The 12-month study will begin with an extensive mapping exercise within the next few weeks. Charities will be asked to fill in a detailed questionnaire to establish whether the risk of legal action is affecting volunteer numbers.
Dr Justin Davis Smith, deputy chief executive of Volunteering England, said: "We have heard of cases in the sporting world where would-be volunteers are so scared of being sued that they are put off getting involved with a charity.
'We want to find out whether we are living in an increasingly litigious society suffering from a culture of compensation."
The study will also look at the insurance issue - the cost of insuring volunteers can be out of reach for some charities. Volunteering England hopes to address this through consultations with the Association of British Insurers.
In addition to talking to volunteering organisations, the survey will seek to gauge the views of volunteers themselves. There are also proposals to set up a 'Volunteering and Risk Forum' to debate any recommendations that emerge and to produce a good-practice guide. Dr Davis Smith added: "It's far too early to predict the outcome, but my hunch is that legal action is more of a concern than a reality.
"But even if we can prove that it is a misconception, it is as damaging as if it were true if it means that would-be volunteers are being put off."