My ten favourite recent pieces of research on volunteering and the voluntary sector

NCVO, VSSN and IVR hosted the annual Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference in Sheffield over 10-11 September 2014. Over two days, more than 120 people discussed the latest research in the sector, and what this means for policy and practice.

Here are ten things that particularly struck me

1. Evidence doesn’t speak on its own

In her opening speech, Julia Unwin, the CEO of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, stressed how good social research needs to understand the emotions behind the subject being researched, and that we must listen to people’s deep concerns.

2. Germany has the largest number of food banks for any country in Europe

Alex Murdock’s (London South Bank University) comparison of food banks in the UK and the US also told us that the first food bank in the world was established in Phoenix, Arizona.

3. Welsh language speakers demonstrate higher rates of volunteering than non-Welsh speakers

And Bryan Collis (WCVA) and Cynog Prys (Bagnor University) explained they tended to be involved through informal networks, such as through family, friends or chapel.

4. Differences between pay in the voluntary sector and the private sector are most pronounced for more senior positions

But for lower paid positions, Alasdair Rutherford (Stirling University) told us that there was much more similarity between rates of pay in the two sectors.

5. Armenia’s history of mandated volunteering has a long legacy

Valentina Gerorgyan (American University of Armenia) outlined how the legacy of the mandated volunteering during communism continued to exert negative perceptions on parts of the population and that it is younger people who are driving the rapid development of a volunteering culture in Armenia.

6. Public trust is an important indicator of charity performance

Yongjiao Yang’s (University of Hull) survey of 743 members of the public found that higher levels of public trust in charities were associated with perceptions of better charity performance, and that factors such as being driven by values, their not-for-profit nature, reputation, independence and honesty played an important part.

7. More than a quarter of British Red Cross volunteers have volunteered with them for over a decade

Sarah Joy and Andrea Brittain (British Red Cross) also explained how the organisation seeks to understand the volunteering journey when recruiting, supporting and managing volunteers – from motivations and triggers to life stage.

8. Average wages tend to underestimate the economic valuation of volunteering

Jakub Dostal and Marek Vyskocil’s (Masaryk University) analysis of the different methods used to produce an economic valuation of volunteering found that using replacement wages produced a more accurate picture, while minimum wages tended to underestimate the economic value.

Read Jakub Dostal and Marek Vyskocil’s guest post

9. Flood-based volunteering is increasingly focusing on community resilience

Liz O’Brien’s (Forest Research) research won the award for the best paper at the conference and discussed how the Environment Agency has moved away from directly managing volunteers to focus on partnership working with stakeholders and volunteers.

10. Most organisations have been to this conference only once

Sonia Liff’s (Appleby Research) analysis of ten years of attendance data for the conference showed that two-thirds of organisations had attended only once, but there was also a core of about 40 organisations who had been four times or more. Sonia also showed how free software called NetDraw could be used to visually present social network analysis.

Read more

You can now access a list of all sessions and papers from the conference, as well as the full papers.

What have you found?

These are just some of my personal reflections but if you’ve recently come across important new pieces of research – at the conference or elsewhere – please do share them in the comments below!

Forthcoming events

The next Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research conference will take place in September 2015, but before then VSSN is holding a day conference, ‘Money, money, money!’, on 27 November in London. You can book your VSSN conference place online.

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Nick Ockenden is an NCVO research associate and former head of the research team. As part of this role he led the work of the Institute for Volunteering Research, where he worked from 2005.

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