What might the election hold for volunteering?

Here are four policy areas that could involve a discussion of the place and contribution of volunteering. I’ve outlined what the evidence tells us about each.


Rates of unemployment have been decreasing recently but anything with the potential to enhance someone’s employability is likely to be of interest to the parties.

Evidence for a direct and causal relationship between volunteering and securing a paid job is, however, somewhat mixed. It can range from research which finds no connection (e.g. a 2013 study by the Third Sector Research Centre) to work that is much more confident of establishing a link (e.g. Sheffield Hallam University’s evaluation of NCVO’s Volunteering for Stronger Communities project, PDF 1MB). Perhaps a more nuanced way to examine the contribution of volunteering is to concentrate less on a binary ‘unemployed-employed’ distinction and examine how it can improve an individual’s employability. We have much stronger evidence of how volunteering can enhance the precursors to employment, including confidence, self-esteem, skills, experience, and much more.

Public services and the NHS

We’re going to see a lot of debate around this topic, including how to effectively open up services to the voluntary – and private – sectors. Within this, there needs to be a discussion about the role and impact of volunteers, some of which featured in a recent debate on the place of volunteers in healthcare.

While we know that volunteers already make an enormous contribution (recent research by the Kings Fund (PDF, 0.4MB), for example, estimated that there are approximately three million volunteers in health and social care), we need to know more. What is the unique added-value of volunteers, when does job substitution occur and how can it be managed, and how much volunteering really is taking place? A good place to look is a recent report by Nesta, People Helping People (PDF, 1.35MB), and you can also keep a track on work by IVR on volunteering in care homes and in end of life care settings within hospices.​

What happens after the swingometer goes back in the cupboard?

Join us at Evolve 2015 in June for our strategic workshop S3, NCVO’s analysis of the 2015 election and the implications for your organisation.

Find out more about Evolve 2015


Parties are likely to be talking about how to give local authorities and local communities more control, shifting power away from central government under the banner of localism.

While this might seem reminiscent of the 2010 Big Society election discussion, this time we might see a more informed debate as we have more evidence of what works locally. Our evaluation of the Big Local programme (PDF, 0.5MB) gives us a good idea of what is and isn’t effective locally when communities are genuinely given the chance to decide how to develop their areas; and our Pathways through Participation research provided insight into how people get involved locally and what drives them. Another area of volunteering that might be affected by this debate is that of asset transfer. Last year I attended an event run by Sheffield University which explored the tricky issue of volunteer-run groups taking on the running of libraries and sports centres – something we want to do further research on.


All parties will be setting out their vision for how they can reduce the public deficit in the most effective way. This is likely to mean the continuation of a challenging financial environment for volunteer-involving organisations.

Our 2010 research Valuing Volunteer Management Skills showed that volunteer management, one of the key factors in helping to ensure a quality volunteering experience, has long since been an under-resourced profession. And evidence suggests that this environment is likely to remain under-funded. Results from our 2014 Civil Society Almanac  showed that the income of the sector continues to decline (we’ll be releasing this year’s results in June). At the same time we’re likely to see more calls to increase the number of volunteers – there’s nothing wrong with this ambition but as my blogpost last year discussed, we shouldn’t ignore the quality of experience.

NCVO and the general election

NCVO will be following the election campaign over the coming weeks. You can stay in touch with our Election 2015 blogposts and take a look at the NCVO Manifesto (PDF, 1.6MB), published last year.

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Avatar photo 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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