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Managing your Volunteering Programme in a Cost of Living Crisis

The cost of living crisis is having a negative impact on volunteers and volunteering. Volunteers are experiencing rising costs and challenges to their mental health, impacting their ability to volunteer. Many voluntary organisations now report that a shortage of volunteers is the top challenge they face.

There are clear implications for your volunteering programme. Consider how the following issues could be affecting your organisation:

  • Individuals now have less time to volunteer due to increasing paid working hours or increased caring responsibilities
  • Rising demand for other services is affecting the availability of volunteers for your service
  • You may have volunteers who have never fully returned to volunteering after the pandemic
  • Some volunteers are now worried that their volunteering will leave them ‘out of pocket’, they ‘can’t afford’ to volunteer
  • People are less likely to consider volunteering due to challenges to their mental health

5 ways to limit the impacts of the ‘Cost of Living’ on your volunteering programme

Some of the solutions to the current challenges that we face can be found in good volunteer practice. We’ve provided advice and links to practical resources which will help you to mitigate some of the worst impacts of the cost-of-living crisis on your volunteering programme, including the need to:

  1. Pay ‘out of pocket’ expenses 
  2. Meet Basic Needs
  3. Provide Practical Support
  4. Review your recruitment approach
  5. Invest in your volunteering programme 

Supporting your volunteers is always important but especially when people are facing so many other demands on their time and wellbeing.

1. Pay ‘out of pocket’ expenses

Ideally volunteers should never be out-of-pocket while volunteering. You should also never assume that individuals can afford to volunteer. You should always look for different ways to encourage people to claim volunteer expenses. Remember that reimbursing volunteers’ out-of-pocket expenses (including travel) is key to making any volunteer experience more inclusive.

Also consider:

  • Paying expenses in advance.
  • Paying a ‘fair’ rate* for those volunteers using their vehicles.
  • Including volunteer expenses within future funding applications.

*The Community Transport Association is currently lobbying for the 45p/mile rate to be increased (this is the rate at which volunteer drivers can be reimbursed without any impact on their tax obligations or benefit entitlements).

Useful links

Read about Volunteer Expenses on the Volunteer Wiki


Check if you need to pay tax on mileage payments as a volunteer driver


Expenses and benefits: business travel mileage for employees' own vehicles


Regardless of the support need it’s important that all are aware of any support provided and have equal access – whether they use it or not

2. Meet Basic Needs

All volunteers need support but deciding on what support is most appropriate will depend on your volunteers. The cost-of-living crisis is impacting individuals and communities differently but also in quite profound ways. Consider how you might use your volunteer programme to provide:  

  • A warm venue for volunteers’ meetings, training or to undertake their volunteering activities.
  • A meal or food (if they’re volunteering outside of their homes at or around normal refreshment and mealtimes) – rather than reimbursing volunteers for the cost of food.
  • Appropriate equipment / clothing, if it is needed to complete the voluntary work. This could include clothing for keeping warm while volunteering over the winter months.

Also consider:

  • Some people who volunteer will be in receipt of state benefits and you should avoid putting people’s benefits at risk.

Useful links

Read about Volunteering and UK State Benefits on the Volunteer Wiki


Citizens Advice Scotland


3. Provide Practical Support

Sometimes people are embarrassed to share their circumstances or to ask for help. It is important to link volunteers to the right information at the right time. It’s also important that volunteers don’t feel isolated or overwhelmed. Consider some or all of the following:  

  • Signpost to other support services and/or incorporate their advice within your materials. Share general advice and information around the cost-of-living crisis. Highlight useful information on your Website, newsletters or via posters on notice boards.
  • Having a more immediate focus on Financial support & debt management, Health & wellbeing, Mental health, Youth support and Local food banks.
  • Increasing your normal support sessions for volunteers. Think about formal and informal volunteer meetings. This could be topic based, idea sharing or general discussions around how people are coping.
  • Speak to your volunteers, ask – ‘Are you ok?’; ‘How are you managing?’ or ‘Did you know…?’
  • Provide a space to chat and unwind, can help build important social connections and support positive mental health.

Also consider:

  • Building your connections to trusted organisations offering guidance and support (locally and nationally). This will allow you to incorporate their information more quickly into your materials and be updated as advice and guidance changes.

Useful links

Citizens Advice Scotland


Help during the cost-of-living crisis


SCVO cost of living & the #RunningCostsCrisis


NCVO Cost of Living Support


Money Talk Team


Safer Scot


Mental health services at NHS 24


Complete a Wellness Action Plan


Now is the best time to invest in your volunteering programme.

4. Review your recruitment approach

Volunteering should benefit both the volunteer and the group or organisation managing the role. Consider the following: 

  • Why are you involving volunteers and how does this volunteer role fit within your group or organisation. As well as identifying which roles are suitable for a volunteer also consider in what ways they are distinct from paid roles.
  • Identify the resources you will need to support all of your volunteers, including finance, management and staff time and materials.
  • Explain how volunteers can claim expenses? Do you indicate what you’ll provide e.g. all necessary training, disclosure checks and equipment?
  • Are there options for flexibility around time commitment, taking breaks, volunteering from home? Do you describe the benefits and impact of the volunteering role?
  • Respect volunteers who wish to stop or take time out for any reason.

Also consider:

  • Developing roles with your staff and volunteers that way you’ll be sure to best fit the volunteering experience to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Review what good volunteer practice looks like and how this applies to your volunteer programme.
  • Developing or expanding your volunteer programme within a recognised standards framework. This will ensure that your volunteers receive the best level of support you can offer.

Useful links

Volunteer Charter:


Recruiting Volunteers


Quality Standards in volunteering


Review existing opportunities


5. Invest in your volunteering programme

This is the right time to ensure you have good policies and procedures in place and that your ‘programme’ is resourced effectively. It’s especially important in the current crisis, to take opportunities to learn, reflect and celebrate. Consider how you can do some or all of the following:

  • Understand where your ‘programme’ is strong but also where it can improve.
  • Make your programme more attractive to volunteers.
  • Create a positive view of your volunteering programme across your organisation and in the eyes of funders.
  • Provide consistently good volunteer experiences.
  • Support your volunteers effectively and ensure they know the impact of their volunteering and recognize them for their contributions.

Useful links

Quality Standards in volunteering


Supporting and managing volunteers


We’re here to help

If you’re experiencing particular difficulties from the Cost-of-Living Crisis we’d like to hear from you. We can help answer your query or provide additional guidance. Your feedback and experience will help inform the Cost of Living Task Group who are helping to address the issues affecting volunteering on behalf of the sector. 

Contact us via email

Button opens an email to hello@volunteerscotland.org.uk with Cost of Living as the subject