Volunteers are getting younger – and it's not just because of Covid-19

New report throws light on a long-term trend towards increased youth volunteering

Volunteering rates in the over-55 age bracket have been steadily decreasing
Volunteering rates in the over-55 age bracket have been steadily decreasing

The number of older volunteers has declined during the pandemic, exacerbating trends across the sector over the past eight years, nfpSynergy has found.

Volunteering among 55- to 64-year-olds dropped from 16 per cent in November last year, to nine per cent in May 2020, according to research by the consultancy.

The report, entitled The big trend: Are young people replacing old people as the key volunteering group?, says there have been some fairly dramatic changes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, although volunteering among those over the age of 65 has been in decline since 2012, dropping from 28 to 13 per cent.

The company, which has monitored volunteering levels every quarter since 2012, found that general volunteering rates have stayed constant over the past eight years, with around one in five saying they have volunteered in the last three months. 

The report says that age has been the largest determinant affecting volunteering rates over the last decade or so. For those aged 55 and over, volunteering rates have decreased by around 10 to 15 per cent.

On average, just 10 per cent across the two age groups say they have volunteered in the last three months. However, the report notes that Covid-19 has meant elderly people have had to be much stricter in their self-isolation than other age groups.

Positively, volunteering rates amongst the under-30s has dramatically increased, reflecting a wider trend among 16- to 24-year-olds that has seen volunteering rates increase from 30 to 40 per cent since 2018.

Much of this age group has responded to the NHS call for volunteers or other local ‘mutual aid’ and voluntary schemes, says the report.

Joe Saxton, co-founder of nfpSynergy, said the figures corroborate rather than challenge the long-term trends in volunteering rates.

“Whilst in 2012 the older social groups outstripped the youth for levels of volunteering, that trend has steadily been reversed, suggesting that Covid-19 has merely exacerbated an existing trend, rather than restructured the landscape of volunteering,” he said.

“With youth volunteering it is likely that volunteering rates could be on the increase as school and universities generally are becoming increasingly encouraging of such a vocation. Securing a place at university or future employment is only aided by having some sort of volunteer experience and so potentially this is causing the upsurge.”

Saxton said the reasons for a decline in volunteering among the elderly are much less clear.

“The immediate downturn is no doubt due to Covid-19, but discerning the causes behind the longer-term decline is somewhat more difficult and could ultimately be based on a myriad of contributing factors,” he said.

“The disappointing decline this year in voluntary rates amongst the elderly is hardly surprising given the ongoing imposition Covid-19 has had on so many people’s lives.”

He added that while the decline was hardly surprising given the ongoing pandemic, it was heartening to see young people respond to the national crisis in such a positive way.

“Hopefully this upsurge in youth volunteering rates will remain a constant going forward,” said Saxton.

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