Why valuing volunteering beyond cost matters

Should volunteering, like crack dealing and prostitution, be included in GDP? asked Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of Frontier Economics, as he spoke at the launch of Join In’s research into the true value of sport volunteers.

“The Office of National Statistics has just changed the way we define GDP, including illegal drug trading and prostitution. So the more crack dealing we have, the higher will our GDP growth rate be. Volunteering doesn’t appear in the GDP statistic at all. It doesn’t make any impact.”  –  Gus O’Donnell

At Join In we see the real impact made by sports volunteers everywhere we go. So we asked ourselves, what more we can do to get this value better recognised and resourced?

Join In's Chairman Lord Allen (third from left) shakes hands with Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society.

Join In’s volunteers, chairman and CEO with Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson

Hidden Diamonds: Uncovering The True Value of Sport Volunteers is our response. The title was inspired by Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, who said in a speech to the Society of Business Economists that volunteering created “eye-watering” value but that its social worth is rarely the subject of a proper public valuation.

Valuing volunteering beyond cost

Traditional methods of valuing volunteers start by putting a monetary value on their labour. To this we brought the latest approaches in wellbeing economics to quantify a personal value of the volunteering experience.

Then we linked these values to the wider returns on investment in sport and health, made possible by volunteers’ contributions. Our report revealed that each volunteer supports 8.5 people to be active in clubs; volunteering is the missing link in sports participation.

One of many Join In suceess stories, Dean Scopes from Jubilee 77 YFC.

Join In volunteers help 30 more children play at Dean Scopes’s football club

Join In concluded that each individual sport volunteer creates £16,032 of social value a year – equivalent to £53bn when you total across all 3.2 million regular sports volunteers. That’s twice the size of the UK agriculture sector. Eye-watering indeed!

It’s a compelling picture, if a novel one, and we wanted to see how it would be received a range of stakeholders across academia, civil society and Westminster. The answer was better than we could have hoped. On 16 October about 100 delegates joined us in Whitehall for a first glimpse of this ‘new economics’ of volunteering.

A gallery of images and stories presented the research in a fun and accessible way.

Guests learned of the value of sport volunteers feeling more confident, more resilient and less worried

Former triple jumper Jonathan Edwards acted as host, introducing contributions from politicians, economists, volunteering professionals, sports stakeholders, sports club officials and of course volunteers themselves. The breadth of speakers and delegates indicated just how widely the social value of sports volunteers is felt.

Grassroots value: clubs and communities

Bolton RUFC’s Peter Gore runs community programmes tackling issues such as hate crime and bullying. One of our event panellists, he has explained that helping young people through rugby is “ almost frightening, the difference it can make.”

Dean Scopes, who runs Jubilee 77 Youth Football Club, was also present on the day to show how Join In helps connect clubs like his to valuable volunteers. He found new coaches for his teams after seeing a Join In advert as part of our ITV Local Heroes campaign during the 2014 World Cup.

Jonathon Edwards kept proceedings on track and the audience entertained in professional style.

Triple jumper world record holder Jonathan Edwards told how volunteers helped him succeed

And football coach Mel Woodards was also on hand to tell guests how volunteering had “literally saved my life” after she suffered domestic abuse – illustrating the considerably higher levels of self-esteem, emotional wellbeing and resilience experienced by sports volunteers.

Invest in the power of volunteers

Those of us who work with volunteers see and feel the value they bring every day. Why, then, can it often be so difficult to secure investment for them?

Part of the challenge might lie in how we describe their value.

At Join In we can now do this holistically, combining the value to the individual volunteer, to the host organisation and to wider society. If more of us adopted similar approaches, could this social value begin to seriously challenge GDP as a measure of success, and convince more agencies to invest in the power of volunteers?

That’s the conversation we’re now taking up. Want to join us?

– To find out more about Join In’s Hidden Diamonds, contact Director of Communications Will Watt. Or read about the impact of the research since our launch.

– Further Reading: Professor Kevin Fenton of Public Health England cites Join In’s research as an exemplar of wellbeing research in his new blog, marking the launch of the new What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

Guests were asked to vote on whether they would "Invest in sports volunteering?"

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