Public sector volunteers less satisfied than charity volunteers, report finds

People who give their time to charities are more satisfied than those who volunteer for public services, such as hospitals, libraries and schools, new research has revealed.

New figures by the NCVO have revealed one in four (24%) of volunteers for public services, think their work feels ‘too much like paid work’ and are more likely to report their experience is ‘too bureaucratic’ and less likely to ‘feel a sense of belonging’ to the organisation they are volunteering with.

According to the research, Time Well Spent: volunteering in the public sector, public sector volunteers said they were more likely to quit volunteering than their charity counterparts.

It found that while 94% of those volunteering in the public sector say that they were satisfied with their experience, only 47% said they were ‘very satisfied’, compared to 58% among charities and community group volunteers, while only 76% said they would continue volunteering in the future compared to 83% among charity volunteers.

‘Too much bureaucracy’

Public sector volunteers were almost twice as likely as charity volunteers to say they expected the process of getting involved to be quicker (20% v 11%), suggesting slow procedures in the public sector may be contributing to dissatisfaction.

Similarly, they were around 50% more likely than charity volunteers to report that there is ‘too much bureaucracy’ (32% v 21% of volunteers).

Respondents who are volunteers at larger organisations particularly expressed the frustrations of bureaucracy and hierarchy, claiming they sometimes felt ‘at the bottom of the pile’.

Over one in five (22%) of respondents said they felt the organisation had unreasonable expectations of their time, compared to 14% of charity volunteers.

In focus groups, public sector volunteers reported feeling ‘growing pressure’ and a sense of expectation to give more time as the services they volunteered for came under financial pressure, which diminished their enjoyment of their roles.

A sense of volunteering becoming ‘too much like paid work’ was driven by a combination of a sense of obligation and a feeling of lack of appreciation or being valued.

Focus groups also revealed that those giving their time at organisations where staff and volunteers had positive and supportive relationships were more satisfied, but with volunteers also conscious that morale levels among staff impacted how their volunteering experience felt.

“The differences we found in the survey are not always dramatic but along with what we heard in focus groups they do hint at areas for improvement in public sector volunteering programmes, particularly in terms of making roles flexible and minimising bureaucracy,” NCVO chief executive Karl Wilding said.

“I firmly believe that public services are able to do this, even in the context of financial pressure, and I sense a great willingness to do so from the public sector leaders I speak to.

“Good volunteering programmes can deliver great returns for communities and public sector bodies, but they do require investment, both financially and in terms of a real commitment from organisations to truly understand volunteering. There are some excellent volunteering programmes in the public sector and the question now is how we help all organisations match these examples.’

The research is based on a survey of 10,000 adults in Great Britain, conducted with YouGov, which explored who volunteers, where, why, and how they feel about their volunteering.

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