“Wellbeing is a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community.” (Government Office for Science)
Mental health is very topical at the moment, and with the benefits of volunteering being linked more and more to wellbeing, it makes sense that we sit up and take a more active interest in it. However, measuring the benefits of volunteering for wellbeing as an organisation can seem daunting – how do you measure something so subjective and personal? It’s not as difficult as you might think.
Where do you begin? The first thing look at is your current volunteer base, and think about their characteristics. Some may be happy to answer questions to help your measurement (especially if you already incorporate wellbeing questions into any feedback you ask them for) but others may be less willing to participate. Depending on the type of organisation you work for, some volunteers may already be very self-aware, and are volunteering specifically to improve their health. By thinking about your volunteer base in this way, it will make it easier to think about how you will approach measuring wellbeing and what your goals will be. Look at each volunteer holistically and use your intuition as to how to approach them. It is worth thinking about how you might signpost volunteers to other services if any issues arise as a result of measuring their wellbeing.
Motivations count; in a study of adults over a number of years, people who volunteered were at a lower risk for mortality, especially those who volunteered regularly. However, the reasons for volunteering matter, because those who volunteered for self-oriented reasons had a mortality risk similar to non-volunteers. Those who volunteered for ‘other-orientated’ reasons had a decreased morality risk. However, people have multiple reasons for volunteering, and their motivations change over time, so it is worth thinking about the reasons why people volunteer in the first place when setting your goals.
Use previous findings
There are some useful facts from the Office of National Statistics that can help you decide what aspects may be relevant for you to measure in terms of wellbeing. Wellbeing is an umbrella term for all the things that make it up, covering resilience, vitality, self-esteem and much more. The most recent report from The Office of National Statistics on wellbeing in the UK, Measuring National Well-being: Quality of Life in the UK, indicate that older people (aged 75 and over) were more likely to be satisfied with their leisure time than their younger counterparts. These findings are part of a bigger picture as people volunteer in their leisure time, so it’s interesting to see how volunteering could improve their wellbeing. The NCVO Volunteering Forum found that the relationship between volunteering and improved wellbeing only becomes strong for participants above the age of 40, but it still has an impact on those who are younger too.
There is already some great information out there to help you decide how you’ll go about measuring different aspects of wellbeing, such as the report on Measuring the Social Impact of Community Investment: A Guide to using the Wellbeing Valuation Approach. This report values the increase in general wellbeing from volunteering at £2,537 per volunteer, per year. This is a generic benchmark, but it can still be useful for your own measurements. It might seem counterintuitive to put a monetary value on wellbeing, but it can be useful for policy makers, funders, stakeholders and partners, as well as any documents you create in the future.
Measuring the Social Return on Investment doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as interviewing volunteers or sending out questionnaires. SROI is a form of evaluation that enables a better understanding of an organisation’s impact on people, the economy and the environment. It helps assess whether a project is good value for money and can help decision makers decide where to invest to maximise their impact. The results can help you benchmark volunteer wellbeing, as well as providing a back story of impact for potential funders. It can also provide you with content for marketing purposes.
As an example, using the New Economic Foundation’s report on Five Ways to Wellbeing can be the basis for evaluation, and then semi-structured interviews could be conducted with volunteers. This is a good way to gain insights into the personal impact of volunteering on wellbeing.
There are several methods that your organisation can use to capture the information you need.
Different methods include:
- Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale
- Mental Well-being Impact Assessment (MWIA)
- NPC Wellbeing Measurement Tool
Time and resources
Monitoring and evaluation takes time and effort, meaning you’ll need to make sure you have enough time in your schedule to complete the task. You’ll also need resources, so it may mean that you need to allocate funds for the evaluation. However, it will be worth it in the long run, as it will help you to create a powerful case for resourcing volunteering. The What Works Wellbeing Centre has resources around wellbeing, including a customisable questionnaire builder.
You need to consider the size of your organisation, and tailor the measurement method you decide on, depending on how many volunteers you have and the size of your organisation.
Talk to partners
It is a good idea to discuss your findings and reports with colleagues and partners, as they can give you feedback and there may be the chance that both organisations can benefit from the joint effort.
Volunteer wellbeing is fascinating to research and evaluate, so it is worth taking the time to find the right measurement methods for you. Every organisation has different needs and impacts that need measuring. Consider your time, resources and capabilities and select the right methods for you and your organisation.
Have you measured volunteering wellbeing in any way? If you haven’t measured wellbeing before, what methods do you think will be most useful for your organisation? Comment below with your suggestions.