NCVO's Time Well Spent Research 2023  found that volunteers are increasingly concerned about the costs associated with volunteering. The number of people who are worried about being out of pocket if they volunteer has risen from 5% in 2019 to 14% in 2023.

Birmingham’s amazing volunteers give up their time to support some of the city's most vulnerable people. The Voluntary, Community, Faith and Social Enterprise (VCFSE) Sector needs volunteers to help deliver vital services now more than ever.

In this blog, we consider some steps that you can take to effectively involve volunteers during the cost-of-living crisis.

These include:

  • Paying volunteer expenses 

  • Creating flexible volunteering opportunities 

  • Making inclusion a priority  


1. Paying volunteer expenses  

Volunteers across the board are increasingly worried about the costs they incur through volunteering. This is particularly evident amongst certain groups. Almost one in five 18- to 24-year-olds cited it as a reason for not volunteering in NCVOs research. In a report on Diversity in UK Volunteering, Human Appeal found that 36% of volunteers had personally paid for travel costs, 18% for data or Wi-Fi and 12% had to account for time lost from their own paid work. To continue effectively involving your volunteers throughout the cost-of-living crisis, it’s essential that you cover any reasonable expenses associated with volunteering. These could include travel costs, lunch or any resources purchased for volunteering activity. As we approach a new financial year, include volunteer expenses in your budgets.   

Alongside offering to pay expenses, it’s also important that you create a culture in which volunteers feel able to claim expenses. Some volunteers will find it hard to ask for their expenses to be reimbursed, particularly if they volunteer for a charity. Make sure that you have an expenses policy and process, that it’s made available to volunteers and that they are reimbursed quickly so they aren’t left out of pocket. If you need guidance on paying volunteer expenses, look at NCVOs guidance:   

2. Creating flexible volunteering opportunities 

Many organisations have been struggling to recruit new volunteers over the past few years. Data from the 2021/22 Community Life Survey shows that rates of formal volunteering have dropped from 23% in 2019/20 to 16% in 2021/22. Human Appeal also found that 33% of all UK volunteers have had to cut back on their charitable time due to the cost-of-living crisis 

Despite these statistics, we can continue to successfully involve volunteers throughout the cost-of-living crisis, but the nature of volunteering needs to change. More traditional volunteering roles which involve a regular commitment or set number of hours are less appealing. This is because people have more personal commitments or might be working longer hours to make ends meet. Now and into the future, volunteering opportunities must be flexible and enable people to give their time in the ways that work best for them. Consider how you can incorporate more flexibility into new and existing volunteering roles. Ask yourself: 

  • Do volunteers need to give a minimum number of hours?  

  • Do volunteers need to be available on set days and times or could you be more flexible? 

  • Could volunteers engage virtually or from home? 

  • Can you simplify your volunteer recruitment journey to make it more accessible?  

  • Are there small ‘micro’ opportunities that volunteers could do to support your work? 

If you would like to learn more about micro volunteering, look at this article from Volunteero: Young Lives vs. Cancer and Alzheimer's Society also have some great examples of micro volunteering roles.  

3. Making inclusion a priority  

The rising cost of living is disproportionately affecting those communities and people who were already experiencing financial hardship. Research by Human Appeal found that rates of volunteering have reduced more amongst Black and Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) volunteers. Their report states that 38% of BAME volunteers now volunteers less, compared to 30% of non-BAME volunteers. It also found that 47% of BAME volunteers who now volunteer less, made this change because they need to spend more time working in their paid employment. 41% had new responsibilities directly related to the effects of the cost-of-living crisis that left them with no spare time to volunteer. 22% could no longer afford the costs related to volunteering. While data isn't readily available, this could be the case for other groups too such as young people, students, people who are not currently working, single parents or people with disabilities.  

The topics of expenses and flexibility discussed above are also inclusion priorities – if we don’t reimburse expenses, we’ll exclude volunteers who can’t afford to be out of pocket for giving their time. If we don’t offer more flexibility, we’ll exclude those who need to fit their volunteering around work or caring responsibilities. We know that volunteering has many benefits for citizens, organisations and communities, but there are inequalities in those who are most likely to be able to give their time to volunteering. Inclusion is already a priority in volunteering, but it’s more important than ever that we adapt and ensure that people from all backgrounds can give their time to support our city 

Seizing new opportunities  

While it’s a difficult time for many people, we are also being presented with opportunities. Lots of citizens are concerned about people in their community and are willing to volunteer to support those impacted by rising costs.  

Human Appeals research found that 36% of BAME volunteers now volunteer more because of the cost-of-living crisis. 23% of non-BAME volunteers also began volunteering more. In another report by Censuswide, 52% of Gen Z respondents (that's people currently aged 11-26) said that the cost-of-living crisis had made them want to volunteer. While the sector is facing challenges with volunteer recruitment, there are lots of people keen to support those who are struggling. If you're running services that support people affected by increased living costs, it's worth communicating how you do this to attract new volunteers. 

Many services in Birmingham are also finding that they need to expand or create offers to support people affected by increased living costs. If you’re finding yourself in that situation, you can involve volunteers to support the delivery of your services. There can be opportunities to involve volunteers in all aspects of service delivery including admin and marketing support, frontline service delivery or post-service engagement. If you’re looking to involve volunteers or create new volunteering roles, look at NCVOs guidance on involving volunteers:  

What next?

The cost-of-living crisis is impacting volunteering, and we need to consider how we can best continue to involve volunteers during this time. However, we’re also being presented with opportunities. It’s a chance to involve volunteers in new ways and create more flexible volunteering roles. It’s also an opportunity to review existing policies, procedures and approaches to ensure they consider the cost of volunteering and are fair and inclusive.  

Many of the principles in this blog are also captured in Birmingham’s Vision for Volunteering. It sets out an aspirational view of how we want volunteering in Birmingham to look by 2027 If you would like to find out more about Birmingham’s Vision for Volunteering, contact Becky at [email protected].

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