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Giving back going forwards - how volunteering should respond to changing needs

11 June 2015

Giving back going forwards [ 1.1 mb] explores how volunteering needs to be more responsive to modern lives.

Volunteering provides great value to society and the enormous contribution that volunteers make should be recognised. But the volunteering landscape is changing. Volunteering must respond to these changes if it is to meet modern day motivations and challenges.

Taking the experiences and motivations of our own volunteers as ‘prompts’, we consider volunteers’ needs and motivations in a changing social and economic context. We consider how volunteering can meet some of the major challenges facing wider society, as well as maximising the social good volunteers deliver to others.

Though people are primarily motivated to volunteer out of altruism, we find a number of secondary motivations amongst our clients which mirror changes in wider society:

  • Many people are motivated to volunteer into order to improve their employment prospects. At the same time, young people are taking longer to transition from education to work and the labour market is becoming increasingly insecure.

    Being responsive to this motivation and context means volunteering needs to fit with people’s experience of today’s labour market and consider how it can support those struggling to move into work.

  • Many people are also motivated to volunteer to develop a stake in their local community. Alongside this, our communities are becoming both more transient, more diverse, and in many areas more digital.

    Volunteering organisations, therefore, need to reach out to people in communities beyond their “civic core”  of long-term residents and homeowners, and explore how to harness the increasing time and energy people spend online.

  • Finally, many people volunteer as a way to help improve their health and wellbeing. This is in the context of an increase in people living alone, a greater knowledge of the negative health impacts of loneliness and isolation, and a rapidly ageing population.

    In response to this, volunteering organisations should establish and promote the health and wellbeing benefits of their work, and collaborate with health and care agencies to ensure that those likely to benefit have access to volunteering opportunities.

Overall, we argue for a new agenda for volunteering organisations and for government: responsive volunteering. Because If volunteering is to be fit for modern life, it must respond to the changing needs of volunteers and wider society.