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How data helps us understand what motivates volunteers

It is Volunteers’ Week, an initiative that takes place from 1st to 7th June every year, offering a chance to celebrate and say thank you for the contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK.

According to the organisers, more than 20 million people in the UK volunteer formally at least once a year, and almost 12 million people do so once a month. It is estimated that the total value of volunteers to UK charities amounts to £22.6 bn a year.

But what motivates people to volunteer and what factors encourage them to give their time for good causes?

For researchers interested in this question, the UK Data Service collection holds a host of datasets related to this area. A quick search of our catalogue will turn up numerous interesting studies.

They include The National Survey of Volunteering and Charitable Giving, which was commissioned by the Office of the Third Sector in the Cabinet Office. The research was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (IVR) in 2006-2007.

The survey interviewed more than 2,700 adults in households in England. The aim was to explore how and why people give unpaid help to organisations, and what they think of their experiences; what stops people from volunteering or giving money to charity; and how and why people give money to charity.

Another dataset worth exploring relates to the ESRC Citizen Contribution to Local Public Services project. A total of four datasets were created by researchers at University College London for this project, which sought to identify how social information could influence volunteering levels in different groups, using four different field experiments.

The first dataset contains information from the first field experiment which examined one form of social information – i.e. endorsement – on a large student population. Additional datasets in the series explore the impact that feedback about other people’s volunteering, and social information ‘nudges’ have on influencing people to volunteer their time.

Researchers using the UK Data Service might also like to investigate the Citizenship Survey (known in the field as the Communities Study), which ran from 2001 to 2010-2011. The survey provided an evidence base for the work of the Department for Communities and Local Government, principally on the issues of community cohesion, civic engagement, race and faith, and volunteering. The survey was used for developing policy and for performance measurement.

The benefits of volunteering

It’s not just about helping others. Voluntary work improves volunteers’ wellbeing, too. The NHS says the health benefits of volunteering include increasing happiness and life satisfaction, and improving your overall mental wellbeing.

Volunteering can also help people gain new skills. It can boost confidence and give volunteers a sense of achievement and it can be fun!


So, if our data has inspired you, here’s where to look for volunteering opportunities: