NCVO national volunteering week is 1st – 7th June and so this is a great moment to highlight the work of Pro Bono Economics (PBE) volunteers and their contribution in providing economic advice and analysis to charities.  But this also provides a good opportunity to highlight the many ‘layers’ of economic value that volunteering can provide to the people and charities helped, the wider community and also to the volunteers themselves.  

From an economics perspective, there are many aspects of value that do not show up in the economy but can be very significant.  Volunteering is just one of these areas where the benefits to society are large but may not be fully visible.   It is important to ensure these non-market benefits are accounted for and not implicitly given a zero value. Encouragingly, there is a growing trend to measure the various contributions of volunteering.  A good starting point is the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which - based on around 2 billion volunteer hours -  estimated that the value of volunteering was worth about £23 billion in 2014; that’s equivalent to 1.3% GDP.  But this reflects only one part of the value; taking into account the wider societal benefits the magnitudes are considerably larger.

Other efforts to measure the value of volunteering have focused on the private benefits to volunteers.   Various surveys suggest that participants derive the following benefits from volunteering including: enjoyment, enhanced self-esteem, personal development, occupational experience, reduced stress, improved health and education and learning new skills.  For employers, volunteering by employees is increasingly recognized as a potential way to develop broader skills as well as contributing to the community with corporate benefits including improved staff retention and motivation.

One innovative method to measure the value to volunteers is through subjective wellbeing approaches; these methods look to assess the positive change in a person’s well-being linked to frequent volunteering. A Cabinet Office report in 2013 undertaking this analysis identified a significant positive effect of frequent volunteering on self reported well-being. 

How can these economic approaches be used by the charity sector?  A recent PBE project reviewed the benefits to volunteers for Newham New Deal Partnership (Newham NDP), a charity that provides support to older people, people with dementia and those with disabilities in Newham, delivered by trained volunteers. The charity was interested in understanding the economic and social benefits to the volunteers, many of whom are students, in training, under-employed or unemployed Newham residents. The report provided advice on the data collection framework for volunteers mapping the inputs and activities to outputs and outcomes and reviewing the charity’s current data collection methods. The PBE report made recommendations to help measure the social and economic value to volunteers which is to be used by the charity to review their volunteer administration requirements and to highlight the value of the volunteer role in skills development, work readiness and employment.

Measuring the impact of volunteering is increasingly important.  Economic approaches can help to demonstrate impact of activities and give visibility to both financial and wider social benefits to set alongside the costs of activities and help make the case for investment.  

Follow the conversation this Volunteers’ Week: @ProBonoEcon   @NCVOvolunteers   #VolunteersWeek

This blog was written by PBE Economic Associate Helen Dunn.

26th May 2017