Over the last couple of years, the very notion of volunteering has significantly changed. In 2021/22, the number of England’s formal volunteers who participated regularly reached a record low of approximately 7 million people. While that’s certainly discouraging at first, the desire for flexible or virtual volunteering options has been rising.
That means, economic circumstances may have changed people’s priorities, but they’re still willing to donate their time and help others. It’s tough to capture the entire volunteering landscape with statistics, though, which is why we want to dig a little deeper to explore trends in volunteering and their implications on the sector as a whole.
Global trends in volunteerism
While you can notice worldwide patterns in volunteering, national or regional differences are still noticeable. Due to cultural backgrounds, and certainly due to 9/11, Americans are more likely to volunteer than Germans or Dutch citizens.
At the same time, the various paths in technological innovation and acceptance have undoubtedly caused micro-volunteering and digital opportunities to rise, more so in America than in other countries. Even the United States has seen a decrease in volunteers since the pandemic, with the number of sign-ups dropping by 23% from 2019 to 2021.
Within Europe as a whole, you’ll encounter large disparities in volunteerism, and current research has confirmed the correlation between welfare state programs and citizens’ willingness to volunteer. This can explain, at least in part, why Spain’s volunteering rate is at 10% while Norway’s is close to 50%. A recent Gallup poll also showed that postsecondary education was directly linked to the degree to which U.S. adults would be involved in volunteering.
It’s also important to note, though, that the private sector increases its investment of time, money and resources in social responsibility. Equally, we’re seeing more incidents of spontaneous volunteerism driven by groups that self-organise through social media. This introduces volunteer roles and scenarios we haven’t seen in the past, and it makes civic engagement attractive even in countries without a strong volunteering tradition.
All those developments may not necessarily be surprising, but they confirm the direct correlation between volunteering trends and factors such as education, technology, welfare or the perceived efficacy of the programs in question.
As time goes on, we’ll likely see how shifting values and the rising awareness of causes like climate change will keep transforming volunteering in this interconnected world. Maybe the evolving expectations of those trying to balance the demands of a challenging economic situation with their increased social consciousness demand we rethink how volunteering is structured.
Whether project-based engagements become the norm or not, the rise of data analytics will play an increasingly important role in identifying short-term volunteers quickly and streamline the entire operation for the efficacy they expect.
What are current volunteering trends in the UK?
In the United Kingdom, the voluntary sector is facing its own set of challenges. While its workforce has grown by 27% in the past decade, declining income from the government, the pandemic’s aftermath and the rising cost of living leave smaller voluntary organisations, which make up 80%, the most exposed.
Even though it’s difficult to track the cause among all these factors, the UK Giving Report 2022 found that both donations and participation in civic engagement went down in 2021 compared to 2019, and that the cost of living or the struggle to pay the bills was often mentioned in that context.
It’s also worth noting which activities, or rather categories, are competing with volunteerism by age group or other demographic factors. After all, volunteering fulfils a need for those participating, as well, even if it’s just the satisfaction of having helped others in their community. You can offer support in various ways, though, and charities have to be aware of behavioural patterns in this regard. While older citizens tend to donate goods to charity, young people are more likely to buy ethical products.
That’s not to say those people won’t participate in volunteering, but we already know that to volunteer, you need to have the economic and mental capacity first. If people are struggling themselves, your chances of engaging them are shrinking.
All of these trends in government funding, consumerism and charities keep changing the game, and every volunteering organisation is called upon to respond. In times like these, optimising recruitment and management, as well as adapting through flexible offers such as virtual volunteering, are no longer luxuries. They’re the key strategies that’ll help small nonprofits survive.
What will the future of volunteering look like?
We don’t have a crystal ball either, but there’s no doubt that technology will continue to be integrated into volunteering efforts and volunteer engagement. With the private sector’s involvement and increasing economic pressure, engaging and retaining volunteers is becoming more important than ever. And as horrible as the pandemic was, it has taught us how much we can achieve through online volunteering.
Digital volunteering management platforms like Rosterfy can help charities match skilled volunteers to the best opportunities for their capabilities. They also lift the burden of impact reporting and help them expand their reach by enabling them to contribute to causes across borders.
Societal trends, like people seeking more flexible micro-volunteering options, can translate to an incredible amount of bureaucratic work — or it can mean a revival of a volunteering organisation once those organisational tasks are streamlined and automated wherever possible.
At the same time, the data-driven insights on engagement and expenses can help organisations recognise patterns in volunteer activity and increase their own impact. Once you see the data telling you about everyone’s preferences, be they geographical or societal, you can allow that knowledge to shape future communication and management strategies.
Fostering volunteer engagement to meet evolving needs
Online or offline, fostering a welcoming volunteer experience is the key to protecting thriving communities for years to come. For your organisation, that translates to empathetic leadership and informed communication strategies that contribute to an inclusive environment.
As we’ve already discussed, your organisation’s efficacy can play as big a role as your very cause. Therefore, it’s important to define and communicate your mission clearly, and to embed the flexibility you can offer in your vision statement. By ensuring that each new volunteer feels welcome and by assigning them to a volunteer role reflecting their unique profile, you can make everyone feel seen and drive the engagement that’ll allow you to delegate responsibilities down the road.
With thorough analytics, you can adjust your communication strategy, whether that’s through messaging tailored to different demographics or your choice of platforms. That way, your volunteer recruitment strategy can easily reflect current societal trends as well as the evolving interests of various age groups and communities.
A word of warning: You don’t want to keep chasing the latest trend and lose your organisation’s core identity along the way. By all means, embrace innovation and leverage technology to convince new target audiences of your mission, but understand the difference between adapting to new generations’ values and eroding your own.
Tools like Rosterfy give you the power to streamline your mission statement and to document how your identity evolves to ensure you’re flexible enough to adapt without losing sight of what counts the most. We also actively support you by storing data locally, thus helping you stay compliant with local regulations.
These are challenging times for any volunteering organisation. The biggest challenge, though, lies in recognising the need to change. With the right tools, you can replicate a welcoming atmosphere across every encounter with volunteers while cutting down on paperwork.
Safeguard your organisation against future changes
As time goes on, societal expectations toward volunteering organisations and opportunities will keep changing. Even though it won’t replace face-to-face activities, digital volunteering will continue to gain traction, and trends like self-organising groups and micro-volunteering will keep challenging volunteering organisations.
Once we’ve digested all the numbers, the biggest takeaways seem to be: Rather than allowing stats to discourage you, try to treat recent developments as a learning opportunity wherein you can rethink the very notion of volunteering. And, while you’re adjusting to those trends, remember not to lose sight of your core values.
Here at Rosterfy, we create solutions specifically designed for modern volunteer management. No matter what the future holds for your organisation, we’ll ensure you stay on course. Book a demo now to find out how we can help your volunteers!
Rosterfy is used by non-profits, charities, sporting federations, and more to better manage their volunteer programs by improving how they can recruit, screen, train and retain volunteers.
Our market leading technology helps you create engaging experience throughout the whole lifecycle of your volunteer journey.
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