Volunteering is delivering productivity gains worth billions to the UK economy each year, a new study finds.

The report by Pro Bono Economics (PBE), commissioned by national volunteering charity Royal Voluntary Service, estimates productivity gains worth at least £4.6 billion each year, or £4,551 per volunteer(1), arising from volunteering by those in professional and managerial occupations.

The PBE report, titled A pro bono bonus: The impact of volunteering on wages and productivity, stresses that these productivity gains would likely be even higher if the voluntary efforts of those in other job roles, as well as the benefits of volunteering to unemployed people, were taken into account.

Exploring the effects of volunteering on those not in employment, the report gives a strong indication that engaging in voluntary service could also help people back into work. And it underlines the keen interest among jobseekers for supported volunteer roles that could prepare them for finding paid employment. Drawing from Censuswide research, the PBE report shows:

  • Over half (59%) of adults who are currently not employed (2) would like to find employment, but barriers such as ill-health (39%) loss of confidence (33%) and a lack of experience (21%) are holding them back.
  • Analysis of existing evidence (3) suggests volunteering can increase skills, with the outcome being increased confidence. This is mirrored in the new research. Among the unemployed people who said they were currently or had volunteered, 38% had gained new skills and a third (32%) had grown in confidence.
  • The majority (68%) of people who are currently unemployed would be interested in supported volunteering opportunities (which include tailored training and mentoring) that help boost their skills, confidence and wellbeing to prepare them to find work. This rises to 74% of those aged 18-24.
  • Over two fifths (44%) of respondents had not considered volunteering before being asked, indicating more could be done to promote and encourage volunteering among jobseekers.

It was also found that that if the estimated 185,000 currently unemployed people from professional and managerial backgrounds were to volunteer at the same rate as those employed, it would provide a productivity boost to the economy valued at £67.5 million(4).

Based on the insights, PBE and Royal Voluntary Service have proposed a series of policy recommendations to support the benefits of volunteering to individuals, society and the wider economy. These are:

  1. Volunteering has been shown to have positive effects for the volunteers, the beneficiaries, communities and society as a whole; the government should show its full support for volunteering and invest in an activity which contributes to the nation’s prosperity.
  2. Given the positive effects on productivity, there should be a collective effort to expand employee volunteering opportunities across the entire workforce, enabling everyone at work to benefit whatever their role.
  3. The voluntary sector should continue to develop more flexible volunteering opportunities to enable wider participation around work commitments.
  4. The government recently announced the Back to Work Plan to help reduce economic inactivity; where appropriate, jobseekers should be provided with access to volunteering opportunities that could help them develop or utilise existing skills or show a commitment to an organisation and its cause that might help when applying for paid work.
  5. Organisations that provide volunteering opportunities should think about whether they could present volunteers with some type of formal recognition for their volunteering that can be used as evidence of their achievements. This would be particularly beneficial for unemployed people who are encouraged to take part in volunteering in relation to skills development, confidence-building or simply developing networks that could lead to new opportunities.

Dr Jansev Jemal, Director of Research and Policy at Pro Bono Economics, said:

The latest available data shows nearly 25 million people in England and Wales alone volunteered formally and informally in the previous 12 months(5). This represents vast amounts of labour, which being unpaid means it goes unnoticed in official statistics relating to the wider economy. But, as our research shows, volunteering is contributing significantly to the economy through increased productivity.

“Despite the substantial scale of its contribution to both society and the economy, the social sector has not always had the respect it deserves. It is really important that we keep building a growing body of evidence to demonstrate its true value and use it to strengthen the relationship between government and the sector. We need to see greater emphasis on the individual and economic benefits of volunteering from all sides.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service, said: 

 “Millions of volunteers give their time to support important causes and their communities. Often completing many hours of unpaid service each year, volunteers are the lifeblood of our society, but also a vital contributor to the economy.”

“As we have noticed with our own volunteers, volunteering is a very effective means to improve confidence and skills and show commitment to an organisation, helping both  employed and unemployed people boost their employability and prospects. The report has also shown a clear appetite among those currently out of work to volunteer. That’s why we’re now calling for better access to volunteering opportunities for job seekers, alongside more formal recognition for volunteers’ achievements.”

Matt Whittaker, Chief Executive Offer, Pro Bono Economics said:“Volunteers are a vital resource for charities, but can also benefit personally and professionally through skills development and utilisation, making new connections, increased confidence and wellbeing. These rewards for individuals translate into wider benefits for the economy. By encouraging volunteering, productivity gains can be achieved and it makes for a compelling case for businesses to expand employee volunteering opportunities across their entire workforce, enabling everyone at work to benefit.”

 To download a full copy of the report, please go to www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/probonobonus