Ten things I didn’t know this time last year

There’s been a huge amount of research published on the sector and on volunteering over the past 12 months. I want to share 10 pieces that have stood out for me.

1. Public trust in charities has taken a knock

Thought to be fairly resilient, trust in charities decreased to an all time low in the Charity Commission’s bi-annual research. The data was collected in the aftermath of fundraising scandals in the summer of 2015.

2. Income from individuals is the biggest source of income for charities

I guess I did kind of know this already as NCVO’s Almanac has shown this to be true for a long time, but it’s useful to remember that charities received £19.4bn in 2013/14 from individuals. It’s also a good reminder why public trust in charities matters so much.

3. A bit of a nudge can increase giving

A series of randomised controlled trials run by The Behavioural Insights Team found that some simple techniques could increase people’s likelihood to leave legacies.

4. Small and medium sized organisations are more financially vulnerable than larger organisations

NCVO’s research with the Lloyds Foundation found that organisations with an annual income between £25K and £1m were more financially volatile than their larger counterparts, having less security and sustainability of funding.

5. Volunteering can stop your brain shrinking

It seems that volunteering in later life can reverse brain atrophy, or brain shrinkage. This US-based research was actually from 2015 but as I came across it this year and it’s fascinating I’m including it in the list.

6. There are more than 200,000 volunteers in community businesses

Research from the Power to Change and Social Finance also found that community businesses in England (defined as charities and other organisations run for and by local communities) grew by 5% in the last year.

7. Volunteers can improve quality of life for people in the last year of their lives

The first trial of a social action volunteer provided befriending service, by the NCVO Institute for Volunteering Research and the International Observatory on End of Life Care, found that outcomes of quality of life, loneliness and perception of social support within hospices were improved as a result of volunteer support.

8. Older volunteers gain more in terms of wellbeing than younger

Research by the University of Southampton found a positive link between volunteering and wellbeing for people aged over 40, but not for younger volunteers. This is very interesting research but we shouldn’t necessarily think that younger volunteers don’t also gain.

9. Volunteering doesn’t make you more trusting

It seems it may simply be more trusting people tend to volunteer more, as research from the Free University of Amsterdam found. Not as negative as it might seem, but a helpful reminder that we always need to be clear of cause and effect.

10. Kindness matters

I’ve always believed that being kind is vital and now new research from the Carnegie Trust shows how kindness and relationships have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing.


These are just a few of the many bits of research I’ve liked over the past year, and I’m looking forward to much more in 2017. I’d love to hear your favourites – or where you feel there are gaps – so feel free to add any to the comments below.


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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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