Make ‘volunteer wellbeing’ your new year’s resolution

Gethyn Williams is Head of Partnerships at Join In – the official volunteering legacy charity of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Gethyn develops and co-ordinates relationships with other charities and partners in the public sector, in support of Join In’s efforts to recruit and retain 100,000 volunteers a year in community sport.

In his last post of 2014 Justin Davis Smith awarded our ‘£53bn’ – Join In’s estimated social value of sports volunteers in the UK – his gong for Stat of the Year. IVR’s Nick Ockenden, who worked with us on the Hidden Diamonds report, also mentioned it in his round up of what we learned about volunteering in the past twelve months.

It was very flattering to be included in the end of year polls, and our hope for 2015 is that what we’ve done can in some way help others to better describe and present the impact of their volunteers, externally or internally. There’s a strong case for greater investment in volunteering, to make more of what the Chief Economist of the Bank of England last year described as a “hidden jewel” of the British economy.

Here’s what we learned about volunteer wellbeing

1. Follow your gut

We knew the cost of recruiting sports volunteers but not what they were really ‘worth’. Our hunch was that it was a great deal more than the existing research could tell us.

We realised sports volunteers were not ‘givers’ but ‘investors’ – people who invested in their own wellbeing, in those they support to be active and in the local communities in which the UK’s 150,000 volunteer-run sports clubs are based.

The need to fully understand these three areas of social value gave us our narrative, helped frame our approach and set us clear measurement goals.

2. Don’t start from scratch

You’re probably familiar with how the ‘replacement cost’ approach measures the monetary value of volunteer time. What you may know less about (as did we) is the emerging science of wellbeing economics.

Fortunately some generic benchmark data is already out there, for example this 2014 HACT report that values the increase in general wellbeing from volunteering at £2,537 per volunteer, per year.

You might feel that putting a cash value on wellbeing takes something away from the essence of what volunteers do, but it’s very useful for policy makers in assessing returns on investment. The creation of the government’s What Works Centre for Wellbeing, which recently included our research as one of their ‘pioneers’, reflects the public sector’s growing willingness to invest in this area.

3. Measure the wellbeing of your volunteers

We worked with the innovative Delta Value to commission our own survey using the NPC Wellbeing Measurement Tool and Community Science Index. The results helped us benchmark our volunteers’ wellbeing and the strength of their community ties, giving us a rich story of impact to use with funders, stakeholders, our existing volunteers and potential new ones.

(images – wellbeing and happiness / community stats)

4. Call your friends…

We certainly found it beneficial to run our early findings past some of our peers and partners. Talking with the Sport and Recreation Alliance gave us objective feedback and led to a ‘eureka’ moment – finding a statistical link between volunteers and participants in sport (beneficiaries) that allowed us to include the benefits to both in our final figures.

5. …and make some new ones

Finally we commissioned independent support from IVR and economist Howard Reed, giving us the confidence and legitimacy to take our work public. Another option might be to approach Pro Bono Economics, whose founder Andrew Haldane is also the Chief Economist at the Bank of England cited above.

We also spotted a potential ally in Lord Gus O’Donnell, former head of the Civil Service and leading light in wellbeing economics, realising our research provided a timely illustration of some of his broader points around the importance of putting wellbeing and happiness up front and centre in public policy. His endorsement of our work contributed hugely to a successful launch and the momentum that came from it.

It’s vital you devote proper time and energy to this stage – how well you tell the story of your research is almost as important as your findings. Without a considered campaign plan you could find yourself shouting into a void. We launched Hidden Diamonds last October, but in many ways we’ve only scratched the surface of its full potential.

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One Response to Make ‘volunteer wellbeing’ your new year’s resolution

  1. Pingback: Join In round up: how we measured volunteer wellbeing, and what happened next | the voluntary sector alchemist