Hidden diamonds: Uncovering the true value of sport volunteers

Join In has released ground-breaking research into the hidden value of sport volunteers, going beyond cost to measure the true value they create – through participation, wellbeing, trust and community.

Going beyond traditional valuation methods which use the cost-replacement model, we investigated the true value of sports volunteering to personal wellbeing and happiness of the volunteers themselves, plus the wider benefit to their communities.  

Below is our revealing report into this hidden value.

Our starting hypothesis was that volunteers shouldn’t be seen as cost-savings but as investors – people who invest their time, skills and energy both for their own benefit and for that of the wider community. Here’s what we found.

Volunteering increases wellbeing

We’ve already reported how the returns on a volunteer’s investment of time are of immense benefit to the wellbeing of the volunteer themselves.

Wellbeing that multiplies into the wider community.

The wellbeing benefits of playing sport are well recognised and what this new research adds to those individual benefits is the wellbeing experienced by people who play sport. When we consider that one volunteer creates the capacity for at least 8.5 more people to play¹, it’s clear that sport volunteers act as a catalyst for multiplying benefits outwards into their communities.

Our findings also showed that, compared to people who don’t volunteer, a volunteer in sport is significantly more likely to feel good about their community. Specifically, they feel that:

  • being part of their community is important
  • they have influence over what their community is like
  • their needs are met by their community, and
  • they put a lot of time and effort into being part of their community

The numbers

Join In has used the latest valuation techniques in the economics of wellbeing to reveal that one volunteer in sport creates wellbeing worth £16,032, for themselves and for those they help play sport. We did not feel able to put a number on the wider benefits to the community but clearly there is significant value still to add.

Peter Gore of Bolton Rugby Football Club has seen this effect first hand.

“At Bolton, there’s a place for anybody who comes down. Nobody will ever be refused. If they can’t afford to play we’ll help them, give them the opportunity to feel they’re wanted and part of the community. The players have it in the back of their minds and it sticks. If we all did that, life would a better place.”

Golden time to invest

With 3.2m volunteers across the country, volunteering in sport is the biggest single sector (approximately 20%). Using our new valuations this makes sport volunteering worth £53bn – one of the most valuable sectors in the UK, on a par with the energy sector and four times bigger than agriculture. It seems the warm feelings from volunteering and playing sport are potentially as valuable as the energy that warms our homes.

With the Chief Economist at the Bank of England valuing volunteering as a whole at approximately £200bn², this would put sport volunteering at around £40bn. It seems clear that Join In’s valuation figure of £53bn is broadly consistent – especially when you factor in all those people who benefit from playing sport as a result of the volunteers who give their time.

London 2012 began a golden decade of sporting events in the UK. Following the Tour de France and Commonwealth Games in 2014, we can now look forward to the Rugby World Cup and Swimming World Championships in 2015, the World Athletics Championships in 2017, and the Women’s Hockey World Cup in 2018, and with yet more beyond.

The plea from Join In is that 7 out of 10 clubs need more volunteers and, at a time when working hours are the longest they have ever been, the pressure on people’s time is growing.

We can’t take this huge national energy source for granted. More effort, time and investment needs to be put into this vital resource. Early in the golden decade of sport, that time is now.

¹ – Active People Survey from Sport England 2014 (and consistent with the Sport and Recreation Alliance report 2013 which describes 151,000 clubs in the UK with an average of 24 volunteers per club, which is approximately 3.6m volunteers.)
² – Andrew G Haldane, Chief Economist, Bank of England, 2014 speech: In giving, how much do we receive? The social value of volunteering (PDF)


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