Skip to content

Research suggests change to formal volunteering during pandemic

New research has showcased a mixed picture on the time and the availability of volunteers during the pandemic. According to the latest results of the Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer, 40% of the 710 respondents have experienced a decrease in the amount of unpaid time contributed by volunteers since March with just 27% reporting an increase.

graphic of different people with masks on
Latest findings suggest a shift from formal volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic

Additionally, 35% of organisations noted a decrease in the number of people volunteering during the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost half (45%) of organisations questioned said that their numbers stayed the same, while only 20% benefited from an increase.

However, these findings are in relation to formal volunteering for charities. As such, they do not include the volunteers who have come forward to support formal volunteering programmes in the public sector such as the NHS covid-19 vaccination programme, nor other forms of informal volunteering which have increased during the pandemic.

Producing timely snapshots of the impact of covid-19 within the voluntary and community sector, the Barometer is one part of a major research project, Respond, Recover, Reset: The Voluntary Sector and Covid-19, led by Nottingham Trent University (NTU), the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and Sheffield Hallam University.

Findings from the fourth round of the monthly survey demonstrate the impact of the latest restrictions on the finances of voluntary organisations, with 40% reporting a deteriorating financial position in the last month, and 37% expecting this to get worse over the next four weeks.

Along with the growing financial challenges, pressure on the sector also looks set to increase with 47% expecting demand for their services to grow over the next month.

Project lead, Daniel King, Professor of Organisation Studies at Nottingham Business School, part of NTU, said: “The results show that organisations are still facing major challenges, both with regards to their finances and the number of volunteers upon which many of them rely to run their services.

“We understand that the unique nature of the pandemic and its consequences, including lockdowns, shielding, social distancing measures, remote working, home schooling and a considerable decrease in social activities, can act as a barrier to the normal pattern of volunteering.

“However, it is important to encourage people to continue to volunteer across the charity and community wherever possible, both for the benefit of the organisations and for personal wellbeing. Academic studies show that volunteering can help individuals feel purposeful at the time of crisis, it enables them to cope with anxiety of being exposed to negative news and also helps to establish a sense of solidarity through joining others in working towards a common purpose.”

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive of NCVO, said: “The research demonstrates a varied experience in relation to volunteer involvement. While some organisations are experiencing a rise in volunteer numbers and the time given by volunteers, more have seen a decline.

“This decline in formal volunteer involvement is a result of current environmental factors rather than a decline in interest. Throughout this pandemic we have seen a shift from formal to more informal volunteering roles for a variety reasons including caring responsibilities, shielding requirements, and people looking to help where there is seen to be immediate need.

“However, this shift in volunteering could impact smaller, local charities who are reliant on volunteer support, particularly at a time of increasing demand for services and decreasing incomes. In this time of ongoing change, organisations must examine both volunteer recruitment and the retention of existing volunteers. We need to look at how we can engage more effectively with potential and existing volunteers and consider new and innovative ways in which they can contribute to the vital work of charities across the country.”

The next Covid-19 Voluntary Sector Impact Barometer survey is currently open to responses, with findings expected in mid-March.

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

    About NCVO

    The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With over 16,000 members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. We are also the lead body for volunteering in England.

Research suggests change to formal volunteering during pandemic

Published on 15 February 2021
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418