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

Latest News

  News
Good Neighbours logo
12 May 2021

Fine City Neighbours

New campaign calls on Norwich neighbours to join the fight against digital inequality

Read more >
  News
12 May 2021

How fasting diets could harm future generations

Fasting diets could impact the health of future generations according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Read more >
  News
11 May 2021

Honoured army veteran retrains to help bolster NHS

An army veteran, who received an MBE for her work with bereaved military families, says bolstering the NHS workforce is more important than ever as she retrains...

Read more >
  News
10 May 2021

UEA team reads minds to understand human tool use

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have made an astonishing discovery about how our brains control our hands.

Read more >
Are you searching for something?
  News
10 May 2021

UEA team reads minds to understand human tool use

Researchers at the University of East Anglia have made an astonishing discovery about how our brains control our hands.

Read more >
  News
Karen Heywood at the Antarctic
07 May 2021

Prof Karen Heywood honoured as Fellow of the Royal Society

UEA’s Prof Karen Heywood, Professor of Physical Oceanography in ENV, has been recognised for a lifetime of pioneering research into the physics of the ocean with...

Read more >
  News
07 May 2021

How we created the 'perfect storm' for pandemics

The way that many of us live has created the “perfect storm” for the evolution and transmission of infectious diseases like Covid-19 according to a researcher at...

Read more >
  News
05 May 2021

UEA collaborative project to improve global electoral integrity

A University of East Anglia (UEA) researcher will jointly lead a project to improve elections around the world, thanks to a grant of nearly $193,000CAN.

Read more >
  News
03 May 2021

Personalised medications possible with 3D printing

Customised medicines could one day be manufactured to patients’ individual needs, with University of East Anglia (UEA) researchers investigating technology to 3D...

Read more >
  News
Students studying a volcano
30 Apr 2021

Geoscientists call for action on tackling racial inequality 

An article published in the journal Nature Geoscience has highlighted the shocking under-representation of students from ethnic minority backgrounds in the...

Read more >
  News
30 Apr 2021

Thousands of men to trial prostate cancer home testing kit

Thousands of men worldwide are to receive a home test kit for prostate cancer – thanks to pioneering research from the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk...

Read more >