Challenging Isolation through Volunteering

Challenging Isolation through Volunteering

What steps can you take to use volunteering to tackle social isolation?

It is now widely recognised that volunteering can be used as a tool in supporting better mental health and wellbeing within the community. Social isolation and weak social integration are growing challenges facing many areas and volunteering can have a pivotal role in supporting individuals facing loneliness or poor standards of living.

25% of volunteers in the latest Community Life Survey cited wanting to meet people and make friends as a reason for volunteering, demonstrating the value of involvement in social action. This is important to consider, given that Age UK estimates that more than 2 million people over 50 will be lonely by 2025-6. This challenge is not only an age issue, with those from the most deprived areas and from BAME backgrounds significantly under-represented among those regularly volunteering.

Yet many voluntary organisations rely on a static volunteer base which is made up of older white volunteers that return week on week. So, how can charities expand outreach to those not traditionally volunteering, support social challenges within the community and yet still ensure a sustainable volunteering workforce?

Here are some potential thoughts:

Meeting the needs of new volunteers

Your volunteer offer may be attracting a sustainable volunteer workforce that meets the needs of your organisation. But that volunteer offer may not be highly attractive to those who have never engaged in social action. Charities have a major role to play in assessing how the volunteer experience can be adapted to engage young people, those from economically deprived backgrounds and those struggling with loneliness. Options including micro-volunteering, more flexible volunteering arrangements and revised recruitment processes may be essential in opening up your charity and widening access.

Social prescribing

Engaging isolated groups and those non-traditional volunteers will require a truly multi-sector approach. The health sector, employers and charities must work in collaboration to support those facing social isolation to enter new opportunities. Social prescribing is now widely being considered as an option to help lonely and socially isolated individuals back into the community

Take at look at your workforce

If charities are aiming to support the socially isolated and those from diverse backgrounds, it may also be worth looking at how diverse your employees are. Diversity is a major challenge across the sector, but if charities want to enhance access and representation then it may be worth also assessing how your workforce diversity can be improved. Remember it is your volunteer managers that will be the first point of contact for new volunteers, so your volunteer managers need to be from a range of backgrounds too!

Matching the interests of your new volunteers

A big challenge for all charities is to consider how their social objectives match with the interests of isolated communities. 31% of volunteers in the latest Community Life Survey stated that their motivation for volunteering was that the cause was important to them. To reach out to isolated communities and lonely individuals, it is therefore worth considering how your charity is already working to help a certain community. A common cause or challenge is always a first step in motivating a new volunteer to join you.


A fair and transparent recruitment process is key to eliminating the barriers to volunteering. Many charities are now adopting more informal or staggered screening and recruitment processes to allow volunteers to experience a role and to help them overcome potential fears or doubts about volunteering. All charities need to be accessible from the very first point of contact if they are to attract those that have faced long term isolation or loneliness.

Do you have further thoughts on how charities can engage with volunteers using social action to overcome loneliness or social isolation? Share your thoughts via our hashtag: #Volunteers2020