woman in an online meeting with three volunteers

Volunteering Is Back and Bigger than Ever

The Surprising Rebound in Volunteer Engagement Post-COVID

Contrary to what recent U.S. census data might have you believe, volunteering has made a remarkable recovery since the COVID-19 pandemic. Interest in volunteering and actual volunteer participation have not only rebounded to pre-pandemic levels but have exceeded them in many cases.

drawing of six volunteers accomplishing various tasks

Across a number of data sources — Google Search trends, our own analysis of Civic Champs’ volunteer activities and hours logged, and research from our partners in the nonprofit technology sector like VolunteerMatch and others — we see the same result. Post-pandemic, more people than ever are seeking out ways to volunteer in their communities.

Google search trends reveal that searches for "volunteer opportunities near me" plummeted at the beginning of lockdowns in 2020. However, ever since then, search interest has surpassed even 2018–2019 levels.

graph showing increase in searches for volunteering opportunities from 4/19 to 10/23

VolunteerMatch, the largest volunteer engagement network, saw a staggering 23 percent increase in the number of volunteer searches on its platform from 2022 to 2023 alone. This surge in interest shows that people are thinking more about volunteering and actively looking for ways to get involved.

graphic showing a 23 percent increase in VolunteerMatch from 2022 to 2023

Data from VolunteerMatch shows a significant increase in volunteer interest in 2023.

Participation Numbers Climb

At Civic Champs, the data from our volunteer management platform also aligns with this pattern of rising participation. In 2020, Civic Champs clients saw an average of 262 active volunteers per organization. By 2023, that number climbed to an average of 243 volunteers per organization — an astounding 80 percent increase in just three years post-COVID.

The total number of volunteer hours has grown as well. Civic Champs data shows that the average number of hours volunteered per organization increased by 6 percent from 2022 to 2023. This translated to each organization receiving an additional nearly $9,000 worth of volunteer time on average.

table showing growth in volunteer metrics from 2022 to 2023

Volunteers Deepen Their Commitment

What's more, existing volunteers are contributing more time individually. From 2022 to 2023, the average number of volunteer activities per person rose, as did the average hours volunteered per person, according to Civic Champs. This suggests that as volunteer programs have rebuilt post-COVID, participants are more dedicated and engaged than before.

The Do Good Institute surveyed nonprofit executives and found that many organizations had fewer staff members and resources during the pandemic, but the need for their services increased at the same time. This helps explain why, in 2022, more organizations said it was more difficult to find volunteers with the right skills than it was in 2019. As demand for services increases, the need for volunteers has also increased. So even as volunteering has grown, for many nonprofits, this growth has been surpassed by the demand for services.

graphic showing an increased need for volunteers from 2019 to 2022

The percentage of nonprofit executives reporting difficulty finding volunteers with needed skills has doubled post-pandemic. Source: The State of Volunteer Engagement report (PDF) by the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy, published 2022.

Volunteering Looks Different Post-Pandemic

While formal volunteering through nonprofits and other organizations dropped by 7 percentage points during the pandemic, from 30 percent in 2019 to 23 percent in 2022, informal helping held steady. Just over half of Americans participated in an informal helping activity during that same time period.

The rise in work-from-home models for businesses also powered a rapid increase in virtual volunteering and microvolunteering. In 2023, over 90 percent of companies reported offering a virtual volunteer program.

Corporate volunteering is another accelerating trend post-pandemic. Data from corporate engagement platform Benevity shows a 57 percent increase year-over-year in employee volunteer program participation and a 41 percent increase in hours logged. Notably, over half of the hours logged on the Benevity platform were remote or hybrid.

A Bright Future for Volunteering

While the initial lockdowns in 2020 dealt a temporary blow to volunteering, the sector has demonstrated immense resilience. People are clearly eager to give back to their communities through volunteering, perhaps now more than ever.

As organizations adapt to the changing volunteer landscape with more flexible offerings, and volunteers bring renewed energy and commitment to their roles, the future of volunteer engagement post-COVID looks extremely bright.

Geng Wang is CEO at Civic Champs, a TechSoup partner, where he leads a team of passionate change leaders to deliver the most intuitive and impactful volunteer management software for nonprofits and their champions.

Civic Champs' volunteer management platform is available to eligible TechSoup member organizations at a discount.