Volunteering linked to improved life satisfaction, happiness, and quality of life

Published by  Communications

On 20th Oct 2020

Image of a student handing over a food package

But people that stand to gain the most from volunteering face the biggest barriers to taking part

The Institute for Volunteering Research, based at the University of East Anglia (UEA), Spirit of 2012, and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing have today published new research revealing how volunteering can increase wellbeing, and how charities can avoid volunteer burnout as they plan their response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most people in Great Britain - around seven in ten - formally volunteer through a group, club or organisation at some point in their lives.* They offer invaluable support to improve the lives of other people.

The main findings of the comprehensive review that looked at over 17,000 published reports, and included evidence from 158 studies from the UK and internationally, are:

  • Volunteering is associated with enhanced wellbeing, including improved life satisfaction, increased happiness and decreases in symptoms of depression. Volunteering fits into the wellbeing cycle of communities. Either because volunteering leads to improved wellbeing for volunteers, or because when people feel well they are more likely to get involved.
  • Older people, the unemployed and those who already have chronic ill health and low wellbeing gain more from volunteering than others. Volunteering also has a buffering role for those going through life transitions, such as retirement or bereavement.
  • Groups with the most to gain from volunteering face barriers to getting involved because of lack of opportunity. Ill-health and disability are particular barriers for low income groups.
  • The intensity and demands of some volunteer roles may have a negative effect. The way volunteers are involved and engaged can enhance or hinder the positive wellbeing effects of volunteering.

The report highlights four key areas - and gives guidance - on how organisations improve the wellbeing of their volunteers.

  1. Being more inclusive.
  2. Increasing connectedness.
  3. Creating a more balanced volunteering experience.
  4. Making volunteering meaningful.

Jurgen Grotz, Director of UEA’s Institute for Volunteering Research said: “In these challenging times volunteering is both difficult and easy. In the face of so much need, those organising volunteering might find it difficult to create the enriching volunteering opportunities that engender the wellbeing we found it can. However, people also volunteer without being organised, bringing communities together in mutual aid and support. We now need to better understand what that means to individuals.”

Volunteer Wellbeing: What Works and Who Benefits is the first comprehensive review of the evidence available. Researchers from the Institute of Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA) sifted through 17k reports produced worldwide since 2008. From the 158 relevant studies, they looked at what makes a good volunteer experience and how programmes can be optimised for volunteers.

It is one of a series of research projects commissioned by Spirit of 2012 to build an evidence base of what works in delivering effective, inclusive and sustainable projects so that community groups, clubs and other organisations can support current and future activities and programmes.

*UK Civil Society Almanac 2020, NCVO

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