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Volunteer funds - what we've learned so far

Our head of volunteering Kristen Natale gives the latest updates on what we're learning from our Potentials and Opportunity Funds.

28th February 2020

by Kristen Natale
Head of volunteering, Sport England

In November 2017 we launched our volunteering funds - Opportunity and Potentials. The 32 investments we made aimed to mobilise a new generation of volunteers, seeking to reach those who were underrepresented in sport and physical activity volunteering.

We’re now more than two years on from those investments being announced and, to learn what’s working, what isn’t and where to invest in the future, we’re running an evaluation process in partnership with CFE Research.

Our interim report launched today, and shares some useful insights into what projects have achieved to date and what we’ve learned is key to success so far.

One of the key findings is that, to date, 4,116 volunteers have taken part in 82,594 hours of volunteering. On average, each volunteer has taken part in 20 hours of volunteering spread over nine occasions. This is a huge commitment of time, skills and energy to help others get active!

Volunteering football coaching facing camera

Our funds

Potentials and Opportunity

Our Potentials Fund targets young people aged 10-20 who want to give their time, while our Opportunity Fund is designed to attract those aged 20 and above from disadvantaged communities.

Here are some of the other highlights from the report:

  • Social outcomes

    Volunteering in sport and physical activity through the volunteering fund has had a positive impact on all social outcomes for volunteers

    Volunteers reported improvements across a range of wellbeing measures, including their satisfaction with life and happiness. They also experienced benefits to their individual development, particularly a positive impact on their confidence, resilience and sense of community trust. Not only did volunteers report improvement in these areas, many agreed it was the project that had positively impacted on them.

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  • Satisfaction

    The more satisfied a volunteer was with their experience on a project, the more likely they were to report an increase across these outcome measures.

    Overall, volunteers reported they were satisfied with their volunteering experience, with a mean score of 8.2 out of 10 for the quality of the experience. This highlights how critical a positive experience is to ensuring projects can have a positive impact on volunteers.

    This is an important learning for us and our partners, and it emphasises the importance of providing the right support for volunteers and ensuring that once they’re recruited, organisations play an ongoing role in ensuring volunteers continue to want to give their time and that their motivations and expectations, whilst volunteering, are met.

    Some projects also had an objective to increase the physical activity levels of volunteers. Among these projects, 43.6% of volunteers reported an increase in the number of days on which they took part in physical activity.

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  • Community impact

    People thought the volunteering they’d undertaken through their project had positively impacted their community.

    Volunteers gave a mean score of 8.4 out of 10 for ‘a positive impact on other people’ and 8.1 out of 10 for ‘it has brought different community members together’.

    Each project is tailored to the local area it’s being delivered in and so the specific ways volunteers had impacted on communities varied greatly across the projects. One common impact was encouraging individuals in their community to become more active. This was often reported for young people or groups who typically have higher levels of inactivity.

    Other impacts reported included improved community cohesion, providing a service to community members and renovating community buildings or assets.

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  • Recruitment success

    Projects have been successful in recruiting volunteers from more diverse target audiences.

    This shows early signs of success in reaching the objectives we set out to achieve and are reaching those who are new to volunteering. One third (34.2%) of volunteers taking part had never volunteered before.

    Potentials Fund projects had particular success in recruiting young volunteers (aged 10-20) from school, college or sixth form, which is also reflected in other national data that shows that education is an important route into volunteering and social action for young people.

    Opportunity Fund projects, focused on those aged 20+, have recruited many volunteers living in areas of high deprivation. What we’ve learned about how to reach volunteers in these communities is important, as people from lower socio-economic groups are currently the most under-represented as volunteers and are also less likely to be active. Our latest Active Lives data showed that lower socio-economic groups make up only 11% of current volunteers in sport and physical activity, which is striking when this group represents 31% of the adult population.

    Across both the Opportunity and Potentials Fund projects, a high proportion of volunteers recruited are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups and are disabled.

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A group of women walking

What works to reach more diverse volunteers?

Although there is much more to learn, we can start to identify some of the approaches that have enabled projects to be successful in engaging diverse groups into volunteering.

  • Understanding experiences

    Understanding target audiences and the barriers they experience to volunteering should be considered early on during the project design phase.

    Each project is engaging with different groups of volunteers that have different motivations and face different barriers, however, the evaluation found that there are a number of common factors which can influence a low uptake of volunteering among projects’ target audiences.

    This included a lack of interest and identification with more traditional or stereotypical volunteering opportunities among the audiences projects were trying to reach. Some also didn’t see volunteering as something people like them did.

    Other barriers to engaging in volunteering included a lack of confidence or self-esteem, language barriers, poor IT skills, a lack of flexibility in existing opportunities, a lack of time or money to undertake volunteering activities, or cultural sensitivities.

    These all needed to be considered when developing volunteering opportunities and activities.

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  • Building trust and working with the right partners

    In some instances, projects found that the under-represented groups they were trying to reach often lacked social trust and so, at times, projects found recruitment difficult or that it took longer than expected.

    To overcome these barriers, projects highlighted the importance of finding avenues to build trust with their target audiences.

    This included identifying and building relationships with local organisations and partners who have existing relationships with communities they were working in. They also reported that building organic recruitment networks helped to support recruitment through word of mouth and recommendations through friends and family.

    Almost half of all volunteers (45.9%) reported that they had encouraged others to volunteer since joining their project, and so volunteers themselves could become advocates for volunteering in their communities.

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  • Meeting motivations

    Designing volunteering opportunities that overcome barriers and meet the motivations of specific target audiences is key.

    Projects who understood their target audience well were successful in designing opportunities that overcame the varied barriers they faced and were able to develop volunteering roles that were of genuine interest to them and aligned with what was going to motivate them to volunteer.

    Consulting with the target audiences and the wider community at the start of the project was key to doing this effectively. Ongoing consultation was also important to ensure that projects continually improve.

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  • Building in flexibility

    Flexible volunteering opportunities that don’t require volunteers to be available at set times and intervals were found to help address barriers to volunteering.

    Once volunteers were in place, projects found they needed to continue to consider how they could support volunteers to continue to take part, and this required them to be flexible and adapt the opportunities they offered.

    Ensuring opportunities are local and easily accessible could also help to overcome issues related to travel time and cost. Projects also explored offering solutions to overcome specific barriers, e.g. running a crèche for mothers or running female-only sessions for female volunteers with low self-confidence, or those from BAME communities where cultural sensitivities might exist around mixed-gender activities.

    This is all part of taking a volunteer-centric approach to supporting the engagement of volunteers over time.

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You can read the full report, or find out more about how we're evaluating our volunteering funds below.

Our final report should be available in 2021.

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