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Dave Thomas, NCVS Volunteering Development Officer

Where have all the volunteers gone? (Long time passing)

Dave Thomas Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS writes...

Like everyone else, Leaders of Volunteers have had to deal with the effects of the pandemic. Some of us have been able to keep our volunteers involved by moving roles online, home-based or over the phone. Others have created new roles. Some of us have had to suspend our volunteer programme, and our volunteers have either drifted away or found other ways to spend their time.

For all of us, the past 18 months have seen a massive upheaval.

The Community Life Survey 2020/21 highlights that upheaval with changes in the numbers and ways that people were volunteering from April 2020 to March 2021.

  • There was a decrease in the proportion of people formally volunteering. 17% of respondents reported formally volunteering at least once a month, the lowest recorded participation rate since data collection began in the Community Life Survey 2013/14.

  • There was an increase in the proportion of people informally volunteering. 33% of respondents had volunteered informally at least once a month, the highest percentage on record in the Community Life Survey.

This trend is also reflected in the charitable giving findings of the survey.

  • There was a decrease in the proportion of people giving to charitable causes. 63% of respondents reported having given to charitable causes in the last 4 weeks (at the time of responding to the survey). This was lower than in 2019/20 where 75% of respondents reported doing so and the lowest since the Community Life Survey began in 2013/14.


Formal and Informal

The Open University provides a good explanation of these two forms of volunteering when defining volunteers in Section 3.1 of its 'Taking Part in the Voluntary Sector' OpenLearnCreate course:

“Formal volunteering relates to people giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations. Informal volunteering is giving unpaid help as an individual to other people who are not relatives, such as getting an elderly neighbour’s shopping, clearing snow from the streets and so on. Informal volunteering is less likely to be recorded in surveys as people may not think of it as volunteering.”


Volunteering in Nottingham

While the increase in informal volunteering is a bright spot, the decline in formal volunteering numbers presents a challenge for Leaders of Volunteers who are firmly rooted in the formal volunteering sector. So we have a challenge to rebuild formal volunteer numbers.  

However, the demand for formal volunteering still exists and is rebuilding. Since March 2021, the number of new people wanting to volunteer each month here in Nottingham is looking reassuringly consistent.

This chart shows the number of people who registered on the NCVS website each month from February 2020 (when we launched the current site). 

Bar chart of new volunteer registrations on the NCVS website by month since February 2020

After the initial lockdown surge to help in April 2020, people continued to want to volunteer in a formal setting. Demand on our website rose again to 250 newly-registered volunteers in the month of October 2020.

I am also pleased to be able to let you know that the number of active opportunities that these volunteers can enquire about is also steadily increasing. From March to July 2021 almost 100 new opportunities have been added to our website and 190 existing roles have been updated, modified and renewed.

From the somewhat gloomy findings of the Community Life survey, we have evidence that, here in Nottingham, there is a strong and continuing demand for our opportunities.


About that title - Where have all the volunteers gone?

This title refers to a 1960s folk song written by Malvina Reynolds and sung by Joan Baez in this 1994 video.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone (Pete Seeger Tribute) - Joan Baez (1994 Kennedy Center Honors - YouTube)

This autumn, the flowers may have gone, but Nottingham’s field of volunteers is blooming thanks to this city’s amazing Leaders of Volunteers.


In your role as a Leader of Volunteers, the adaptability and resilience that you have shown and the creative and exciting roles that you develop is driving the resurgence of formal volunteering. 

As ever, if the Volunteer Centre can help you with this in any way, please get in touch with me: Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer. Email davet@nottinghamcvs.co.uk or call 07493 422503.


Date Posted: 
Wednesday, 15 September, 2021

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