Charities struggling to retain staff and volunteers. What could the long-term impact be on society?

A community support group member and volunteer holding hands and smiling.

The third sector of charities, not-for-profit organisations, community interest companies (CICs), and community groups, suffered greatly during 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a trusted insurer of charities for over 20 years, we at Markel Direct were concerned that the sector may still be struggling to fully recover. As a result, in May 2023, we ran a survey and asked UK charities what their experiences of the current economic climate were, so we could gauge what wider impact on the third sector was.

We found that many charities have experienced a drop in donations (76%) and in public fundraising (75%), but a concern that jumped out at us was the impact recent economic struggles is having on charity volunteers.

Charities concerned over volunteer numbers

According to our survey, one of the major concerns of charities was that fewer people were volunteering, 19.47% of charities questioned said they were concerned by this downward trend.

While 63.46% of all respondents to our survey said they had experienced a drop of some kind in volunteer numbers in the past 12 months.

The downward trend in volunteering also saw 39.73% of charities surveyed saying they had struggled to retain staff as well as volunteers. This could indicate that people are willing to join charities and get involved but are not staying long-term.

A graph showing the most concerning issues for charities

What could less volunteers mean for charities?

Many charities rely heavily on the goodwill of volunteers and the commitment they give to helping charities deliver the charity’s services to those who need it.

Any shortage in volunteer numbers can adversely impact on the charity’s ability to deliver its services. A shortage of charity volunteers can result in charity shops not being able to open on certain days, which can significantly reduce the charity’s ability to earn revenue, which in-turn would reduce the amount of support the charity can afford to provide.

It can also mean that some charity events are unable to take place. One example of this scenario is Parkrun. Parkrun is a non-profit organisation that relies on volunteers to safely host its events every weekend. The initiative - which was formed in 2004 by friends who enjoyed running at Bushy Park, London – has proved to be vital for the physical and mental health of thousands of people across the world. However, if a Parkrun event can’t fill its volunteer roster, then typically that event is unfortunately cancelled, largely due to safety concerns.

According to our survey, 57.87% said they had struggled to attract volunteers and staff to their charity in the past year. This indicates the plight of the UK charity sector, because volunteers are the lifeblood of charity work.

What other impact could less volunteers have on a charity?

According to our survey, the fall in the number of volunteers and difficulty in retaining staff unfortunately forced 15.2% of non-profit organisations to turn service users and beneficiaries away.

15.2% may not appear to be a large problem, however, if that trend is the same for all charities and non-profits across the UK, then that would mean an astonishing 25,665 charity organisations would have had to turn people away who needed their help in the past 12 months. Although this number is based on supposition to a certain extent, it still hints at a lot of people across the UK, who need help, are not being served.

Are charities turning to alternative funding?

A shortage of charity volunteers and a shortfall in revenue could force charities to turn to third sector funding options for help. Indeed, 15% of charities we surveyed said they had taken out alternative financial support in the past 12 months.

However, if that funding is not made readily available, then the consequences might not be positive. 33% of respondents to our survey said they had experienced difficulty in sourcing funding.

On the back of this information we wrote an article highlighting sources of UK charity funding.


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