The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has called on charities to make it easier for people to volunteer after it published the largest survey of people’s attitudes towards volunteering in a decade.
Time Well Spent, which is based on a weighted survey carried out in May of more than 10,000 adults in the UK, paints a broadly positive picture of volunteering among charities and public sector organisations.
Researchers found that almost all volunteers – 96 per cent – who had volunteered at least once in the previous 12 months said they were very or fairly satisfied with their experience.
The report says that 90 per cent of volunteers felt they made a difference through their volunteering, and 80 per cent said they were likely to continue volunteering with their main organisation over the next 12 months.
More than three-quarters of volunteers – 77 per cent – said the activity had improved their mental health and wellbeing, and 53 per cent said it had improved their physical health.
About three-quarters agreed it had given them more confidence, and 71 per cent said they had gained new skills and experience.
The report says that more than three-quarters of 18 to 24-year-olds – the group most likely to be affected by feelings of loneliness – said volunteering helped to make them feel less socially isolated.
But it adds that, although 90 per cent of those who had recently volunteered said it was straightforward to start volunteering, almost a quarter of young people said they had expected the process to be quicker.
More than a third of volunteers said they thought things could be better organised, and almost a quarter thought there was too much bureaucracy involved.
Researchers found that almost a fifth of volunteers – 19 per cent – said they felt their volunteering was becoming too much like paid work.
This view was more prevalent among frequent volunteers who gave time once a week and among those volunteering at public sector organisations or at organisations with paid volunteer coordinators.
The report says that people from higher socio-economic groups were far more likely to be involved in volunteering than those in lower groups.
Among those who had never volunteered, one of the most frequently cited reasons for not volunteering was that they had never thought about it, the report says.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said volunteering could be "truly transformative" for people’s lives.
"It reduces isolation, improves confidence, provides new experiences, improves employment prospects and fundamentally it’s deeply rewarding," he said.
"But sadly, those who stand to benefit the most from volunteering are less likely to be involved.
"Institutions – charities and the public sector – need to take a hard look at themselves and think about what barriers they might inadvertently be creating.
"In particular, we need to make sure it’s easy to start volunteering."
Young people had higher expectations than older people of the process being simple and quick, he added.
Researchers defined volunteering as unpaid formal activity carried out through groups, clubs or organisations.