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Volunteering is good for you.  

People who volunteer have better mental and physical health than those who do not volunteer 1.  Volunteering has a positive effect on one’s sense of purpose and autonomy, and increases a person’s sense of happiness 2.


For many people, getting voluntary work is relatively straightforward and easy.  Here at VASWS, hundreds of applications for volunteer roles come through our online matching service every year.  And plenty of people who do not have easy access to the internet will visit our Volunteer Centres to be put in touch with volunteer-recruiting organisations directly.  


However for some people, factors such as lack of confidence, fear they will let others down, addictions, and mental health issues can prevent them getting involved in an activity that could greatly benefit both themselves and the organisation they volunteer for.


For organisations who are looking for more volunteers there are many people out there who, with encouragement and support, will be productive and enthusiastic workers.  An appreciation of the issues that can get in the way is the first step to recruiting them.  An understanding of what may be perceived as barriers within organisations is also helpful.  The two lists below set out our findings so far.


What gets in the way for potential volunteers

• lack of confidence

• lack of sustained motivation

• caring (including child care) responsibilities

• becoming detached from society and social / work norms (by long term unemployment etc.)

• mental health issues

• physical / sensory impairments

• learning difficulties

• offender histories

• lack of functional literacy / numeracy

• limited IT skills

• lack of skills needed for a particular volunteer opportunity

• poor spoken  / written English

• difficulties in getting on with other people

• difficulties in behaving appropriately

• lack of money to pay for e.g. travel, clothes / equipment needed

• fearing they’ll let people down

• fearing they’ll be exploited / undervalued in their volunteering

• life events (e. g. mental breakdown, becoming homeless, illness, hospital appointments)

• addictions (street drugs, alcohol etc.)

• paid work

• little or no time granted by employer for volunteering and/or difficulties engaging with volunteer-involving organisations outside office hours

• being unable to find volunteering opportunities they can / want to do


What gets in the way for volunteer-involving organisations

• not marketing their volunteering opportunity effectively or at all

• still marketing a volunteering opportunity that doesn’t exist

• mis-describing a volunteering opportunity

• requiring skills / experience not really necessary for that particular volunteering opportunity

• slowness in getting back to a potential volunteer who has expressed interest in an opportunity

• interviewing potential volunteers at an inappropriate  time / place / level of formality

• misplaced lack of confidence that the potential volunteer will, because of their physical / sensory impairment etc.,  be unable to accomplish the task required

• lack of confidence that the organisation can provide the support the volunteer may require

• ignorance / fear of the volunteer’s physical / sensory impairments / offender history

• ignorance of when Disclosure and Barring (‘DBS’) checks are and are not required

• feeling they are too pressurised by contractual responsibilities to support volunteers properly

• not providing required induction / training / appraisal / support of volunteers

• not securing and providing sufficient capacity to provide providing required induction / training / appraisal / support of volunteers

• not making reasonable adjustments to meet volunteers’ needs

• difficulties in engaging with volunteers around volunteers’ family / work / other responsibilities

• not paying volunteers for e.g. travel, clothes / equipment needed

• exploiting / undervaluing their volunteers


Our Welcome to Volunteering! project offers encouragement and practical support to people facing challenges getting into voluntary work and we have seen some very successful and satisfying outcomes.


1. Brown, Neese, Vinokur and Smith (2003), ‘Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: Results from a prospective study of mortality’ Psychological Science, 14 (4): 320-327

2. 2004, Economic and Social Research Council Democracy and Participation Research Programme


what gets in the way of volunteering?