How do you measure the long term impacts of volunteering? This is question we’ve spent a lot of time debating over the last 6 months. Today we’re delighted to launch a new research report begins to answer this complex question.
We know for many young people, the act of volunteering can support increased engagement, improve skills, employability and well-being. We also know the meaningful engagement of young people on tackling key social and community issues is also considered to play an important role in creating a more inclusive society. But there are indications that volunteering could also have a number of longer term outcomes, for example, increasing their employability. The surveys and exit interviews that are most commonly used with volunteers are not designed to capture these. They are also unable to say whether young volunteers are a proiri different from young people who do not volunteer. This is essential in determining the ‘added value’ of volunteering.
Working closely with the Institute of Volunteering Research, in consortium with the National Centre for Social Research, and Birkbeck College, we’ve been trying to determine whether it is possible to measure the long term outcomes of volunteering. We’ve drawn upon a review of literatures, interviews with those that have been involved with longitudinal studies in the UK and internationally, and deliberative workshops with stakeholders including the youth sector, policy makers and young people. We’ve concluded that longitudinal is absolutely crucial to build a robust evidence base which demonstrates the impact of volunteering on young people’s lives.
We need to be pragmatic in the existing economic climate, and devise realistic plans. This helps us avoid the inertia around investing in long term impact measures, and instead builds the commitment towards a research legacy for youth volunteering. We held a roundtable to debate the draft recommendations from this project. The roundtable, attended by representatives from central government (Department for Education, Office for Civil Society, Department for Culture, Media and Sports), think tanks (Demos, New Economics Foundation, New Philanthropy Capital), research institutions (Institute for Employment Studies, University of Lancaster) and other third sector stakeholders was chaired by Ravi Chandiramani, the Editor of Children and Young People Now. The discussions illustrated that there are still some reservations around the complexity and ambition of longitudinal research. However the consensus over the need to move the debate on and to explore the possibilities of conducting such research in ways that might benefit not only the current generation of policy makers and practitioners, but also future ones.
The research makes two recommendations. The first, to conduct further analysis of existing longitudinal data on volunteering to help shape and improve any new questions on volunteering in existing longitudinal studies. The second, is to engage in discussions with existing surveys with the view to adding or amending questions in them. v intends to take forward these research recommendations. We would like to collaborate with interested partners to take forward this crucial area of work and utilise existing studies. If you’re interesting in finding out more about this research you can read a summary of the project, which is accompanied by a detailed full report. Are you interested in getting involved? If so we’d love to hear from you, drop me a line at Hannah.Mitchell@vinspired.com.
At v we are committed to putting young people at the heart of everything we do, and this includes incorporating their views and input at all levels of our organisation. v20’s – our Youth Advisory Board – role is to influence and advise us on all areas of v’s works.
Four v20 also serve as trustees. The recent report A breath of fresh air: young people as trustees from the Charity Commission confirms the important role that young people have to play in actively directing the aims and objectives of charities, by taking on positions as Trustees.
The report shows that young people are being hugely under-represented in charities across the country, with those aged between 18 and 24 accounting for only 0.5% of trustees in England and Wales. v are hoping that this research will inspire many charities to expand their range of trustees, to incorporate a wider, more representative demographic.
The report highlights that almost half of charities have at least one board level position open, and some may have difficulties in recruiting new trustees. The most common route into trusteeship appears to be through volunteering, with almost all the young trustees interviewed in the research saying they had been recruited from existing volunteering positions in the charity. It is therefore crucial that charities and their trustees take an active role in recruiting and encouraging young people, and harnessing the new perspectives, enthusiasm and insight that they can bring. As one sector expert asserted: ‘the key thing is to increase awareness and confidence – both among younger people and organisations themselves”.
The report also stressed that not only was trusteeship a great way for young people to contribute to communities and affect change, it was also an ideal vehicle for their personal development. Young volunteers felt that their volunteering experience had helped them to develop new skills, such as building respect, enhancing their CV and labour market prospects, and developing their organisational and team work skills. Young trustees added that trusteeship had the additional value of providing them with the opportunity to develop their decision-making, financial accounting and management skills, whilst also increasing their maturity and confidence.
One of v’s young trustees, Mohammed Ahmed, fully endorsed the report’s findings, stating that “Being one of the 0.5% of young trustees in England, I feel empowered to actually make sure that my voice, and the voices of the thousands of young volunteers that work with v up and down the nation are heard within v. It also gives me the opportunity to personally develop, enabling my confidence to grow, and encouraging me to think both practically and strategically for the long-term benefits of the charity. It’s a great experience, which I’d recommend to any young person – it may be nerve-racking at first, but it’s truly rewarding.”
Compelling new research reveals the positive impact of student volunteering
As v, The National Young Volunteers’ Service, launches a nationwide tour of universities and further education colleges, a preview of compelling new research* confirms the positive impact of volunteering on students and the wider community, with 63% of students actively volunteering themselves and 87% of student volunteers saying that they would recommend it to their peers.
Further results from the wide-ranging research commissioned by the NCCPE and delivered by the Institute for Volunteering Research revealed that 85% of students said that engaging in volunteering increased their communication skills; 77% said that it increased their understanding of other people and 83% said it increased their skills for potential employment. The findings highlight that students broaden the diversity and size of an organisation’s volunteer pool, and that these organisations see universities as valuable repositories of talent, time and enthusiasm.
The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement’s vinspired students programme was set up to investigate the impact of volunteering on students, communities and institutions and to demonstrate the unique contribution that universities can make to their local community through the strategic management of volunteering. The research also discovered that two thirds (67%) of volunteers surveyed said that volunteering whilst at university increased their willingness to volunteer in the future.
David Owen – Research and Development Manager for vinspired students said:
“The research confirms that student volunteering and experiential learning does indeed enrich a student’s subject knowledge and develops more versatile graduates who are more ready for the employment market and future volunteering engagement. However, the findings come at a time where many of the volunteering programmes established at universities and students’ unions are facing uncertain futures regarding funding.”
On 28 September, v, The National Young Volunteers’ Service, launched a tour of universities and further education colleges, offering free expert advice and workshops to help students across the country improve their CVs and use volunteering to help them get ahead in today’s tough employment climate.
The double-decker bigvbus will visit over a dozen venues, running workshops by leading brands and inspirational companies, such as Red Bull and ColaLife (link) and will include an ‘Insider Tips’ session with career specialists Bright Futures sharing advice on job hunting, interview techniques and giving the low down on what companies are really looking for in new recruits.
Terry Ryall CEO for v, The National Young Volunteers Service says:
“I’m delighted that this new research reveals the positive impact of volunteering in the student community and shows how it can develop a culture of lifelong volunteering. Student volunteers contribute significantly to university life and the wider community through the hours they volunteer with groups and organisations as well as the informal help they offer.”
“With the economic climate making it increasingly difficult to find work, volunteering can also ensure that young people can develop essential new skills to help them find future employment.”
An evaluation of the first year of the full-time volunteering programme, vtalent year, has shown that the sector and young people are all gaining from the programme.
Young people contributed an estimated 1,112,760 hours to children and young people services, FE colleges and campaigning organisations.
In 2009/10, 843 young people engaged in a 44 week volunteer programme in highly quality structured placements within 32 Local Authority CYP Services, 29 FE colleges and 2 Campaigning Organisations.
Examples of impact on Local Authority Children & Young People Services include:
- Consulting with young care leavers and supporting them to advocate their needs to influence service delivery and policy developments;
- Mentoring and supporting disabled young people ;
- Youth advocacy and participation;
- Developing a LGBT network and council forum;
- Supporting the local Connexions service ‘one stop shop’
Examples of impact on FE College services include
- Increasing student participation in enrichment, health, arts, sports and student union projects
- Coordinating college volunteering fairs
- Facilitating college enrolments
- Planning initiatives for young people who are NEET to visit college departments
- Building links between the college and local community centres and training providers
- Supporting students in the post 16 year transition process
The study also showed that young people themselves had travelled a long way, the programme providing effective pathways into work and education for young people. Volunteers were from a range of backgrounds, with at least 40% of the young people being NEET at the point of recruitment. 94% of the young people graduated from year 1 obtaining a level 2 equivalent qualification; a quarter progressed to employment; half have gone onto further or higher education; and 15 per cent have taken up another volunteering placement.
The young volunteers report that vtalent year supports their personal development and enables them to develop new skills, networks, friendships, and encourage civic engagement. A summary of our findings is available here.
The second year of the programme is now well under way.
To find out more please contact the vtalent year team on 0207 960 7000.
Volunteering is a key strand of the Government’s vision for achieving a ‘Big Society’, where people are working together to take action on local issues. However, with the squeeze on public spending, demonstrating impact of programmes, initiatives and organisations is also the conversation of the day within the third sector. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) recently released Ten Big Questions about the Big Society (2010) offering questions and proposals to implement the ‘Big Society’ vision. It’s great to see this report highlight the need to ‘measure what matters’, that it is not just counting short term financial effects, but the wider and long term impacts upon individuals and communities.
Looking at the measures used to capture the value of volunteering, we tend to focus on measuring the immediate or short term outcomes. These are largely self-reported and often captured through methods such as surveys, exit interviews or discussions with volunteering placement. But volunteering can also have a number of long term and profound outcomes upon young people, for example, increasing young people’s employability. These outcomes are often not identifiable immediately. In the UK there is very little evidence about the long term impacts of volunteering, and it could be argued that this is one of the biggest challenges facing the volunteering sector in the UK. Indeed the US are further advanced in this area of volunteering research, undertaking a longitudinal study of service in Americorps by tracking 2,000 volunteers over a three year period; a great example of a long term evaluation initiative.
Research in the UK has made good progress in beginning to document the long term outcomes of volunteering. For example, Raleigh International research with the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) Rallying Together (2009) demonstrates the long term impact of its international programmes on volunteer’s personal development, global citizenship, and civic participation through a series of surveys and interviews with programme participants between 1989 – 2006. This research provides excellent cross-sectional data, capturing participant’s feedback at one point in time, but it is unable to capture the change and impact of change upon individuals. Longitudinal research into the impact of youth volunteering offers the ability to examine the impacts of volunteering over time and assess how volunteering brings about changes in the individual and wider society. Thus longitudinal research could provide an essential measure of the long term wider added social value and outcomes of volunteering.
To better understand how to measure the long term value of youth volunteering v is working in partnership with the Institute of Volunteering Research (IVR), National Centre for Social Research, and Birkbeck University to undertake a scoping study to identify the possible approaches to monitor the long term impact of volunteering. The research aims to propose a methodology that is methodologically and ethically sound, complements existing studies and financially viable. Drawing upon a review of literatures, interviews with those that have been involved with similar studies in the UK and internationally and deliberative workshops with stakeholders including the youth sector, policy makers and young people.
This week we’ve just finished the deliberative workshops with stakeholders. These were well attended by CEO’s from leading youth sector organisations, senior policy advisors, research specialists and young volunteers. The in-depth discussions in the workshops illustrate the complexities of developing a longitudinal research methodology, particularly around the scope of outcomes one study can effectively capture and the feasibility of such research within the current financial environment.
The consortium meets next week to consider the all the data we’ve collected from the initial stages of the research. They’ll be some challenging issues to discuss around the focus, methodology and to how we take the research recommendations forward. In early autumn we’ll be publishing a report with detailed recommendations on approach, method and budget. We’ve no doubt that one of the biggest challenges will be to secure financial support for a future longitudinal research project.
However as the demand increases for the third sector to become more sophisticated in measuring and capturing outcomes, we need to consider how we can effectively capture short and long term outcomes of volunteering. As the Demos report Measuring Social Value: the gap between policy and practice (2010) highlights, many third sector organisations are not yet ready to identify and measure outcomes in a quantitative way. Research to date suggests we’re on the right track to measure immediate outcomes, so it’s perhaps a case of refining and re-developing existing tools. However we’ve a long way to go to measure the long term impacts and the volunteering sector requires support and expertise to enable this to happen.
v’s longitudinal scoping research is work in progress. Securing support to enable longitudinal research in this area will certainly be a long term project but one that is very much required. If you’re interested in finding out more about this work and would like to become more involved please do contact me on Hannah.Mitchell@vinspired.com.
Last week we launched of our new research report, An Anatomy of Youth, in partnership with Demos. Over the past year Demos have analysed the attitudes of 16 – 25 year olds and some of the key trends they are living through. The research brings together original data from v’s Voicebox survey, expert essays, and portraits of young people to reveal a generation that is creating social change rather than simply experiencing it.
The report identifies the failure of the current political debate to adequately discuss long term problems like economic recovery, climate change, the care gap and communities under strain, this is turning youngsters away from politics altogether, despite evidence that many are passionate about politics and social issues. The Times ran a pre-election feature on the Anatomy of Youth, and describe young people’s political engagement as; ‘Young, cool, indifferent: digital generation finds it hard to connect‘.
The report shows young people across Britain are keen to contribute to society, but see little evidence that mainstream politics tries to include young people in decisions outside of ‘youth issues’. At v, we’re committed to understanding more about young people through our research programme.
Terry Ryall, Chief Executive of v, said: “The report helps us understand the big challenges young people are facing, now and in the future, so that we can effectively strengthen their role in society. The findings identify the gap between those young people who are hyper-engaged and those who are disengaged with society. At v, we’re committed to supporting every young person to take action on the issues they care about”.
The research sets out five major challenges young people will inherit, and the extent of the sacrifices they will be forced to make in future:
Citizenship – Young people have lost sight of why traditional politics matters. Only 36% voted at the last election. Politicians must engage young people’s passions, or they will go to express their politics elsewhere – as consumers, donors to charity and in grass roots movements.
Climate Change – Young people know that climate change will affect them, but are unsure how government intervention to de-carbonize the economy will affect their personal freedoms. Governments need to be honest with young people.
Care and families – Young people surveyed placed family at the top of their priorities, but over the decades ahead families will face acute pressures to provide more care, and support with fewer resources. Their families will struggle to cope with an ageing population without big changes in flexible working and state support.
Digital identity – The first generation to be called ‘digital natives’ face unprecedented challenges online between balancing internet freedom and privacy and control their personal information. Governments need to consider how they protect this generation’s digital rights.
Community – Young people are inheriting local communities under strain and low on trust and they feel lower levels of belonging to their local area than other age groups. Local and central governments will need to invest in spaces that can foster inter-cultural and inter-generational exchange between people.
The report includes a foreword from David Willets MP and new essays from Zygmunt Bauman, dana boyd , Katherine Rake , Peter Madden, Stuart White; and Rachel, Sabiha, Kit, Kelvin and Rui provide examples of how they as young people are already taking action.
The report concludes by posing six questions, which are examples of the type that should be asked of all political representatives on behalf of the next generation of voters, whether at a local, central, or international level. The responses to these questions will help us to describe a political future for the next generation and establish a different contract with citizens, which are both essential in creating a healthier political alignment for youth in the decades ahead.
An Anatomy of Youth has started a debate on how we can work together to bridge the gap between politics and young people. The event last week brought together key thinkers, politicians and young people to further explore the research findings and possible solutions. Our v20 advisory board reviewed the report and provided their responses via our blog on digital identity, effective citizens, new families, changing communities, and climate change.
The event was very well attended, indeed at one point we had to operate a one-in-one-out policy! The conversations around the room echoed the same sentiment – we urgently need to consider how we can best support young people transitions through to adulthood in view of the new challenges posed in the next decade. The new coalition government will be tasked with addressing these challenges and we must support young people to become part of the solution.
As part of v’s on-going evaluation the Institute of Volunteering Research has reviewed recent developments in youth volunteering, ‘ Young people, volunteering, and youth projects: A rapid review of recent evidence‘. The three staged review looks at: the evidence base for young people, including their attitudes to and participation in volunteering; specific types of volunteering initiatives in the UK and beyond; and finally it summaries the key developments in the literature since the last comprehensive review in 2004 (Gaskin, 2004a).
This latest insightful report demonstrates the continued research interest in exploring young people’s participation in and understanding of volunteering. It is re-assuring to see this report conclude there has been a strong increase in direct consultation with young people since 2004 about their attitudes to volunteering. Understanding and considering the views, wishes, and opinions of young people must be central to improving and developing youth volunteering. Research highlights that young people are far from being a homogeneous group and that demographic characteristics affect the participation rates and the nature of volunteering undertaken. Direct consultation with a diverse range of young people, through research, will enable us to better design volunteering initiatives and ensure their voices don’t get lost in the important policy debates about youth volunteering and civic service. v’s research on full time volunteering, Young People Speak Out (2009) is a good example of this.
However, as pointed out in this latest review, gaps still remain in the research, particularly the lack of evidence around the long term impacts of volunteering. Within the current economic context, and rising levels of youth unemployment, there is a need to better understand one particular key long term impact; the link between volunteering and employability. This report shows that a focus on employability as a benefit of volunteering is particularly prevalent for the young. While evidence of the impact of volunteering on employment rates is mixed, young people perceive volunteering as enhancing their employability (Hirst, 2001) and v’s research with employers (2008) shows that employers value volunteering experience for improving work related skills such as communication, leadership, team work, and self-confidence.
v is committed to understanding not just this link between volunteering and employability, but to gaining a full picture of the long term benefits of volunteering. We have recently tendered for a new research project – a scoping study to understand how to measure the impacts of volunteering on young people using longitudinal research. Through the scoping study we will be reviewing existing research and working with a range of key stakeholders to develop a best practice model for longitudinal research in this area. We aim to use the scoping study results to invite future investment in a longitudinal study to open up this much needed area of research.
We look forward to sharing these results with you in the autumn. If you are interested in this longitudinal research we’d like to hear from you.