Why did we do this?
In a number of countries, there are opportunities to participate in ‘domestic gap years’ - as a form of structured national service commonly aimed at young people. Great examples come from across the world from German Zivi’s to AmeriCorps. These models have been inspiring new forms of social action for young people here in the UK, for example with the replication of City Year from the US or the development of National Citizens Service in England.
However, these types of opportunities are not just for young people. In the US people aged over 55 can take part in one of three Senior Corp Programmes - Grandparents, Senior Companions, and RSVP. Senior Corps members commonly report having a greater sense of purpose and achievement, having an increased sense of belonging and connection in the community, and developing new contacts and friendships.
Research also shows that volunteering as we age can have benefits way beyond this too; from health improvement and disease prevention, increased well-being and mental health, decreased isolation and loneliness, and positive impacts on self-confidence and self-esteem. Volunteering is increasingly seen as a fantastic enabler of a happy and healthy life as we age.
But these forms of ‘intensive volunteering placements’ were relatively rare in the UK. We wanted to explore the potential of more intensive volunteering opportunities, and what it would take to motivate, recruit and support people aged over 50 to be able to share their time and talents in this different way.
What did we do?
The Give More Get More Fund was a partnership between Nesta and the Office for Civil Society. We supported five organisations to develop and test intensive volunteering placements for people during, or as they approach, retirement.
We provide financial and non-financial support to develop and prototype five volunteering models, with each offering a different setting and objective:
- Literacy support in schools.
- Support for unemployed housing association residents with moderate mental health conditions.
- Support for patients during their journey through a hospital Emergency Department (ED).
- Delivery of community projects aligned to the priorities of a local authority.
- Support for disabled young people aged 16 – 24 in transition from education.
As the leading movement building agency in the UK, The Social Change Agency worked with Nesta and the five innovations as learning partner for the programme.
What did we learn?
GMGM offered vital learning for future delivery and scaling of similar models and led to some significant and tangible impacts for beneficiaries, volunteers and public services. For example:
- School children achieved better progress against age-related reading expectations compared to a similar non-intensive model.
- Interacting with an intensive volunteer increased patient satisfaction in the hospital emergency department (A&E). Additionally, the presence of volunteers was thought, by hospital staff, to make a positive difference on staff ability to deliver care.
- The increased confidence and trusting nature of a relationship built with an intensive 50+ volunteer facilitated access to further volunteering, educational or employment opportunities for young people (anecdotally accredited).
- Intensive volunteers gained positive impacts such as increased self-esteem and quality of life. These impacts were similar to those expected from a traditional volunteering model, but in some cases appeared to be amplified in these intensive models.
Across the innovations, there was no “typical volunteer” – demographics varied across settings and locations. The volunteers seemed to be driven more by social purpose (e.g. a sense of giving back or using their skills to make a change) than by the potential for personal impact (e.g. reskilling or seeking employment).
The 50+ demographic presents its own unique challenges to volunteer recruitment, in reality presenting a smaller pool of potential volunteers than might be anticipated.
This pilot fund demonstrated potential for intensive volunteering models as a vehicle for social action particularly for:
- Public service settings where the service users or beneficiaries are experiencing high intensity period of life themselves – e.g. medical emergencies, transition to a new stage of life, or the development of the skills and confidence to change their own lives.
- Situations where short-term, person-centred, relationship-based interactions are appropriate or required.
- Volunteers wanting a short-term opportunity to have a high impact.