Volunteering during the covid-19 pandemic: what we know
Today we release our latest report examining volunteering during the covid-19 pandemic as part of our ongoing research into the volunteer experience. This is the fourth and final installment of the Time Well Spent reports, which complements the main survey of over 10,000 adults in Britain published in 2019.
Volunteering during the pandemic
Celebrated by the media and voluntary organizations at the start of the pandemic, covid-19 sparked unprecedented interest in volunteering. Government-supported programs such as the NHS Volunteer Responder and the Steward Volunteer Service have been successful in recruiting new volunteers.
While we had an idea of what has changed in the volunteering space, there was a critical gap in our knowledge, namely how volunteers felt when volunteering during the pandemic. The report first conducted an extensive literature review, examining the profound changes seen in volunteering.
Drawing on this knowledge, we conducted a series of in-depth focus group interviews, aiming to directly capture the voices of those who have given up their time during the pandemic. Participants ranged from people who volunteered for the first time during the pandemic, those who volunteered before and continued to volunteer during the pandemic, and those who stopped volunteering during the pandemic. . The discussion explored a range of topics including why they volunteered, how and where they volunteered, the role of digital technology and how they felt after volunteering. Below is a summary of their experiences:
People were driven to volunteer by a sense of duty
The start of the pandemic was marked by unexpected restrictions on social activities and concerns about the virus and its impact on vulnerable people. The volunteers, especially those who had given their time before the pandemic, felt a heightened sense of alarm and duty to “do something”. Some volunteers felt guilty staying home as healthcare workers were on the front line with rising infection rates. “I thought I had to do something,” was a phrase commonly heard in interviews. Changes in their work habits and home schooling have contributed to changes in their lives, which has allowed some to give more time than before. Other factors such as furloughs and school closures led those who had never volunteered to volunteer to occupy their time or seek social interaction. Their motivations for volunteering largely matched those before the pandemic, as noted in the original Time Well Spent.
Virtual volunteering only helped volunteers feel connected under strict lockdown
A key part of the interviews examined the role of digital technology and virtual volunteering during the pandemic. In the original Time Well Spent report, a sense of connection was a key component of a quality volunteering experience, and we were interested in exploring how and if virtual volunteering provided a sense of connection among volunteers. Volunteers shared their joy when they found their group of volunteers on Zoom under lockdown, and many recognized its benefits – the ease of use and wide reach it allows. However, for most participants, the preference was still for face-to-face volunteering. This was observed particularly among older volunteers, who believed it negatively affected the quality of their volunteer experience. Virtual volunteering has not served as an alternative for those who have stopped volunteering due to health issues. When we presented the option of virtual volunteering to the group of those who had stopped volunteering, they showed little appetite, saying they missed face-to-face volunteering. As society opened up, volunteers explicitly stated their preference for in-person volunteering over digital. While digital technology has opened doors for innovation in how volunteers operate, virtual volunteering has allowed volunteers to feel connected only under strict lockdown.
Volunteers suffer from burnout
As mentioned earlier, a sense of guilt has motivated some volunteers to volunteer their time during the pandemic. The pandemic has had an emotional impact on volunteers. Volunteers or not, participants recalled that the pandemic was a stressful time, which significantly affected their professional and social life, as well as their physical and mental health. Working during the pandemic to help others, some of them reported feeling exhausted and exhausted, which increasingly affected volunteers working with vulnerable people. As we move from the pandemic to the cost of living crisis, organizations involving volunteers must act quickly to address welfare issues and understand that some volunteers may not be able to resume volunteering immediately.
Health risks are an ongoing concern for those who have stopped volunteering
A number of people volunteered before the pandemic but quit during it, for a variety of reasons. A few of them stopped for life changes, such as pregnancy and engagement. However, the most commonly cited reason was health concerns. Not just for their own health, but also for their families in their care. This was especially different from other participants who did not feel unsafe volunteering during the pandemic. In other words, many of them quit against their will, which affected their social life and well-being. As society gradually opened up, their health problems persisted and they were reluctant to return to volunteering. Going forward, volunteer-based organizations will need to find creative ways to re-engage former volunteers.
You can read the full report here. At the end of the report, we explored our thoughts on the broader impact of these points. As we conclude our series of focused reports, we plan to relaunch the quantitative survey later this year to complement current research and further explore the impact of the pandemic on volunteers and volunteering.