Ed Thomas Banner
Ed Thomas Banner

It’s a fact: women volunteer for charities more than men.

Recent studies show that whiles 58% of women volunteered in 2021 and 2022, just 52% of men did so in the same time period. What’s more, this trend isn’t unique to the UK but is seen globally and a disparity that has grown over the years, highlighting the need to encourage more male volunteers.

At ellenor, a charity supporting families facing life limiting and life-threatening illnesses in Kent and Bexley, we recognise the importance of male volunteers. To shed light on this issue, we spoke to Ed Thomas, a man who donates several hours of his time, every week, to support ellenor’s IT department.

What barriers, according to Ed, might men looking to volunteer face? How can volunteering help recently bereaved men overcome grief and loss? And what advice does Ed have for any man keen to help out in his local community?


Let's find out...

Ed, what factors – both internal and external – might act as ‘blockers’ to discourage men, in particular, from volunteering for a charity?

“Traditionally, it’s men who’ve worked full-time jobs, whereas women have tended to choose flexibility – perhaps taking time out to raise a family and later, when returning to the workforce, taking a part time role to fit with the children’s school life. Men, therefore, may have had fewer opportunities to donate their time to other activities during the week.

“Culturally, women have adopted a more caring mindset than men, perhaps because of bringing up children. Conversely, most men are task-focused, so thinking about interpersonal factors doesn’t come naturally. While most men are willing to help, they often don’t want to get involved in open-ended commitments: instead preferring to engage in those of the specific, short-term variety. What can then happen, however, is a kind of cyclical effect; a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ in which fewer male volunteers means fewer role models to attract male recruits going forward. It’s something we need to tackle together.”

Is it a charity’s responsibility to mitigate these factors by reaching out to men, specifically, to encourage them to volunteer?

“Absolutely – but tailoring this message to the right audience is vital.

“It’s also crucial to appeal to the community spirit of the men in ellenor’s native Kent and Bexley communities. To remind them that ellenor is a local charity, helping local people; as well as appealing, in particular, to people whose families and friends ellenor has supported. There’s definitely scope for appealing to individuals’ social networks, too – to invite local men to come meet people, make new friends, and pitch in to support ellenor.”

What health benefits – be they mental, physical, emotional, or social – might a man gain by volunteering for a charity?

“Scientists have unearthed a strong correlation between the number of social contacts a person has and the length of their lives. So for men, volunteering – an activity which gets you out of the house and mixing with positive, active people – is literally the elixir of life!”

“This is especially important for retired men, and those living alone. We’re all hardwired by evolution to look for a purpose in life. The death of a partner or the end of a long 9 to 5 working life can completely throw off any existing ideas of who we are – our identity – and leave us rudderless and lost. But volunteering brings you together with others who also want to contribute to their community; and make the world that little bit more liveable.”

Can volunteering play a role in helping men cope with bereavement and loss, and how?

“Yes, it can. There are many male volunteers at ellenor who have had their other half pass away. A volunteering position has given them a purpose, bolstered their social networks, and provided them with an opportunity to make the world a little brighter. Take Micky, for example – a Black Cab driver who, after losing his wife Barbara to cancer, found solace in volunteering for ellenor: donating his time, petrol, and four wheels to ferry the hospice charity’s families for special days out.”

What advice would you give to any man thinking about volunteering? 

“Try it out! It doesn’t need to be forever. Give it a go, and chances are you’ll love it. Not only will you meet people and make friends, you’ll also be giving back to your community and doing something with your later years. That’s not to say volunteering is for older men alone, though – for younger males, it can be a brilliant way to build up your CV and demonstrate a community spirit, and retail experience, to potential employers.

“All you need to give up is a few hours a week, and – at ellenor, at least – there are so many different ways you can get involved. These include:

  • Fundraising/events
  • Shop assistant in an ellenor charity shop
  • Befriending
  • Driving (minibus or own car)
  • Bereavement support
  • Helping at youth group activities and outings
  • Desk host
  • Cafe volunteer

“There’s something for everyone.”

Can you share some insights about what volunteering means to you, and gives back to your own life?

“I was a school governor for 21 years. That role itself was mostly confidential, so people didn’t always see the work that went on. The pleasure of the job wasn’t from public recognition, then, but from a feeling that you’d worked hard and done your bit – however small – to make a difference. You’d look around the table and see other people, all who’d made similar commitments, and realise how many decent people there are in the world.

“Volunteering is a bit like that. You do it not for the applause or the accolades, but for the feeling – that buzz you get from knowing you’ve had an impact, and helped those who need it most. It’s an amazing feeling – especially when the cause is a local one like ellenor.”

Here at ellenor, we’re always looking for men to join our team of volunteers. Come get involved, have a laugh, make some friends, and get a boost out of giving back to your local community – it’s a no-brainer!

To get involved, browse our latest volunteer opportunities, or complete our application form and send it to hr@ellenor.org or if you need more information, give us a call on 01474 538555.