Volunteers’ Week - An unprecedented response to an unprecedented crisis
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the voluntary and community sector. They selflessly give their time and provide an invaluable set of skills and experiences free of charge. Without their contribution, much of the work of charities and community groups would quite simply not be possible. In fact, it’s estimated that during the COVID-19 pandemic 10 million people across the UK volunteered their time to help others in need!
But volunteering isn’t all about helping other people; volunteers themselves benefit from giving their time and getting involved in their communities. In fact, research has found that volunteering is associated with enhanced wellbeing, including improved life satisfaction and decreased symptoms of depression.
Using brand-new data taken from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund evaluation* - which conducted an online survey with almost 14,000 volunteers at National Lottery or Government funded charities operating through the pandemic - this Volunteers’ Week we’re able to share an unprecedented insight into the impact and benefits of volunteering:
Making a positive impact
The data highlights the positive benefits of providing unpaid help to local community organisations and charities, with an overwhelming majority (99%) of those surveyed reporting at least one positive benefit to themselves as a result of their volunteering.
Volunteers most commonly said that their experience had made them feel as if they were making a difference (84%) and that it had given them a sense of purpose or personal achievement (both 66%). Over a third said it gave them new skills and experience (37%).
Creating local connections
Many of those who volunteered during the pandemic were motivated by strengthening their relationships with other members of their community. When asked the most important reasons for giving unpaid help, more than a third of people said they wanted to feel connected to their community (38%), with the same number saying that they wanted to take part in their community’s response to the pandemic.
Over half of volunteers reported that providing unpaid help gave them a stronger connection to the local community (55%), brought them into contact with people from different backgrounds or cultures (53%) and allowed them to meet new people (46%).
Improving mental and physical wellbeing
Volunteering isn’t just beneficial to the wider community, it can also have a positive effect on the person giving up their time. Almost half (47%) of those surveyed said that volunteering improved their mental health and wellbeing and more than a tenth (13%) said that it had improved their physical health.
Other positive outcomes for the volunteers surveyed included helping them feel less isolated (31%), more confident (29%) and a greater sense of control (9%).
Helping their local communities to cope
The interview responses suggest that many volunteers pivoted to help their community as they went into lockdown, with findings demonstrating changes in the activities undertaken by volunteers during the pandemic.
Those who had volunteered for a community group or charity prior to the outbreak of the pandemic (88%) said that they previously had most often done the following: organising or helping to run an activity or event (42%), giving advice / information / counselling (31%) and leading a group / being a member of a committee (29%).
While those who volunteered during the time period of the grant carried out many of the same types of activities, they were more likely to report helping people to access food and essential items (up from 22% to 34%) and less likely to report organising or helping to run an activity or event (24% down from 42%).
While most people volunteer as a selfless act, we’re delighted to see their work is being recognised. This was demonstrated from our own Community Research Index (7,000 UK-wide respondents), with 75% of respondents saying that local volunteers are important for strengthening their local community, while 65% say they deserve even more recognition. This is why, this Volunteers’ Week, we’re proud to be celebrating the vital role volunteers play in our lives!
Also look out for our upcoming report which explores the role and value of National Lottery funding in mobilising volunteers, both before and after the Covid-19 response.
*Ipsos MORI conducted an online survey with 13,663 people as part of the ongoing evaluation of both the Coronavirus Community Support Fund (CCSF) and emergency funding that took place at the same time using money from the National Lottery, raised by National Lottery players. Participants were aged 18+ and had given unpaid time to help others during the time period of the grant. They completed the survey between 24 November 2020 and 5 May 2021, via an open link sent by the organisations that received emergency funding.
The Coronavirus Community Support Fund (CCSF) is a funding programme supported by a grant of £200 million from Government, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, to charities, voluntary and community sector organisations supporting people and communities experiencing disproportionate challenges and difficulty during the pandemic.
The CCSF evaluation will provide insight into how funding from Government and The National Lottery Community Fund has supported the sector’s response to COVID-19. The Coronavirus Community Support Fund Evaluation is funded by HM Government and The National Lottery Community Fund. It is managed by Ipsos MORI in partnership with The Tavistock Institute and New Philanthropy Capital.
Final findings from the CCSF Evaluation are due to be published in the summer.