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Unveiling volunteer motivation: insights from the latest data

Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS, has been reviewing some of the latest reports on VCSE sector trends, helping to draw out the facts and figures which relate to volunteering.

Leaders of Volunteers already know that volunteers are the unsung heroes of our society, dedicating their time, energy, and skills to support various causes and organisations. Understanding what motivates individuals to volunteer is not only intriguing but also essential so that Leaders of Volunteers can effectively harness that power effectively.

The latest international and national data on volunteer motivation provides valuable insights into this phenomenon, shedding light on what drives people to give back.

The context of volunteering

In recent years, volunteering has gained increasing attention, with more people recognizing the immense value of their contributions. According to the latest data, the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the volunteer landscape. With the crisis, we witnessed a surge in people volunteering to help their communities, reinforcing the idea that individuals are motivated to volunteer in times of need.

However, as time has moved on, volunteer numbers have fallen. This makes it ever more important that Leaders of Volunteers are getting the best return from our recruitment and retention efforts.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

One of the key findings from the latest data on volunteer motivation is the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Intrinsic motivations are driven by personal fulfilment and a sense of purpose. People who volunteer for intrinsic reasons are more likely to have a strong, long-term commitment to their causes. This is often described as “cause-based” motivation.

Extrinsic, or external, motivations, on the other hand, involve tangible rewards or recognition, such as certificates, awards, or social recognition. While external motivations can initially attract volunteers, they may not sustain their engagement over time.

Research shows that intrinsic motivations are the primary drivers of volunteerism. Volunteers often express a deep sense of fulfilment, a desire to make a difference, and the joy of contributing to a cause they are passionate about. This is encouraging news for organizations looking to retain and engage volunteers, as fostering that intrinsic, cause-based motivation can lead to a committed and dedicated team.

The NCVO Almanac 2023 includes this image, highlighting the reasons volunteers give as to why they volunteer.


Graph indicating reasons given for volunteering, taken from Community Life Survey 2021/2022

The role of personal values

Another significant factor in volunteer motivation is personal values. The latest data suggests that individuals are more likely to volunteer for causes that align with their personal values and beliefs. This match of values and volunteering also creates a strong bond between the volunteer and the organisation’s mission, increasing the likelihood of long-term commitment. For example, someone who values environmental conservation is more likely to volunteer for a tree-planting project.

Furthermore, the data indicates that volunteering can also be an avenue for individuals to express their values and beliefs, making it a powerful means of living in accordance with one's principles. This connection between personal values and volunteer motivation highlights the importance of organisations promoting their missions and values to attract volunteers who share their vision.

The impact of skills and expertise

The latest data also reveals that volunteers often draw on their unique skills and expertise when deciding to contribute their time. Many volunteers believe that their specific talents can make a significant difference, which is a strong intrinsic motivator. For instance, a graphic designer might offer to create promotional materials for a charity or community group, or a retired teacher might volunteer to help children with their homework.

To leverage this aspect of volunteer motivation, organisations should consider how they can tap into the skills and expertise of their existing volunteers as well as promoting new volunteer roles to try to find them. Identifying and harnessing the unique talents of volunteers can lead to a more fulfilling and productive volunteer experience as well enhancing service delivery.

Inclusivity and diversity

The data also highlights the importance of inclusivity and diversity in volunteerism. Communities and organisations that actively implement their policies around equality and diversity tend to attract a broader and more diverse pool of volunteers. This diversity not only enriches the volunteer experience but also brings different perspectives and ideas to the table, leading to more innovative and effective solutions for the organisation’s mission.

Ethnicity facts and figures about volunteering show:

  • 23% of people aged 16 and over in England took part in formal volunteering at least once a month.
  • Asian people (15%) were less likely to have volunteered than Black people (24%) or White people (23%).

Graph showing percentage of people aged 16 and over who formally volunteered at least once a month, by ethnicity


In conclusion

The latest data on volunteer motivation reaffirms the significance of intrinsic motivations, personal values, skills, and inclusivity in driving volunteering. Organisations looking to attract and retain volunteers should focus on fostering a sense of purpose, aligning with individuals' values, recognising their skills, and promoting inclusivity. By doing so, we can build a stronger and more dedicated volunteer community, ultimately making a more significant impact on the causes that we serve. As we continue to navigate the challenges of our ever-changing world, understanding and harnessing volunteer motivation is more critical than ever.


Date Posted: 
Thursday, 26 October, 2023

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