Measuring the health and wellbeing benefits of volunteering

By Laura Hamilton, Laura Hamilton Consulting  and Gareth Williams, LGBT Foundation
Discover more opportunities to learn about this subject, including the four videos from our Manchester event, at the end of this blog

We were super-excited to be attending AVM’s first learning and development event in Manchester and it was great to see a room packed with volunteer managers from a mix of organisations. Conversations seemed to be flowing right from the start, which we’ll put down to the double whammy of northern friendliness and being in such a beautiful venue.


What prompted us to attend this event? To learn from others’ experience of measuring volunteer wellbeing and to network and make links with volunteer managers from the North.  Gareth is fairly new to volunteer management, so he was really keen to get to know others working in the field.

The event was packed with content; much more than we could possibly cover in this blog. So, rather than give a blow by blow account of the day, we’ve decided to focus on the top 5 things we learned:

1. Look at the whole person
The event kicked off with a fantastic presentation from Emma Horridge and Lee Ashworth; sharing the learning from the “Inspiring Futures: volunteering for wellbeing” (IF) programme.  The programme ran across 10 heritage venues in Greater Manchester and was specifically designed to “support participants into volunteering and away from social and economic isolation”. We were so impressed by this programme and the positive outcomes and progression routes for volunteers.

We particularly liked the fact that the programme recognised the individual nature of progression and their evaluation aimed to look holistically at a person’s life, rather than just focussing on one area of impact. Interestingly, they gathered information from family members and health practitioners, as well as from the volunteers themselves. You can read and hear some of the volunteer stories from the IF programme here and learn more about their evaluation here.  

2. Time and resources matter
Whether it’s taking the time to think through your approach to measuring wellbeing, customising monitoring tools for your own programme, or securing funding to support evaluation, you’re going to need to commit some sort of resource to measuring wellbeing.  Both the IF and Kirklees Museum programmes had involved specialist organisations in the design and delivery their monitoring and evaluation around wellbeing.

Investing time and energy in measuring wellbeing does, however, help you create a powerful case for resourcing volunteering. Using a Social Return on Investment model, the IF programme was able to demonstrate that for every £1 invested in the programme, £3.50 of social and economic value was generated. Kirklees Museum used evidence of the health and wellbeing impacts of volunteering to raise their profile with their Local Authority and build links with both public health and social prescribing.  The event gave us a clear understanding of how evidencing health and wellbeing impacts helps make the case for funding and resources for volunteering.

3. It can be simple or complex
Using a Social Return on Investment model to measure wellbeing seemed like it had been a pretty complex and resource intensive process.  We were also struck by the amount of funding that had clearly been secured to support the evaluation process for the IF project and wondered whether it would be feasible to engage in this type of monitoring and evaluation with less resource available.

Kirklees took a different approach to SROI; using NEF’s “5 ways to wellbeing” as the basis for their evaluation and then undertaking semi-structured interviews with volunteers. This seemed to yield insights into the personal impact of volunteering on wellbeing and, interestingly, they found that direct health benefits were more apparent in longer term volunteers.

For those on a tight budget, there are lots of free resources available:

  • The What Works Wellbeing Centre has loads of resources around wellbeing, including a customisable questionnaire builder.
  • The IF programme website includes a whole section on good practice where they share the learning from their work.

4. Partnerships support progression


We were both inspired by how the IF programme had developed extensive partnerships and how these seemed to support volunteers to develop a wide range of skills and opened the door to new opportunities and progression routes. It was a helpful reminder that we can achieve great things when we work collaboratively and that creating pathways between different organisations and opportunities can be really beneficial.

5. There can be ethical issues
There was some discussion around whether volunteers find questions around wellbeing overly intrusive and whether certain questionnaires and approaches might not be suitable. It highlighted the importance of having a well thought out approach, being clear about why you are gathering information, how it will be used and stored, and being able to communicate this clearly and sensitively to volunteers and ask for their consent. It is also worth thinking through how you might signpost volunteers to other services if the questions you are asking around wellbeing bring up issues around mental health or other aspects of personal wellbeing.

Our final thoughts…
It was great to meet so many people with a passion and appreciation for volunteering and volunteers. The event helped us to build some really good links and opportunities for future partnership work. It was also great to hear the perspectives and voices of volunteers, both in the presentations and during the interactive session at the end of the day.

We also valued the fact that the event included a focus on diversity and a reminder that there is still work to be done in terms of making volunteering (and all the associated health and wellbeing benefits!) accessible to all. Since the event, we’ve been reflecting on how to make volunteering opportunities more inclusive and how to reach out to new groups and demographics.

We look forward to the next AVM event up north next year and to being part of big, strong and diverse network of volunteer managers in the North West!

The four presentations from our March event are available to AVM members, using the password in your latest AVM event email. Visit:

Be the first to discover our new Learning & Development Days, including the ‘Measuring the health and well-being benefits of volunteering‘ event in London on 9th August:

Volunteer Management Progress Report – AVM’s response

The recently published​ 2018​ ​Volunteer Management Progress Report once again highlights the range of job titles in ​our profession​, across the world​.  Although there is a slight increase in ‘Coordinators’, and a ​small decrease in ‘Managers’ in practice Coordinator and Manager roles are likely to overlap, with similar tasks and responsibilities.  2018-VMPR-Cover-e1517423490909

This echoes the IVMD Survey carried out by AVM in 2017.  A third of survey recipients indicated that their role was non-managerial.  Their job titles included Officer / Coordinator / Supervisor / Engagement.  With the potential to negatively impact on the scope for career progression, particularly for new entrants to the industry, improved consistency in naming conventions is needed.

The report also identified time as a challenge for volunteer managers. A proportion of respondents had other core responsibilities alongside their volunteer management role, facing ​the reality of splitting time between competing ​workloads.  Do competing workloads compromise the ability of volunteer managers to be effective?  Is more investment needed?  

The answer may seem obvious but the question is not new.  In 2008 the Institute for Volunteering Research’s​  Management Matters survey found that:

Volunteers are often a vital resource for organisations, yet it would appear that many are not dedicating significant resources to their involvement….While human resources are more readily available for managing volunteers, they are often dispersed and may be hidden within people’s wider roles. (p.7-8, IVR, 2008)

A disappointing trend is the lack of budget assigned to volunteer management. For many of us necessity really is the mother of invention when it comes to managing volunteer programmes but this should be the exception, and not the norm.  An under-financed programme is unlikely to reach its true potential.  16% of the IVMD Survey recipients highlighted budget, resources and finance as an existing challenge they faced in their role, but 25% cited this as a challenge for the sector in the next few years.


Good budget management provides evidence for sustainability and growth, and all organisations promoting and relying on volunteers should properly fund this endeavour, and provide budget writing and management training for their volunteer managers.

The 2010 Valuing Volunteer Management Skills study acknowledges the difficulty in developing a relevant training programme for volunteer managers given that their role is rarely standalone.  It should be noted that the earlier survey recognises that barriers to training opportunities may deter those who are new to the role but are not hampering the development of models of good practice by longer standing practitioners.

Although there was a correlation to salary, there were still relatively high levels of satisfaction amongst volunteer managers, and this has been consistent in the time that the survey has been produced.  Role satisfaction is closely matched by the intention to continue working in this field.  It’s not only volunteers who find the environment rewarding but also volunteer managers!

Network Day: How to get the most out of your Community Fundraising Volunteers

Association of Volunteer Managers Network Day March 3rd 2016

Are you thinking of setting up a Community Fundraising volunteer programme?
Are you thinking about how you can get the most out of your Community Fundraising Volunteers?
Do you think we fail to make the best use of what Community Fundraising Volunteers have to offer?

This special Association of Volunteer Managers Network Day has been designed to focus specifically on sharing experiences of establishing a Community Fundraising Volunteers programme and getting the most of your volunteers in new and existing programmes. You can book here.

This event is kindly supported and hosted by the Guide Dogs


13:00 Arrivals, Tea and coffee and Informal networking

13:30 Welcome from AVM

Structured networking

13:50 Committees to Communities – Juggling an existing traditional Volunteer Network alongside today’s Volunteering appetite

Emily Maskell – Head of Community Fundraising – Save the Children

• We have an ageing network of volunteers – deserving of support and recognition
• We have ambitious growth targets with limited resource
• We’re faced with changing volunteering trends which demand very different propositions from the ones offered to date
• Find out how Save the Children is working in partnership with volunteers to seek solutions, identify opportunities and lay foundations for growth.

14:30 The Do’s and the Don’ts of community fundraising

Daniel Stewart, Community Fundraising Manager – Age UK

A look into the journey Age UK has taken with its community fundraising locally and nationally. Including examples of successful communications to volunteers and supporters, and some tips on how to avoid the more covert bumps in the road.

15:00 Tea Break

15:15 How Guide Dogs are tackling the current challenges facing community fundraising

Rachel Wilkinson – Volunteering Partner – Guide Dogs

Community Fundraising is more challenging than ever before, with new legislation coming into practice, following the heightened scrutiny on the sector and with supermarket collections on the decline. This session will explore the action Guide Dogs is taking in response to these challenges and to ensure that the organisation continues to successfully grow its Community Fundraising income year on year.
We will cover how we aim to:
• Maintain and grow a volunteer-led and volunteer-focused approach to our Community Fundraising offer.
• Develop new and more diverse ways for our volunteers to fundraise for us.
• Sharing what works for us, what lessons we’ve learned along the way and what we need to do more of in the future.

16:00 Final comments and evaluation

16:30 Close

Why not join AVM and save on the cost of your ticket? You can join here

Helping in hospitals

A £1.5m initiative from Nesta to back up to fifteen hospitals to significantly expand the reach and impact of their hospital volunteering service.

Nesta says: “thousands of volunteers are already giving their time to volunteer in their local hospital, helping to transform the lives of patients and their carers. When they do, anecdotal evidence suggests this is both beneficial for the patient and the volunteer.”

The £1.5m Helping with Hospitals initiative will back up to 15 hospitals to significantly expand the reach and impact of their hospital volunteering service, and share the evidence of the impact this has had on patients and their families.

Nesta are looking for hospitals (Acute, Mental Health or Foundation Trusts) who can apply for financial support through one of the following waves:

  • Wave 1 is for hospitals with well-established volunteering services, who wish to consolidate the impact of their service and trial innovative new practice. The maximum funding available under this wave is £50k
  • Wave 2 is for hospitals currently with smaller volunteering services, who wish to build the capacity and impact of their service. The maximum funding available under this wave is £100k.

£6m fund for volunteering and social action

stepupserveCabinet Office has launched £6m fund to encourage more young people to take part in volunteering and social action.

A new fund of up to £6 million over 2 years to help voluntary organisations increase the number of young people aged 10 to 20 taking part in social action, has been launched by Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society today.

The independent Campaign for Youth Social Action (Step Up To Serve), led by HRH The Prince of Wales says that youth social action is ‘young people taking practical action in the service of others, of double benefit to young people and to society’. The campaign’s interim report ‘In the Service of Others’ (PDF), which the government endorsed, showed that of the 8.4 million young people in the UK, only 29% are currently engaged in youth social action.

Minister for Civil Society Nick Hurd said:

We want to create a social action journey that every young person can easily get involved with and feel valued, hone their skills, make new friends and ultimately benefit their community.

The Youth Social Action Journey Fund will support organisations to make this journey a reality by increasing the number of quality social action opportunities for young people aged 10 to 20, embedding NCS into this journey and improving the handover from one social action opportunity to the next.

Since 2011 NCS has worked with over 65,000 young people and it is growing so it can be available to all 16 and 17 year olds to support the important transition to adulthood.

Bids are invited from charities, social enterprises and for profit businesses already delivering high quality youth social action in England.

Deadline for applications is midnight 17 November 2013.

Managing the future of volunteering

Nick Hurd speaking at AVM's conference 2012, Sean Cobley (left) AVM Chair

Nick Hurd speaking at AVM’s conference 2012, Sean Cobley (left) AVM Chair

The Association of Volunteer Managers had its inaugural conference today (9th March 2011) focussing on volunteer management and the Big Society. Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society addressed the conference setting how he saw the role of volunteer management in the Big Society. He came armed with as many questions as answers, but the fact that he was there at all was surely testament to the recognition of volunteer management’s value to the Government’s current policy agenda.

A short synopsis of what Hurd shared: Big Society is about cultural change, it’s a long process and it’s going to be difficult.

Interestingly, given the audience of professionals working in volunteering- he chose to underline the notion that Big Society is “more than volunteering”. That this point needs to be made at all, signals an underlying sense of how critical volunteering is to the Big Society. Volunteering may not be the be all and end all of the Big Society, but when all’s said and done it’s the idea of volunteering that people keep coming back to to explain the Big Society to an often confused and baffled public.

Whatever the link between volunteering and the Big Society in the minds of policy makers, Nick Hurd insisted that volunteer management was a crucial part of the equation. He pointed to the funding that the Office of Civil Society (OCS) is going to make available through the European Year of the Volunteer specifically for volunteer management as just one example.

He shared a short anecdote about an encounter he had had with Baroness Julia Neuberger at the time of her work on the Commission on the Future of Volunteering. When he asked her for one thing that’s crucial to the future of volunteering she responded simply: “volunteer managers”. This was a Minister keen to build bridges.

He addressed questions from delegates where Government policy seemed to run counter to this expressed support for volunteering in the Big Society at the Cabinet Office. For example:

  • Budget cuts to the voluntary sector including infrastructure will result in making it harder, not easier for volunteer managers to do their job
  • By making public service reform such a prominent aspect of the Big Society public perception now is that the Government is asking volunteers to step into fill gaps left by the retrenchment of the state. This perception whether or not it is founded in fact is making it harder, not easier, to recruit volunteers
  • Mandatory work activity (JSA reform) runs counter to the ethos of volunteering and the voluntary sector. As a result, work programmes previously run on a voluntary basis with those out of work- would no longer make sense in the voluntary sector if they became mandatory. Again, this policy may lead to less volunteering, not more.

Nick Hurd’s response to the issue of budget cuts seemed to be: we know it’s painful, but it is temporary adjustment. It will be worth it in the long run.

His response to the public service reform was to say that this public perception will change over time – and insisted that Government had a role to play in leading this change in perceptions and culture. In fact, he gave the impression that a large part of the Government’s approach to volunteering was in how it could be a vehicle for changing social attitudes to giving and social action. There are a number of policies designed to change the attitudes from the National Citizen Service that’s aimed at the attitudes of the nation’s 16 year olds, through to the “civic service” initiative which challenges civil servants to rethink their relationship to the communities they work with.

In terms of contradictions in Government policy – at one stage Nick Hurd joked, “Welcome to Government”. But he did not accept the point about mandatory work activity and suggested this contradiction was more semantic, than actual, and could be overcome.
In terms of the Government’s role in fostering a vibrant and efficient infrastructure for volunteering in this country, Nick Hurd told delegates “he didn’t need any lectures on the importance of volunteering infrastructure”.

He agreed it was important, but was not clear on how it could be funded in the future. It should involve Central Government to a degree, but also the Big Lottery Fund and local authorities had to play their part.

Interestingly, he also floated the idea that longer term umbrella organisations should receive much more of their funding direct from their members or “customers”. If this could be achieved, then Hurd believed infrastructure bodies would become much more efficient than they are today.

At the moment the complex and fragmented system of funding is too thinly spread to make it effective and that too much of volunteer managers’ time is spent fundraising to make it efficient. This issue of infrastructure was one of the big questions that Nick Hurd came with which was: what kind of infrastructure do we need to be able to improve and shape the quality of volunteering experiences?

Another strand of the Government’s approach included more effectively leveraging the links between local businesses and the communities in which they’re present. He spoke about a new initiative to develop “business connectors” who could help establish fruitful relationships for both the voluntary sector and local businesses. This was separate from, but could run in parallel with, the idea to train community organisers to do the same kind of work forging links across communities.

Hurd made reference to the support the Government has given to Chris White’s Private Member’s Bill that aims to make social impact and value a key requirement in the commissioning process in future. It will be interesting to see whether these kinds of measures will effectively open up the space necessary for volunteering and volunteer management to play a role in service provision that can compete with private sector providers. Some delegates flagged up concerns that services built on volunteer management models would not be able to compete on private sector bids for contracts on price alone.

When challenged Hurd accepted the development of volunteer management required nudging organisations to change their behaviour, and that it could not all be resolved by establishing the right kind of infrastructure. On the issue of professionalization of volunteer management, Hurd somewhat baldly stated that he had no interest in this agenda and this should not be the agenda of any Government. This [professionalization], he said, was a matter for volunteer managers themselves.

There were no huge surprises in Hurd’s words, but it was refreshing to have a discussion that centred on how the Government understands what role volunteer management can play in the Big Society agenda. It formed the basis for what was a really informative and productive discussion on the future of the role of volunteer management. Long may this dialogue and discussion with volunteer managers continue.

Funding Guidance for Volunteer Management

We (Age UK and the Age Concern Federation Volunteering Partnership) have produced guidance on how to obtain funding for volunteer management (PDF). It’s primarily aimed at Age Concerns however I hope it’s useful more generically across the volunteering sector.

I don’t pretend it’s the magic answer but more a starting point. Over time I’d like to improve it so if you have any suggestions or case studies please do let me know and I’ll produce a revised edition later in the year.


What will be the legacy of Strand C funding?

With the promise of a £1m injection into volunteer management training and development, I found myself reflecting on what legacy this will leave on the VM profession.

The availability of this fund represents a significant stage in the journey that volunteer management has travelled to date. On the one hand it is a huge investment when compared to the era when the first paid VM was appointed (allegedly in 1963 at Fulbourne Hospital, where an unspecified number of cloak-clad senior managers huddled around a dimly lit NHS desk-lamp to develop a suitable job-description and recruitment advert). But on the other hand, £1m is not a lot of money. For example, with an estimated 100,000 paid VMs, and a further 100,000 unpaid VMs, it could be argued that ‘sharing the wealth’ requires the OTS to give a fiver to each VM so they can purchase a booklet on managing volunteers (or one copy of ‘Essential Volunteer Management’ by McCurley and Lynch, between two!). It’s not that I’m belittling the impact Steve and Rick have made with this landmark publication, but in reality £1m represents £5 per VM, and as such it could be very easy for the ‘Strand C’ investment to disappear into the volunteer management ether.

So what is the potential legacy for the OTS ‘Strand C’ funding?

From my perspective, there could be 3 key differences that this fund could make:

1. It could help to create a cohort of volunteer managers who are able to both facilitate the contribution that volunteers can make to an organisation’s core purpose, and also communicate this to the organisation’s key decision-makers.

2. It could help to create a cohort of volunteer managers who are able to act as an example and as an inspiration to other VMs by demonstrating good practice and innovation.

3. It could help people who do not see themselves as volunteer managers to recognise this aspect of their role, and embrace appropriate management practices that help to enhance the contribution that volunteers can bring to their situation.

Essentially, whilst on the face of it equitable, I don’t see a ‘fiver-for-all’ making a lasting difference. But if the ‘Strand C’ funding can help to develop people who can promote both the practice and the message of great volunteer management, and also encourage people to recognise and accept that managing volunteers is part of their own role, then volunteer management will be in a much better place.

£3m Volunteer Management grant fund announced

Capacitybuilders has launched the £3m Volunteer Management Programme – as promised by the Office of the Third Sector last year –  to provide support to people who manage volunteers

The resulting programme will be delivered via three inter-connected strands:

Strand A – £1.6 million to March 2011 – Grants will be targeted to around 25 local volunteering development organisations, to help them provide outreach and other direct support services to people who manage volunteers, particularly those who may not know about or access existing provision. More than 30 local partnerships are being invited to develop project proposals by the Autumn under this strand.

Strand B – £200,000 to March 2011 – Grants directed at the national strategic support of volunteer management. Work will be co-ordinated via the existing Modernising Volunteering national support service, managed by Volunteering England.

Strand C – Approx. £1 million, available from April 2010 – A bursary fund to help support training for people managing volunteers. Available from April 2010. Capacitybuilders will be consulting with key stakeholders during the Autumn to develop the bursary scheme.

Further information can be found at

Volunteer manager training fund cut by £1m

AVM’s Debbie Usiskin is quoted in Third Sector’s article “Volunteer manager training fund cut by £1m

A long-awaited fund to p rovide training for volunteer managers will distribute £1m less than first promised.

The Office of the Third Sector said it would provide £3m rather than the £4m promised last year to support and train volunteer managers. The missing £1m will be diverted into the third sector action plan.

The fund, set up in response to Manifesto for Change, a report by the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, will be distributed by infrastructure body Capacitybuilders from the summer.

Debbie Usiskin, vice-chair of the Association of Volunteer Managers, said she was unsurprised but disappointed by the funding cut. “The need for specific and effective training is urgent,” she said.

An OTS spokesman said: “We make no apology for reviewing our budget. Our work has been refocused to support the sector at this critical time.”

The fund is part of a £6.6m package of volunteer funds unveiled by the OTS this week. It has set up a £2m, two-year fund for charities aimed at helping disabled people overcome barriers to volunteering; this was also promised in response to Manifesto for Change. The tender process to run the fund opens this week.

The OTS has also announced a £1.6m, two-year fund to build a “volunteering legacy” from the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.