Demonstrating the strength of volunteer centres

The evaluation of the first year of our Volunteering for Stronger Communities project scarcely minces its words: “[The] programme is performing effectively in terms of exceeding all of its core programme targets for supporting participants and volunteer involving organisations as well as working with partners.”

What lies behind this achievement is made absolutely clear: the work which the volunteer centres have put into recruiting and supporting volunteers and in working with partners in their local communities.

The project is engaged with 15 volunteer centres, now in the second year of activity, with most projects completing delivery in September 2013. It aims to “use volunteering to help communities to tackle the effects of the economic downturn and subsequent public spending reductions whilst building and strengthening the capacity of the volunteering infrastructure to provide more effective support to communities in future”. Of the people participating in this project 83% are disadvantaged in the labour market and seen as to hard-to-reach individuals.

The issue of resources runs through this independent evaluation report from Sheffield Hallam University, as we’d expect. We’re very appreciative in this project of what the funding from BIG is enabling volunteer centres to undertake, how it has enhanced their skills, knowledge and resources. Activities range from volunteer mentoring, to training volunteers as volunteer coordinators, to working with volunteer involving organisations to develop new opportunities appropriate for people new to volunteering, time-banking and bite-sized introductory sessions about volunteering.

The evaluators conclude: “These findings show that the ‘brokerage plus’ approach and additional activities run by projects pay dividends in terms of supporting individuals with additional needs. Crucial to this is having the funding available to enable project staff to spend more time with volunteers.” “The single most important factor identified in bringing about real change for participants,” they find, “was the quality of staff”.

What this approach and the staff achieved scored highly by any comparisons:

  • three-quarters of participants were volunteering, more than two-thirds of them regularly; and nine out of ten of them said the project had been very or quite important in getting them to volunteer;
  • nearly one in five of the participants surveyed had found paid work; of them nearly three-quarters said the project had been very or quite important in helping them get a job.

The evaluation found that people said their confidence and skills had been built up, and their health and well-being had improved.

These improvements in people’s lives were made possible through the ways in which volunteer centres worked in partnership and built the capacity of small, local volunteering organisations:

  • a quarter of volunteering organisations said their volunteer numbers had increased a lot; six out of ten of them said the volunteer centre was responsible for a lot of increase.

Of course, we knew this, but it took research and resources to prove the case.

Justin Davis Smith, Executive Director for Volunteering and Development

Justin Davis Smith’s blog

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Justin was executive director of volunteering and development at NCVO and chief executive of Volunteering England. He is now a senior research fellow at City University Cass Business School’s Centre for Charity Effectiveness.

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