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This Pro Bono Economics project for Sport England has highlighted the potential for volunteering organisations and programmes to collaborate to create new industry standards, which could include producing a universal definition of volunteering, containing frequency, longevity or experience measures, or a more standardised assessment of the resources needed to support volunteer programmes.

The project, which saw Pro Bono Economics carry out primary research with several prominent volunteering programmes, shows that the organisations within scope provide meaningful and beneficial experiences to volunteers on a large scale. The research also found that, despite some consistency in standard measures - such as using Office for National Statistics questions for wellbeing - there are clear opportunities for volunteer programmes to align further.

The research identified three broad categories of volunteer (standard, social cause, and leisure), with engagement resulting in four sources of benefit: to the individual volunteer, to the beneficiary, to the community, and to the host organisation. Many organisations reported similar volunteer to beneficiary or participant ratios, which generally ranged from 1:7 to 1:11.5, thus demonstrating the capacity of volunteers to support participants.

Whilst examining different methods to setting volunteer programme targets and how to measure success, the project also explored approaches to diversity. This showed that compromise is often needed to achieve both greater recruitment and greater diversity, as success in each requires different methods.

The far-reaching calls for support generally employed to recruit large numbers of people that were examined, will often result in a less diverse intake. Effective approaches to engaging diverse volunteers emphasised the importance of reaching out directly in certain quarters - for example, with faith groups - and ensuring that the means by which statistics are recorded, such as detailed registration forms, do not also act as barriers to participation.

Sport England is a public body working to ensure everyone feels able to participate in sport and activity, regardless of age, background or gender. Through funding and supporting best practice, from small projects through to major elite events, Sport England partners with various organisations to help improve the provision and availability of sport and activity to people in England. With the majority of community-level activity being run by volunteers, Sport England’s ambitious strategy to increase the numbers of regularly active people means supporting volunteers is vital to realising this ambition.

To this end, Sport England chose to work with Pro Bono Economics and volunteer Marina Rodes-Sanchez – from the Office of Health Economics – who was matched with this project. Together with Economic Associate Dr Mark Graham, Marina first identified ten key cross-sector organisations delivering large-scale volunteering programmes, and through a series of semi-structured interviews discussed the following four main areas:

  1. The definition of volunteering used, and the benefits of volunteer engagement;
  2. The parameters within which volunteering programmes are operated (e.g. size of programme, ratio of volunteers to participants);
  3. New programme set up, management resources, success factors and constraints; and,
  4. Organisation’s approach to target setting and measuring success.

The report findings were qualitative, providing insights into the key success factors and concerns for volunteering programmes in the UK. The conversations explored how these factors impacted an organisation’s ability to set targets, measure success and map future interventions.

Thanks go to Marina and Mark for all their work on this project, which can be downloaded by clicking the link below and completing the survey. Moving forward, Pro Bono Economics will continue to work with Sport England and advise on the basis of the research.

11th April 2019