-negotiable. Time Well Spent research results report, happily, that the vast majority of volunteers have a positive experience that brings a range of equally positive influences to their own lives and circumstances. The current need for and demand of voluntary sector organisations, projects, interventions and capacity understandably places more emphasis on the need for volunteers. But does this mean we are in danger of asking too much..?

Whilst VAC’s survey of volunteers doesn’t reach the same numbers as Time Well Spent contributors, it does give a local snapshot into a wider national issue that is echoed in both studies. When asked to select factors that discouraged volunteers from giving their time, “Roles that have too much responsibility” was a deciding factor for 31% of responders, with flexibility around when and how they gave their time making 38% of volunteers more likely to apply for voluntary roles. Time Well Spent’s findings on overall volunteer satisfaction was lower this year, contributed to by similar factors:

  • Volunteers are now more likely to think their volunteering is becoming too much like paid work (up from 19% in 2018 to 26% in 2022).
  • More volunteers felt their volunteering group or organisation had unreasonable expectations of how much they did (17% in 2018 compared to 24% in 2022).

The Vision for Volunteering theme of Experimentation seeks to build upon the fluidity and innovation that volunteering experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as they so excellently put it, “We need to see the volunteering landscape as dynamic, not static. We need to ask ourselves: What opinions and structures are we holding onto too tightly? What could be done differently?” So when we hear a small but significant cry from a cross-section of volunteers, it’s natural – and necessary – to want to respond.