National Volunteering Forum: Incentivised volunteering and rewarding volunteers

We all know that effective volunteer management means rewarding and recognising volunteers for the great stuff they do. But is more reward better? And do the existing ways of recognising volunteers still work? On 2 October we brought together speakers and delegates from more than 50 organisations to discuss all this and more at our National Volunteering Forum in Birmingham.

Should we be incentivising people for their time?

Rob Jackson started the day off by urging a healthy degree of scepticism when considering using incentives to attract volunteers. Rob suggested that the promise of an incentive or reward does not necessarily equal a more competent performance from a volunteer. In many cases intrinsically motivated volunteers – who are motivated solely by a desire for internal rewards, such as personal fulfilment – require less supervision from managers. They carry out their tasks more dutifully than volunteers who are attracted by promises of material incentives.

The audience were asked to raise their hands if they had worked with an incompetent volunteer and were then asked to do the same for having worked with an incompetent employee. More hands were raised for the latter, which seemed to back up Rob’s point.

Legal view

Victoria Cook, senior associate at Bates Wells Braithwaite spoke about the legal implications of incentivised volunteering. She reminded us that in English law any relationship between a volunteer and volunteer manager has no legal definition. However, she cautioned that volunteer managers should be careful when deciding whether to use incentives to attract volunteers, as providing these could imply that ‘consideration’ exists and that there is a contract between manager and volunteer. This is problematic as it could lead to the volunteer manager being judged to have broken the law.

Credit schemes

Ian Merrill from Tempo (formerly Spice Time Credits) told us about the incentivised volunteering programmes run by his charity in partnership with organisations in the voluntary, public and private sectors. A volunteer enrolled on one of these programmes receives one credit to use on leisure activities, cultural attractions and sports facilities, for each hour they spend volunteering. Ian suggested that this scheme is effective at enhancing volunteering in parts of our communities where volunteering rates are low, as approximately half of the people enrolled in Tempo’s time credits programmes have never volunteered before.

Siobhan Davis from Volunteer Centre Dorset shared a video about her centre’s community credit scheme for volunteering. The scheme mainly works with volunteers with additional support needs. For each hour spent volunteering, a volunteer gets one credit which can be used for local goods and services. According to Siobhan this scheme has helped to reduce the social isolation of disabled volunteers who can use their credits on going for coffees and getting involved in leisure activities.

Full-time volunteering and incentives

Leo Watson told us about the incentivised volunteering programmes run by the US arm of City Year. These programmes place young full-time volunteers into schools in deprived communities to act as mentors to students. Unlike in the UK, full-time volunteering in the US has a legal definition and support from the government. This means that City Year USA can provide their volunteers with several incentives including free accommodation, a bursary, holiday and sick pay and money off college tuition fees. This gives a good example of when incentivising can help make volunteering inclusive.

Volunteering at festivals

We heard from Rob Wilkinson of My Cause UK, a charity which provides opportunities to volunteer at music festivals in the UK and takes a unique approach to incentivised volunteering. A My Cause volunteer gives their time in roles such as stewarding and ticket checking and in return the volunteer gains access to the festival and the festival organiser donates a fee to a charity of the volunteer’s choice. Rob told us that My Cause’s volunteers have a 98% chance of showing up. He attributed this to the fact that they offer fun episodic voluntary opportunities that are particularly appealing to young people.

Discount cards

Rob Burley told us about vInspired, a scheme which allows young people to sign up for a reward card in return for time spent volunteering in their local community – the card gives discounts on products and days out across the UK and Europe. The scheme is mainly operating in London, and the card is most popular in the three most deprived wards of the city.

We also heard from Kieran Mullan of ValueYou, an incentivised volunteering scheme currently running in Ealing in London. Volunteers enrolled in the scheme obtain a ValueYou card, which gives them discounts at participating independent businesses in the local area. According to Kieran the ValueYou scheme stimulates struggling independent businesses, and at the same time gives these businesses a simple opportunity to say thank you to the people who are giving their time unpaid to help their local communities.

See you next time

Thanks to all the speakers and delegates for an interesting and productive day of discussion, learning and networking. Check out our Twitter moment giving a snapshot of the day. You can access all the slides from the day via Slideshare.

We run our National Volunteering Forums three times a year across England. You can see previous topics we’ve covered here. Our next Forum will take place on 25 January 2019 at NCVO in London and will coincide with the launch of the final report on the volunteer experience research we have been conducting. Make sure to save the date in your diary and sign up to updates from the volunteering team to know when tickets are released.


To understand ‘consideration’ more clearly from a legal perspective, come to Volunteering and the Law training at NCVO, London, 30 November.


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Charlie is a trainee volunteering development policy officer at NCVO, supporting NCVO's volunteering policy work. He has been volunteering since childhood in various roles, including at a community development charity working with the eastern European Roma community in Glasgow, as an adviser at a Citizens Advice bureau, and as a Scout leader.

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