Fundraising, Volunteer management

What does the latest ‘Community Life Survey’ tell us about volunteering and charitable giving?

Rhiannon Doherty, DSC Senior Researcher, explores the key findings from the Community Life Survey.

The Community Life Survey is an annual survey of adults in England that ‘aims to track the latest trends and developments across areas that are key to encouraging social action and empowering communities’. We’ve summarised some of the key findings from the 2021-2022 survey.  

Participation in formal and informal volunteering are both at the lowest recorded rates, since data collection started on the Community Life Survey in 2014.  

During 2021-22 just over half (55%) of the respondents (that’s approximately 25 million people in England) had taken part in volunteering at least once in the last 12 months. Whereas just over a third (34%) of respondents (that’s approximately 16 million people in England) had taken part in volunteering at least once a month. Overall, rates of volunteering were significantly lower than the rates of reported in 2020/21 (62%).  

The impact of covid (although reduced from 2020-21) still acted as a barrier to volunteering  for a small proportion of respondents.  

Notably, 14% of survey respondents cited ‘restrictions or concerns due to the pandemic’ as a barrier to volunteering.  This is an important finding – although 14% may seem like a relatively small proportion of the respondents, in real terms this represents almost 7 million people in England. If these individuals could be supported into (or back into) volunteering – this would provide a substantial influx of volunteers and may help to alleviate some of the recruitment challenges currently facing charities and voluntary organisations.   

Two-thirds (66%) of respondents said they had given money to charitable causes in the last four weeks – that’s approximately 30 million people in England.  

The proportion of people giving was slightly higher than in 2020/21 (63%), but lower than in 2019/20 (75%). This echoes other research undertaken by the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) which found that ‘public support for charities held up during the first lockdown, but the latter part of 2020 saw fewer people giving than usual and this trend has continued in 2021.’  

When asked what would help them to start giving or give more to charitable causes, over a third (34%) of respondents said ‘having more money’.  Given the current cost of living crisis, it’s unsurprising that respondents mentioned money as the most common barrier to giving; according to the Resolution Foundation, the average household is expected to be £2,100 worse off by the end of the next financial year due to cost of living increases, and with the Bank of England forecasting that the UK economy will remain in recession until at least 2024, it’s unlikely that the average person will have more disposable income to spare in the near future. 

There was a significant increase in people giving for overseas aid and disaster relief, which could be a response to the war in Ukraine.   

The most popular cause remained medical research. However, 19% of respondents gave overseas aid and disaster relief, compared to just 5% the previous year. This may be partly explained by a large number of donations in response to the war in Ukraine – the Disasters Emergency Committee reports that UK donors gave over £400million in support of Ukraine.   

So overall, does the survey bring good or bad news for the voluntary and community sector? 

Well, it’s particularly concerning that rates of volunteering are at their lowest levels since the survey began, but on the positive side half of respondents still say they volunteer in some way. Volunteers are arguably never more needed in today’s challenging socioeconomic climate – where increases in the cost of living are likely to exert financial pressures on charities and increase demand for their services.  

There’s a danger that the recent reduction in the number of people reporting that they gave to charitable causes could turn into a more prolonged trend. However, although these figures have been volatile in recent years, over the long-term they remain within a fairly predictable range. It may be some time before we know whether the pandemic and its aftermath have a sustained effect, but nevertheless we can see that the public is still willing and able to donate substantially to causes that people feel passionate about.