Olympic volunteering: legacy maker or a no-game changer?
As something of an Olympian sceptic, I experienced a complete U-turn in opinion over the course of the Games. My heart swelled many times during those two weeks: watching the opening ceremony in my local pub, seeing Nicola Adams win the women’s boxing, and hearing Seb Coe’s celebration of the Games Makers in the closing ceremony - and the massive cheer they received - to name just a few.
At the risk of being accused of raining on the Olympic parade, my scepticism does endure on claims that the Games will dramatically increase the number of people volunteering. Volunteering levels have remained remarkably consistent over the last 30 years. Last year NCVO published Participation: Trends, facts and figures which brought together information and statistics about a range of types of civic action, including volunteering. We reported that the levels of formal volunteering have changed very little over the years, for example between 1981 and 2009, the number of people volunteering through an organisation at least once a year decreased very marginally from 44 to 41 per cent:
This is not to say that the Olympics will have no effect: our research with Involve and the Institute for Volunteering Research on the Pathways through Participation project highlighted that for people to start participating in social or voluntary action, they need a trigger – something that ignites them. The Olympics may well prove to be that trigger. But triggers alone are not enough. People need to have the personal motivation ('I just want to help people' or 'I need to gain some new skills'), the opportunity (the places and organisations that host and organise the voluntary activity) and the resources (be they learnt, felt or practical, like having the time and health).
Some of these factors are easier to influence than others, and those with an interest in increasing levels of volunteering – the politicians, organisations and policy makers – can think about where their efforts are likely to have most success, as our concluding diagram in the Pathways project highlighted:
The massive £135 million initiative, People, Places, Play delivered by Sport England, appears to be tackling the different elements of what encourages and supports participation. Launched in November 2010, it focuses on the places where people can take part (e.g. sports facilities and clubs), the volunteers who provide the coaching and supervision (the 40,000 Sports Makers) and the sporting challenges/fundraising (in Gold Challenge and Sportivate). The wave of public enthusiasm for volunteering triggered by the Olympics is a great opportunity for volunteer-involving organisations and policy makers to capitalise on, and should bolster programmes and initiatives such as People, Places, Play.
The challenge will be to capture this enthusiasm and match it with flexible volunteering opportunities that suit the range of motivations, interests and resources that people have - organisations need capacity to support managers and staff and provide flexible opportunities which are matched to people's motivations and needs.
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Ellie Brodie, Research Consultant, writes about the latest research, evaluation and consultancy projects from NCVO and our partners.