Evaluating our volunteering fund

As head of volunteering at Sport England Kristen Stephenson leads on managing the 38 projects across their volunteering funds and supporting the delivery of the strategy ‘volunteering in an active nation’. The fund is focused on getting young people involved in making a difference through social action, sport and physical activity and creating opportunities to get people from economically disadvantaged areas involved in volunteering.

One of the most powerful ways to demonstrate the impact of volunteering is simply to let volunteers tell their story. This video from She’s Ready is a great example of this. Hearing these women talk passionately about the impact volunteering has had on their lives is inspiring and provides important qualitative evidence of the impact of the project.

However powerful, qualitative evidence often isn’t enough to influence decision makers or to make informed decisions about how we fund programmes. We also need data to make the case and evidence that works.

She’s Ready is part of the national evaluation for our volunteering fund and the first 12 months of data from the fund is already showing a positive improvement across our key outcomes for volunteers including; happiness, life satisfaction, self-efficacy and feeling worthwhile.

This week we have published the Volunteering Evaluation toolkit developed with CFE Research.  Working in partnership with CFE on this guide has enabled us to share the insight and experience of the evaluation to support others within the sport sector and beyond to make the case for volunteering , make evidence-based decisions and to ultimately enable more people to experience the benefits.

What are we measuring?

Demographic data captured when volunteers were recruited tells us whether we’re reaching the right the target audiences and gives us a baseline measure for the key outcomes we’re measuring. The experience survey is then used to do a follow up on outcome measures every six months to determine changes in these outcomes over time.

This helps us understand whether the investments we have made have been successful, particularly whether we have achieved our objective of enabling a more diverse range of volunteers to experience the improvements in outcomes associated with volunteering in sport and physical activity.

How we are using the findings

We share the findings with the projects we have funded so they can see the national picture we’re seeing. As we use the personal wellbeing questions to measure the change in outcomes, we can also compare to other datasets like our Active Lives Survey,  to compare to wider trends. Using consistent measures also means we’re making a more meaningful contribution to the evidence base. We also worked with Pro Bono Economics to explore approaches taken across sectors to measure the success of their volunteering programmes.

Discussing the findings with key internal stakeholders in the organisation is a really important step and we involve wherever possible those at a senior level, including our Executive team and our board. This ensures the data directly informs the discussions and decisions that drive our strategy.

Top tips

We have learned a lot in the process of this evaluation and here are three top tips for those interested in taking a similar approach:

  1. Plan early – Evaluation should be part of your project and programme design. If you’re new to evaluation our evaluation framework is a useful starting point. Planning early also means that you can get buy-in from partners and you can be clear about what will be expected of them to help make it happen.
  2. Offer support – Have an open dialogue about evaluation and discussing the evaluation approach with projects and partners involved. Doing this before they start delivering will mean you can work through any concerns they may have. If you can, provide some training or resources they can refer to on an ongoing basis. Our evaluation partner, CFE Research set up a web page which included the toolkit and a list of FAQs we could keep adding to and we ran a webinar that we recorded which projects could then access on demand.
  3. Think about accessibility – Consider who will be using your evaluation surveys and tools out in the field and consider whether they are going to be accessible for the target audience you’re working with. Consider different formats and whether the questions have been tested with the target audience. Ask for guidance or advice from organisations with expertise in this area.

We would love to hear from you if you decide to use the toolkit or get in touch if you have any questions. Email us at volunteering@sportengland.org


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