It has been argued that youth volunteering is often promoted as a ‘magic bullet’ for addressing all sorts of problems, for example that it increases youth citizenship, develops young people’s skills and employability, reduces anti-social behaviour and rehabilitates young offenders (Hill & Russell, 2009; Hill & Stevens, 2010). But what is the evidence base for such claims? To answer this, Youth Music commissioned a review of the evidence available on the effects of volunteering.
What can be the benefits for the individual volunteer?
A review of the evidence on the effects of volunteering for individual young volunteers found that it can have positive benefits in four areas:
- Skills and employability: It can provide an opportunity for young people to gain work experience, skills, qualifications and, at least a perceived improvement in their employability. There are some reports of volunteering leading directly to employment or returns to education.
- Personal development: Volunteering can build young people’s self-esteem and confidence, and young people can get a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction from being a part of something meaningful, helping others, and seeing the positive results of their work.
- Social capital: Volunteering can provide young people with an opportunity to develop new social networks and relationships with people from both their own kind of background and different ones. This can help build their social capital.
- Citizenship: Volunteering can bring about a greater awareness among young people of the issues faced by their community or society more generally. It can also develop a greater sense of belonging to their community among young people and provide them with an opportunity to get involved.
What can be the benefits of youth volunteering for host organisations?
- Organisations can deliver more services to more beneficiaries.
- By training up volunteers they can create a pool of skilled potential employees.
- Young volunteers can improve the image of the organisation within the community and advocate for its work.
- Young volunteers can bring energy and vibrancy to an organisation.
- They can help raise funds for the work of the organisation.
- Hosting a young volunteers programme can bring about new networking and partnership opportunities.
What can be the effects on the wider community, including service users/beneficiaries?
- Where organisations develop more capacity, communities can have more of their needs met.
- Projects supported by young volunteers can help improve community cohesion.
- By improving young people’s social capital and citizenship this may have a broader societal impact as young people will be more engaged in and committed to their communities, and are better equipped for adult life. However, this can only be inferred from the current evidence.
- Initial findings of attempts to assess the monetary value of youth volunteering suggests that youth volunteering can present good value for money in terms of the Social Return on Investment.