• Charities had to cope with surging demand and falling income in 2022
  • But organisations set for support in 2023 from a wave of new volunteers
  • 1 in 6 young people, aged 18-34, plan to start volunteering
  • Meanwhile, 1 in 5 charities expect to see an increase in volunteers
  • Expected spike in volunteering follows years of declining support

Faced with surging demand and falling income as a result of the cost of living crisis, charities have endured a tough year. But there could be some welcome support on the way in 2023 from a generation of new volunteers.

New research by Pro Bono Economics (PBE) shows charities could benefit from up to 2.5 million new volunteers, aged 18-34, across the UK next year.

Polling for PBE, carried out by Opinium, found that one in six from this younger cohort plan to start volunteering in 2023.

Meanwhile, one in five social sector organisations are expecting their volunteer numbers to rise over the coming months, according to a separate PBE study carried out with Nottingham Trent University (NTU).

It follows a stagnation in formal volunteering in recent years which was pushed into a sharp decline by the pandemic. The restrictions on normal life meant volunteering in formal groups, clubs and charities was curtailed as social distancing shut down many opportunities, older volunteers were fearful of going out, and events were cancelled.

Since 2013/14, the proportion of people regularly formally volunteering in England has dropped from more than one in four (27%) to just 17% in 2020/21. Experts anticipated volunteering numbers would continue to decline.

But PBE’s new research suggests volunteering could buck this trend as the decline may begin to be reversed in 2023, driven largely by younger people aged 18-34. It is well-established that older people are more likely to be volunteers, but PBE’s new polling by Opinium shows a surprising enthusiasm from the younger generation:

  • One in six (17%) 18-34-year-olds said they do not currently volunteer, but plan to in 2023. This equates to 2.5mn young people across the UK.
  • It compares to just 6% of over-55s who said they do not volunteer at present, but plan to next year.
  • Overall, more than one in 10 (11%) people said they plan to begin giving unpaid help to a group, club or organisation in 2023. If this intention translates to actual volunteering, it would mean an additional 5.7mn volunteers next year that are not currently volunteering.

A separate new study by PBE and NTU’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, the VCSE Sector Barometer, shows that the level of formal volunteering is now a leading concern for small and community-based social sector organisations (with income of less than £10,000 per year), only behind concern about income. Among its key findings, the survey found that:

  • Just over half (51%) of social sector organisations reported that their volunteer numbers have remained steady over the three months to November 2022.
  • Overall, a net balance of 12% of organisations reported an increase in volunteers over the three months to November 2022.
  • But there is an expectation volunteer numbers will rise, with one in five (20%) social sector organisations overall anticipating a growth in volunteers over the three months from November 2022.

The new survey by PBE and NTU’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory also found that more than three-quarters (77%) of charities had experienced increased demand in the previous three months. This has been coupled with falling donations in 2022 as a result of the cost of living crisis, as well as a reduction in the value of donations due to inflation. A recent analysis by PBE and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) estimates that the £5.7 billion of total donations made to charities in the first six months of 2022 will be worth £500mn less by the end of the year, a reduction of 8.5%. 

Nicole Sykes, Policy and Communications Director at Pro Bono Economics, said:

“Charities in the UK have experienced an incredibly challenging year in 2022. The cost of living crisis has driven millions of families to seek vital support from social sector organisations in their communities, leading to soaring demand on charity resources.

“But while need has continued to rise, falling donations and the scourge of inflation have stripped back the funding these organisations need to do their work.

“Encouragingly, a new generation of young volunteers appear to have been galvanised and are keen to donate some of their time in 2023. This is hugely positive in the wake of falling volunteer numbers in recent years.

“While it should be noted that volunteers are not a cost-free resource for charities – requiring training and management among other things – if organisations are able to take on this new support, 2023 could be the year of the volunteer. That would be good for charities and society alike.”

Read the report here