In giving, how much do we receive? The social value of volunteering

12 September 2014

In a speech to the Society of Business Economists on Tuesday 9th September, our co-founder Andy Haldane discussed volunteering and its contribution to the economy and wider society, asserting that the societal gains from volunteering are potentially large, but largely under-appreciated. 

Volunteering is an important part of the UK’s social fabric. Around 15m people volunteer through formal groups or organisations in the UK, equivalent to around 1.25m full-time employees. All in all, volunteers could be giving as much as 4.4 billion hours per year - equivalent to almost 10% of the paid hours worked in the UK.

The lecture considered several different ways of measuring the value generated from volunteering: the economic value of goods and services created by volunteers – which could be worth around £50bn per year; the private value of volunteering activities, in particular the benefits to volunteers themselves - probably worth more than £40bn per year; and the wider social value of volunteering activities – these societal gains suggest the overall benefits could be anywhere between 2 to 10 times that of the economic and private benefits.

Overall, whether seen from an economic or social perspective, the contribution of volunteering to UK society is likely to be huge – making it one of the most important sectors in society.
Given this, Andy asks whether there are policy “nudges” that might help lower frictions, or sharpen incentives, in ways which could enhance the value already being created. He discussed a range of ideas around: increasing visibility through public education; improving skills and time matching between volunteers and charities using technology; harnessing employer incentives; and shifting social norms, for example by building on the success of the National Citizen Service or by providing financial incentives to volunteer.

The full accompanying text to the lecture is above.

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