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David Coles

November 10th, 2021

5 things we learnt from our 2021 student volunteering research

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

David Coles

November 10th, 2021

5 things we learnt from our 2021 student volunteering research

0 comments | 3 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

We’ve just released the results of our annual student volunteering survey focusing on the 2020/21 academic year. A record high of 2477 students responded, giving us insights into all of their volunteering activities and the thoughts of those that don’t volunteer. We put students at the heart of everything we do in the Volunteer Centre so listening to their opinions is crucial to making improvements and understanding the impact of volunteering as part of student life at LSE.

So what did we learn? How do we think COVID-19 and the various consequences of that have affected volunteering amongst the LSE student community? What can we do better?

1. Altruistic motivations are at their highest ever levels

As in previous years altruistic motivators are the highest for students. However, improving things has had its highest ever response rates from students with almost 95% saying this is a motivator for them. Giving back to society and my personal values also have the highest ever results.

Personal development motivators are still important too, such as: seeking careers related outcomes, making friends and enhancing learnings from their LSE course but all of these are some way behind the altruistic motivators.

2. Higher levels of dedication from those that do volunteer

29.6% of 1st year undergraduates volunteered in the 2020/21 academic year, down from 39% in 2019/20 and 31.2% in 2018/19. However, volunteering rates have broadly stayed the same with other student groups, such as 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates, contributing more. Additionally, the commitment of those who do volunteer has increased sharply. Those volunteering at least once a week, at 41.7%, is at it’s highest rate since 2016 and an increase from 36.2% from 2019/20. Further to this almost 60% of those that do volunteer do so all year round, not just in term time.

3. Increased numbers of students unsure how to volunteer

The biggest reason, by some distance, given by students who don’t volunteer is not enough time due to the pressures of study, however, we have seen a marked increase in those saying I’m not sure how to get involved. This reason has never previously been over 30% but in the 2020/21 survey 37.2% of respondents gave this answer. This is despite the Volunteer Centre increasing resources in marketing and communications over the past two years and adding in new programmes to support students in their volunteering. Our belief is that during the pandemic students have struggled to hear from the Volunteer Centre, with so many competing in the digital space. The lack of opportunity to speak to students face-to-face on campus has been an incredibly difficult barrier.

4. Volunteering improves all aspect of the LSE experience

The headline figure is that almost 70% of students who volunteer say it improves their LSE experience. However, we also ask several supplementary questions about three more specific areas which volunteering has a big impact on:

Personal life

Over half of those who volunteer say their range of friendships has increased, almost 50% say their general well-being has increased, over 40% say their sense of being part of the university has increased and 57% say their sense of feeling part of their local community has increased. In a big city like London it can be difficult for some to make friends and feel like they are part of a community. Volunteering plays a unique role in giving people a stake in society, ownership of issues they care about and is a way to break down barriers.

Education, learning and confidence

Over 35% of those that volunteer say knowledge of their degree subject increased. Almost 73% say their understanding of other people has increased and 64% feel their confidence in their own abilities has increased. Volunteering acts as a crucial bridge between classroom learning and real life experiences putting those theories in to practice.

Future career prospects

Students report that communication, organisational, decision-making, and team-working skills will all have improved as a result of volunteering. They are also more willing to try new things and 62% feel the skills they think employers are looking for have improved. All of these results indicate volunteering helps create well-rounded individuals ready to start their careers once they leave LSE.

5. We have excellent charity partners

The pandemic has been incredibly hard for charity partners and the opportunities that they are able to offer. Lockdown and the furlough of volunteer leaders meant that the number of formal opportunities was dramatically reduced. The number the Volunteer Centre advertised in 2020 was around 424, down from a peak of over 800 in 2017. We advertised more informal opportunities, such as mutual aid support groups, which students appreciated. However, our charity partners have adapted and bounced back to ensure that our students can contribute to their important work. We appreciate these opportunities and the trust they put in our students. The fact that 94% of students who volunteer say they would recommend it to a friend indicates what incredible volunteer managers we work with.

So where does this leave us?

We believe that we are starting to see a bigger divide between those who do volunteer, and all the benefits they receive, and those who don’t. The Volunteer Centre will continue to offer varied opportunities and programmes to reach those that need our support. We’re also hopeful that with campus being much busier we can reach many more students. We’ve already had representation during Welcome Week and re-introduced Charity Tuesdays on campus where a different partner joins us to meet students each week.

We know that we can reach more students, and more importantly they want to engage (less than 5% say they just don’t want to volunteer), but it isn’t easy. A bigger voice and presence on campus is essential, alongside programmes and opportunities that students can engage with.

If you’re not currently volunteering because you’re not sure how to get involved the following can help:

Volunteering has the potential to transform a university experience for LSE students and we look forward to inspiring many more to get involved in the upcoming academic year.

If you work with young volunteers, does our analysis match what they tell you? Get in touch and add to the debate on social media.


About the author

David Coles

I am the Volunteer Centre Manager at LSE. My aim is to inspire and empower students to volunteer for causes they are passionate about.

Posted In: Volunteer Centre

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