Volunteering for All: national framework - research summary

This summary outlines a systematic review of the research literature on volunteering.

3. Outcomes and Benefits

The literature evidence suggests that there are wide and significant benefits for individuals, organisations and communities from volunteering participation. We would expect these benefits to apply to volunteering in Scottish communities. Given the deprivation gradient in volunteering participation in Scotland, we know that the benefits of volunteering are not very equally distributed. We must be careful that support for volunteering in Scotland does not perpetuate these inequalities by only being accessible to those with existing privilege.

Research Evidence Gaps

  • Measurement of broader organisational and community-level impacts of volunteering. In particular, there is a gap in evidence quantifying these benefits, although this is a challenging area.
  • The potential negative consequences of volunteering, particularly in perpetuating social inequalities, is not well understood. More exploration into the negative effects of volunteering would help to give more steer for improvements in policy and practice for volunteering.

Recommendations for the Volunteering Outcomes Framework

Recommendation Five: It should be acknowledged that the benefits of volunteering do vary with both activity and context, and benefits are not equally distributed across all volunteering activities. There is a broad evidence base for a wide range of benefits from volunteering, and this will be core to the Framework.

Recommendation Six: The relatively limited evidence on community-level outcomes suggests that volunteering has potential to support the development of social networks, solidarity and mutual help within communities, and increasing both bonding and bridging social capital. These outcomes should be related to National Outcomes around building resilient and inclusive communities.

Recommendation Seven: The evidence on broader organisational and community outcomes suggests potential for volunteering to have positive impacts, but is limited in its estimation of the scale of those benefits. The Framework needs to recognise that there are wider benefits, but that measuring or quantifying these is very challenging.

Recommendation Eight: An underlying assumption in the literature is that volunteering has positive outcomes. This means that there is relatively little study of potentially negative outcomes. Consideration should be given to how potential negative outcomes are incorporated and mitigated in the Framework. Potential negative outcomes can be challenged by include positive support structures for volunteering participation, encouragement of good volunteering management practice, and a focus on increasing the accessibility for currently under-represented groups of within the volunteering sector.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

Back to top