Event Volunteering: The rise, fall and reignition?

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Autumn 2022

With the cost of living continuing to rise, will it always be inevitable that volunteering will decline? With extra jobs and less free time, businesses need to change and adapt to the new climate. Here’s how… 

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Increase your knowledge, reduce your time: heres 5 top tips to help you, and to take away into your managerial world.

A pillar of the Event Industry

Worldwide, volunteering has reached 1 billion people, with this labor being equal to the use of over 109 million full-time workers. The impact that volunteering has played within the industry for events cannot take place without the support from these volunteers. Glastonbury, for example, one of the UK’s largest music festivals, has an intake of 3000 volunteers each year in comparison to around 100 paid positions.

So why exactly are volunteers significant within the events industry? 

One major impact of the use of volunteers is the economic effect, as they are content to work for small incentives in comparison to large pay checks. Glastonbury volunteers will receive free festival entry for the labor of just three shifts, motivating individuals to want to take part. 

Involving volunteers can bring innovative ideas, skills, and experience to the event that may not have been implemented. Creativity allows people to think differently about how an event runs, seizing opportunities within current society and showing just how volunteers can bring more value to the function than just the expenses that they incur. 

The cost of existing on the rise

One of the factors that has contributed to growing inflation is the price of consumer products, which has been caused by strong demand from customers as well as bottlenecks in the supply chain. Another key factor contributing to inflation is the cost of energy, which is reflected, among other things, in the rising housing energy tariffs and petrol prices around the country. Because of this, people’s disposable earnings have diminished; over 1/5 of UK households have an average of £60 of spending money left over after bills and food shopping, the lowest amount in the past 5 years, which has had a significant negative effect on volunteering.  

During this ever-increasing squeeze, more and more people are claiming expenses back, such as fuel mileage, in order to continue to afford being a volunteer, driving up the price for organisations and inevitably costing them more money than it’s worth. Volunteering could be damaged if companies start refusing to compensate volunteers for things like transportation, housing, and food. If people are going to lose a substantial amount of money, they will likely opt to cease volunteering in order to be able to sustain a livelihood. 

Are businesses in trouble? 

As the cost of living continues to rise, businesses operations have been significantly impacted. 

It is said that volunteering is free but not cost-free; therefore, it has declined by 17% between 2019-2020. Most businesses do not offer a monetary incentive, so individuals do not want to spend their time on something that may cost them more money than it provides. Businesses must now recognise that reimbursing people is more important than ever for them to feel appreciated and a part of something bigger.  

Volunteers are now claiming reimbursement for their travel, food, and uniform. If they are denied reimbursement, they will no longer volunteer. This is somewhat contentious because it is argued that volunteers add more value than money. 

Some businesses choose not to do this as rising costs cause suppliers and contractors to raise their rates, influencing businesses to cut their budgets. This raises the unfair issue of staffing problems where businesses cannot afford to pay their employees and must rely on volunteers to manage the event for free. 

This raises the question, “How are you treating your employees?”.  

Individual’s ulterior motives… 

With bills and living costs continuing to rise, over 5.2 million UK workers have taken on a second or third job in order to earn extra income to meet the demands of increased bills. This shift in attitude has seen paid work become a priority as household budgets have tightened in order to accommodate for the current and unpredictable rate of inflation. The average working hours for millions of UK employees have increased to an average of 48 hours per week.  Increased employment opportunities are taking up more time for individuals, leaving 64% feeling overwhelmed, which is having a detrimental effect on their leisure time and their willingness to volunteer.  

Since the pandemic, workers have become accustomed to flexible work arrangements regarding hours and location. This format may still be in demand, even in the context of volunteering. Flexible volunteering schedules and even volunteering from home will help the vast majority of society to save money on travel costs and reduce time constraints from additional journeys. This raises the question of whether volunteering programs could be undertaken in home environments. 

5 Top Tips for you!

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What do you already offer your volunteers? Are you willing to compromise and adapt to the ever-changing external environment? Leave your thoughts below!


Esther says:

A very interesting topic and such an important issue in the industry! From the top tips it is suggested that volunteers can work from home – what kind of roles do you see them completing in this style? 🙂

s4007671 says:

Hi Esther,
Thank you for commenting on our blog, you pose a really interesting question about volunteering.
In terms of volunteering at home for the events industry, admin roles such as social media responses, marketing, phone calls or emails could be looked at from a home environment. Additionally, any welcome packs and signage could be made from home if organisations are prepared to send out resources to do so. A lot of volunteers also need training, and this may be completed in an online setting which can save both the volunteer and organisation time and money, by reducing resource and travel costs too!

Holly Foster says:

This is a really interesting topic in line with the current situation of the economy. One thing that I find quite interesting is that different demographics may have a different outlook on this. Myself as a student is thinking about volunteering for a music festival like Glastonbury as I will be saving myself a lot of money on a ticket as still be able to see some of the acts and have a similar experience. There may be an increase in some demographics volunteering but a decrease in others?

s4007671 says:

Hi Holly,
Thank you for commenting on our blog, it is really interesting to hear students’ motivations for volunteering at events, especially during the current financial climate.
Your question poses some really insightful considerations in relation to demographics. The cost of living could take two turns in relation to volunteering numbers as some may wish to use volunteering as escapism and like you suggested, be able to enjoy discounted experiences and focus on well-being.
Or volunteer age may increase as potentially older generations from middle age onwards might have more free time as they do not have the burden of taking on extra jobs to pay for increased bills and large family home. Therefore, they may have more ease of ability to give up their time and experience new opportunities themselves. Posing the question of whether volunteers need to fit and represent to the event image.

Louise Price says:

I would be interested to know how you think this will affect the different demographics when it comes to volunteers? Do you think younger people will still step up to volunteer? Equally retirees that volunteer would they stop volunteering?

s4007671 says:

Hi Louise,
Thank you for commenting on our blog, this area of this topic definitely is one that has quite a few answers! Personally, as a student, I would not be enticed to volunteer if it meant spending a copious amount of my own money unless there was either a definite sense of reembursement or the experience would leave me with a new skillset that I could use in my future career. However retirees who may not be as concerned about their finances will potentially keep volunteering as the rising cost of living might not affect them greatly to the point they would give up this job. Therefore this contemporary issue will affect differing demographics in different ways

Helen Danks says:

So many major events rely on volunteers to make the event happen – the Birmingham Commonwealth Games being a prime example. The buzz of that you get when volunteering and feeling part of a community of like-minded, spirited people is amazing. This is why so many people give freely of their time when volunteering. However, there has to be a reality check on people’s capacity to volunteer when if costs them real money. No matter the joy of volunteering, it is always going to come second to putting food on the table.

s4007671 says:

Hi Helen,
Thank you for your comment, volunteers really are the pillar for events! It is really important managers are able to retain their volunteers especially in such hard times. It all comes down to finding the balance that works for everyone, but it is such a challenge when everyone has very unique and different circumstances that they need to consider.

Sofia says:

This is a really interesting topic and very relevant to the current climate. I work for a charity as an Events Fundraiser, and if I am honest, we haven’t had this problem. The large majority of our volunteers are retired/elderly so often looking to do something to keep them busy. This however does pose another problem that we as an organization recognize the need for younger volunteers, especially as for the type events where you are needed to be re-active as an event marshal if someone was to injure themselves etc. Younger people would rather work and earn money which to be honest, we can’t blame them for! It would be interesting to hear what charities can do to attract younger volunteers?

s4007671 says:

Hi Sofia,
Thank you for your comment, very insightful to learn about your experiences right now with volunteering. Depending on the type of event posed for the volunteers, a possible way to attract younger volunteers would be to allow them to experience a particular area of the event that they might be interested in or give them a range of incentives that they can choose from as they will be more inclinded to get something out of the volunteering as well as experience which might make them want to return for other events you stage in the future.

Caroline Lloyd says:

What an fascinating piece! It will be interesting to see how the correlation between the rising cost of living and reduction in level of volunteering, develops. It depends greatly on a) the motivating factors of volunteering in the first place and b) whether there is a relationship between the need for paid work versus volunteering. If the supposition is that most volunteers are not dependent on additional income or that employment is not an option (may be as retired, unable to work for health reasons for example) then I imagine it would not have an impact on volunteering.
I’d be interested to read more about volunteering from home as in my mind most volunteers I am aware of do very practical roles.
Thank you for sparking these questions in my mind.

s4007671 says:

Hi Caroline,
Thank you for your comment, you have raised some really thought-provoking ideas. Your view around volunteers who may not be dependent on additional income is a really valid point and in some circumstances it may that the cost of living does not affect certain interest groups.
Volunteers do take on very practical roles, especially on the day of the event. Volunteering from home could more of the role of admin and elements surrounding that, such as marketing, emails or responding to social media comments. Additionally, if events were hybrid volunteers may be able to help within the virtual aspect of the event. For example, if fundraising events were online volunteers may be able to help host the event or do work behinds the scenes such as sending out resource packs and event programs. It may be harder offering the option of volunteering at home for larger/mega events, but this could be something that develops over the next few years if events continue to be hybrid or virtual. It would certainly help to make volunteering more accessible!

Mark Edwards says:

This is a really powerful argument and brings to mind how widespread this issue may become. It also allows you to reflect on the possible impact that this may have on volunteers in charities as well as Events. Making volunteering accessible for people with many very different personal circumstances is a pragmatic approach to supporting the Events industry as this situation is probably only going to worsen in the next 12 months. Great article!

s4007671 says:

Hello Mark, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts this morning, we really appreciate the feedback.
We think it is important volunteering is accessible to everyone as developing skills and mindsets should not be restricted. Nowadays, many employers focus on experience on resumes, so volunteering at various events may stand out more than other details. For instance, working as an administrator for a local charity event or a steward at a major sporting event can help develop a combination of hard and soft skills. Again, these opportunities should be available to as many people as possible to ensure that everyone has an equal chance.

Deborah says:

Very interesting subject especially in regards to today financial climate. Volunteering does give one a sense of fulfilment and buzz especially on huge events such as concerts and sport events. However they do usually come at a cost to the individual whether it be for travel, necessary attire or food in some cases. Therefore I do believe that the number of individuals volunteering in the near future will drastically decline which will have a huge impact on coming events.

s4007671 says:

Hi Deborah, thank you so much for commenting and sharing your thoughts.
It is so important businesses understand the importance volunteers have on other members of staff and the attendees itself in creating unique and memorable experiences. Without them, events will struggle with their staffing issues and may not reach peoples expectations, leading to disappointments and possibly negative reputations of the event image.

Marie-Ann says:

This is a really interesting blog. It’s very useful to understand how the cost of living crisis is impacting upon volunteering. From working a small cultural festival over the summer I understand how important volunteers are to the industry. We had very little people who were willing and able to volunteer which caused issues for us. What is your advice to recruiting and retaining volunteers year on year?

s4007671 says:

Hi Marie-Ann, thank you for your comment! Even without the cost of living on the rise, trying to retain volunteers to come back year and year is extremely difficult, our advice for the recruitment and then the following of retaining would include some form of benefits- such as free meals and the offer of roaming the event before or after their shift as well as allowing volunteers to work in areas of interest so they are passionate about coming in to work thus creating that loyalty meaning they would want to return and work for you in the future

Toni says:

This is interesting… Volunteering is such a huge part of the events industry and the individuals who take part can very often create lasting memories for the patrons – the volunteers for London 2012 or the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games stand out for me. However, if the cost of volunteering is going to outweigh the benefits, this will understandably reduce the amount of individuals who will willingly give up their time, especially in the current climate. It would be great to see businesses providing incentives to combat this, and seeing the WFH aspects grow. I wasn’t really aware that WFH as a volunteer was really ‘a thing’ within the events industry, so I’d be interested to hear more about it!

s4007671 says:

Hi Toni, thank you for this comment and sharing your thoughts. Alot of outsiders of events do not realise the immense impact volunteers have on some of the most significant events, like you mentioned the 2012 London Olympics and the more recent 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games, events such as these without the help of volunteers would definitely of had a significant outcome in terms of their success in regards to the execution of operations. Therefore it is imperative that businesses start to open up to providing incentives for current and future volunteers in order to retain and recruit as well as developing a WFH system to attract a new audience of volunteers!

Marion BA says:

A very interesting read, thanks for highlighting some of the key issues that impact on the volunteering industry. I know that it is often something that is carried out by the retired community or young people hoping to gain experience in an industry before they launch into a career. The recruitment of volunteers must be difficult when the cost of living is so high. From personal experience, some volunteers gain so much from their time spent as a volunteer, personal satisfaction (giving back) and an opportunity to work with animals for example. A lot of businesses and animals (equine industry and guide dogs) would suffer if people didn’t volunteer. Not everyone is motivated by money but if they cannot afford their living expenses they may not be able to work for free.

s4007671 says:

Hi Marion, thank you for commenting and sharing your thoughts! With all prices going up and people having no money, people would not want to attend events or volunteer, affecting the event experience and putting stress on the staffing. This is an issue for all events, especially ones relating to animals as people do not think impact the impact it has on the animals and staff involved, considering it as unfair.

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