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Sport England is a public body, working to ensure everyone feels able to participate in sport and activity, regardless of age, background or gender. It partners with various organisations to help improve the provision and availability of sport and activity to people in England, providing small grants through to supporting major elite events.

With an aim to increase the number of participants engaging in sport and activity in England, Sport England is committed to supporting volunteering opportunities in pursuit of this goal. Pro Bono Economics was appointed to examine successful approaches within and beyond sport to setting targets for large-scale volunteering programmes and understand how other organisations measure success.


Pro Bono Economics matched Dr Mark Graham and Marina Rodes-Sanchez with Sport England, whose first action was to establish an understanding of current practice in regards large-scale volunteering programmes.  As part of Sport England’s Volunteering strategy also focused on diversity, their work sought to identify successful approaches in this regard, and whether there was an innate tension between large scale recruitment and increasing diversity. Ten key organisations took part in semi-structured interviews to explore four key focus areas: i) definitions of volunteering and benefits of engagement; ii) operating parameters; iii) set up and resources; and iv) target setting and measurement protocols.


The consequent report’s findings were qualitative, providing insights into the key success factors and concerns for volunteering programmes in the UK. Three broad categories of volunteer were identified in the first instance: i) standard, in which individuals offer time and expertise free of charge formally and informally; ii) social cause, in which volunteers support a specific movement to change social outcomes; and iii) leisure, which is driven by both improved outcomes and explicit benefit to the individual.

Four sources of benefit through volunteer engagement were identified: i) individual volunteer impact; ii) beneficiary impact; iii) community impact; and iv) organisation impact. There was no commonality in terms of project size, but ratios of volunteers to participants or beneficiaries were similar, where indicated. These ranged from 1 volunteer to 7 participants, to 1 volunteer to 11.5 participants. This enabled organisations to demonstrate the impact of volunteers and their capacity to support participants.

Some organisations had specific approaches to recruiting diverse volunteers which had seen good levels of take-up from particular communities, though diversity itself can mean different things for different organisations . There was much consistency across programmes in terms of timescales for a volunteer programme to become established, with management set up generally totalling around 3 months and recruitment, including processing and piloting, often totalling around 1 year. There was recognition of the importance of monitoring and measurement to programme management, volunteer engagement and retention, but no common approach to setting targets within programmes or measurement of success.


There is an opportunity for greater collaboration across the voluntary landscape to understand the investment needed into volunteer programmes and the impact on the individual - although the Office for National Statistics questions for wellbeing are widely used - the beneficiaries, the organisation and the wider community.

The Volunteering team at Sport England is continuing its work internally with the Workforce Committee, using this research combined with other evidence and participation statistics to inform setting their own volunteer strategy targets, establishing a measurement framework and developing a volunteer investment-model moving forward.

Pro Bono Economics will continue liaising with Sport England moving forward in a collaborative fashion, providing insights as needed and learning from their robust approach to target setting.