Volunteers’ Week: What we learned

Volunteers’ Week is a year-round activity for NCVO, no sooner has the week finished then planning for the next one begins. At NCVO Charities Evaluation Services (NCVO CES), we have been working on the evaluation of 2019’s Volunteers’ Week so that planning for 2020 can be as effective as possible. Here’s what we’ve learned.

The difference Volunteers’ Week makes

For most organisations that engaged with us, Volunteers’ Week enables them to recognise the contributions that their volunteers make. A secondary benefit – and an important one – is raising the profile of volunteering and their organisation to the public.

Bar chart showing main benefits of Volunteers' Week according to organistions

Raising the profile of volunteering has overtaken raising an organisation’s profile  as the second most widely recognised benefit. Raising the profile of volunteering within organisations has also become more widely recognised as a benefit than in previous years. One volunteer manager explained how they had used the week to raise awareness of volunteering within their organisation:

I work in a county council that doesn’t really use volunteers very much. They do not understand the volunteer world very much. The event I organised for Volunteers’ Week helped my manager understand the importance of building relationships with volunteers and the importance of saying thank you. They are not just a ‘free resource’.

This year, we asked volunteer managers to tell us about what difference they thought the week made to volunteers. They told us that:

  • volunteers liked being recognised and celebrated
  • volunteers liked having an opportunity to come together with other volunteers and staff
  • volunteers liked the opportunity to share their experiences of volunteering and contributions they’ve made.

We know from NCVO’s Time Well Spent research that people mostly give time because the cause is important to them. Showing volunteers the difference they make can be especially meaningful. Next year, we would like to see more organisations talk about how volunteering makes a difference to volunteers and to the causes they care about. Volunteering changes lives – let’s illustrate that as well as celebrating it.

Capacity and time to plan events

Most volunteer managers that responded to our survey found the week valuable but also told us that they struggled to find time or capacity to plan events. Some volunteer managers also found out about Volunteers’ Week quite late this year so weren’t able to plan events in time. We will review our resources, as we do every year, to make sure that they are as helpful as possible to volunteer managers who have very little time. All the resources are still available on our website so you can plan ahead for next year.

Volunteer managers also told us that changing the strapline every year causes problems, particularly for organisations looking to reuse resources and reduce their environmental impact. That’s why we’ve made the decision to keep the strapline the same for 2020.

Social media: is it all about cute puppies?

In general, across the 22,226 uses of #VolunteersWeek on Twitter, the tweets with the biggest reach and engagement were from larger charities and included pictures or videos. The top tweet of the week was from Guide Dogs and featured an adorable puppy as well as his volunteer puppy walker.

Social media is an easy way to raise awareness and profile. It’s relatively low cost so it’s open to small and local charities. Across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Volunteers’ Week reached over 12 million people in the UK, about a sixth of the population.

Over 80% of the charities who engaged with NCVO during Volunteers’ Week were #SmallButVital local organisations. Larger charities with massive social media followings could give these smaller organisations a huge boost by retweeting their posts. We’ll also be looking into other things NCVO can do to boost the profile of small and local charities.

The ‘comms briefing’ was the most downloaded resource this year so it’s clear that charities are looking for support to communicate with the media and the public. We commit to making sure that the comms briefing is even better this year.

Where are events held?

Our map of event listings showed that the majority of events took place in the major cities, especially in England. There were fewer events in rural areas and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We don’t know if that’s because organisations weren’t holding events, or because they weren’t telling NCVO about them. It has shown that we need to do more to get out and work with organisations in rural areas. We’re already making this happen in many different ways, and there will be further opportunities over the next year as we review our strategy.

A celebration

We asked survey respondents how they would like Volunteers’ Week to look and feel. Not surprisingly, ‘celebration’ ‘celebratory’ and ‘fun’ were the most often used words. We were pleased to see ‘inclusive’ among the top words this year, reflecting a shift in the sector towards greater awareness of diversity and inclusion issues. We will use this to help us in our planning for next year so that it reflects these values.

Word cloud showing frequency of words associated with Volunteers' Week

Next year’s Volunteers’ Week is 1–7 June 2020. Put the dates in your diary from now for a colourful, inclusive, exciting, fun, positive, vibrant celebration of all things volunteering!

Volunteers’ Week is led in partnership by NCVOVolunteer ScotlandVolunteer Now (Northern Ireland) and Wales Council for Voluntary Action and supported by thousands of organisations across the UK.


This entry was posted in Impact and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Amira is a senior consultant at NCVO Charities Evaluation Services working across projects including delivering open and in-house training, supporting clients to build their evaluation capacity, conducting external evaluations, and supporting clients with strategy development.

Comments are closed.