The 21st Century Volunteer, which was produced by the not-for-profit think tank and commissioned by the Scout Association, shows that, in October this year, 19 per cent of those surveyed said they had volunteered in the past three months - the same as in October 2004. The report estimates that there are about eight million volunteers in the UK.
The survey uses a sample of 1,000 people every quarter and found that, in July, only 16 per cent said they had volunteered, compared with 18 per cent in July 2002.
The figures contrast with those in the recent Home Office report, A Generous Society, which claims that there are 20 million volunteers a month. the figure dates from 2003, the last year for which figures are available.
The main reason for the discrepancy is that the Home Office includes both formal and informal volunteering. Formal volunteering is defined as: "Giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not relatives, and through groups, clubs or organisations to benefit other people or the environment at least once a month."
Informal volunteering is that done on an individual basis rather than through an organisation. This definition is also used by the Institute for Volunteering Research, run by Volunteering England, and includes activities such as helping a neighbour fill out a hospital form.
The nfpSynergy report did not give those who took part in the survey a definition, while the Home Office gave specific examples as well as a definition.
Joe Saxton, director of nfpSynergy, said: "According to the Home Office, the biggest category of informal volunteering is giving advice, which could include telling someone how to get to the shops. The Government is doing great stuff on volunteering and giving, but it shouldn't be using figures in this dubious way."
Dr Justin Davis Smith, deputy chief executive of Volunteering England, said: "Giving advice is an important form of volunteering. However, we would not include someone telling another person how to get to the swimming pool.
"We don't just ask people if they have volunteered without giving examples because they have a limited definition of volunteering."
- See Editorial, page 22.