Volunteer Research & Reflections

29 September 2014


Gemma Jackson

I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first time at the Voluntary Sector and Volunteering Research Conference in Sheffield... but I’m happy to report that it was one of the best conferences I’ve been to. Here’s the top 3 things that really stuck with me.

1. Volunteering is “in vogue”

Events such as the London 2012 Olympics, the XX Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup have put the role of volunteering centre stage and fuelled a craze for “glam volunteering” – people volunteering to be part of high-profile events. Whilst events are a great way of showcasing and inspiring people to volunteer, as Michelle Martin (Volunteer Centre Greenwich) presented, the challenge is how to ensure that this has a lasting legacy. The impact is more likely to be felt if volunteering at events leads to a greater level of interest in volunteering generally, and for this to happen it is vital that the right volunteering infrastructure is in place. 

With this in mind, we have launched My Volunteer Account - which provides people who applied to volunteer at Glasgow 2014 with an exciting platform for exploring other ways in which they can volunteer.


2. Volunteering is contagious!

In the same way that colds are spread by contagions, the concept of “social contagions” can be used to explore how human behaviour is learnt and passed on through society. The rationale behind this is similar to the phenomena of “contagious yawning” (watching someone yawn makes you yawn!) Jen Wingate (University of Durham) has been using this concept to explore the spread of community development ways of working by practitioners. But it’s possible to see how this notion could be useful from a volunteering perspective. 

Informal word of mouth is cited as one of the main pathways into volunteering, so we need to think about how we can encourage volunteers to spread the word of how great volunteering is to their friends, family and social circle.


3. Measuring impact is the sign of a well-run ship

The importance of demonstrating impact is widely recognised but have we all really bought into the idea? People have started to talk about the “race for impact” and “impact currency”, with many organisations feeling a sense of external pressure to ‘demonstrate’ impact, rather than an internal need to make sure they are ‘making’ an impact. So how do you get the value and importance of measuring impact to resonate across an organisation? 

Peter Bailey (Big Lottery Fund), Tim Hobbs (Social Research Unit) and Gracia McGrath (Chance UK) talked about the importance of “winning the hearts and minds” of everyone involved in the impact process. Achieving this will bring about a cultural change which enables people to recognise and appreciate that measuring impact is good for the organisation, good for the people we serve and good for society as a whole.

Check out our new training course on Measuring Impact. You might also be interested in Zoe’s blog on impact


Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or comments.




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