Volunteering, Health & Wellbeing
What does the evidence tell us?
Setting the scene
Implications & next steps
• Volunteering is a ‘good thing’
• Good for beneficiaries and volunteers
• Positive health and wellbeing impacts
• More = better
Is this true?
• Critical appraisal of the evidence
• Are there benefits? Who benefits. Why do they benefit? How do
we maximise benefits?
• Are there losers as well as winners?
• What about the causality issue?
Conclusions reached Jury still out
• anxiety & stress
• social isolation
• PTSD & other
• Healthy behaviours
• Functional independ
-dence (older age)
• Coping with illness
Improved life expectancy
Social isolation & loneliness
out of the
Those who benefit most:
• Absence of ‘role identities’
• Subject to exclusion in society
• Mental ill-health
• Low wellbeing
Does age matter?
• Too much emphasis on
careers & skills
• Not enough on subjective
• Particularly important for
building social skills, social
capital & confidence
• And…combatting mental
ill-health and loneliness
• 35 – 44 age group has
highest vol. rate = 33%
• But evidence of role strain
• Lack of evidence on +ve
health and wellbeing
• Strongest evidence base
• Especially those retired &
subject to ‘role identity
• Reducing social isolation
• Physical health benefits
• The ‘inoculation effect’
Impact on excluded groups?
• The most excluded have the most to gain!
• Mental and physical health conditions
• Those subject to social isolation & loneliness
• The unemployed
• Asylum seekers and refugees
• Armed forces veterans
• Other beneficiaries likely e.g. those with a disability (for future
‘Facilitators’ affecting H&W
• Dose-response effect – frequency and intensity of volunteering
• Motivations – altruism vs. self-interest
• Recognition – thanks, appreciation and recognition
• Volunteer role – nature of volunteer role influencing H&W effects
– e.g. type of support provided, responsibilities, etc. ?
Possible adverse impacts
• Role strain and stress (multiple roles)
• Burnout (no. of hours volunteering)
• Physical health (esp. for older volunteers)
• Challenging and emotionally demanding roles
• Motherhood penalty (& fatherhood penalty??)
• Lack of benefit support e.g. for the unemployed
Possibility that H&W would improve if they
Evidence on ‘burnout’
“Differential benefits of volunteering across the life course”
Van Willigen, M. (2000)
Is there a causality problem?
• Yes for those studies using cross-sectional data (a case of ‘not
• However, longitudinal studies are more robust methodologically:
o They identify positive wellbeing benefits even after modelling
for explanatory factors, but scale is often modest
o Reverse causation should not be considered a problem
• Qualitative evidence focused on those suffering exclusion are
much more emphatic in evidencing the contribution of volunteering
• The personal experiences of those who have been ‘rescued’ by
volunteering are very powerful and convincing.
Implications: policy & practice
Focus Implications Stakeholders
Health, education, employment, young/old, sport &
exercise, social isolation & loneliness, community
engagement, etc. ,etc.
• The ‘nationals’
Evidence in support of priorities for volunteering in
Scotland: e.g. Participation, Inclusion and
Guidance for volunteer managers to maximise
health and wellbeing benefits
• Volunteer Involving
• Training providers
Important to address the mis-information about
H&W effects of volunteering. An awareness raising
campaign would be helpful.
• Volunteer Scotland
• Key partners
Significant evidence gaps which need to be filled:
examination of H&W relating to informal
volunteering, community wellbeing, youth and mid-
• Volunteer Scotland
• Academic partners
• IVR, etc.
Volunteering, Health & Wellbeing - Summary Report
Volunteering, Health & Wellbeing - Full Report