The volunteer effect

Volunteers are right at the heart of our work with young people – we simply couldn’t deliver our life changing work without them. We’ve seen the benefit of involving volunteers for a long time, and we know the volunteers themselves get a lot out of their experiences, but what does research say about the impact for young people?

Most research looking at the impact of volunteering focuses on benefits to the volunteers themselves; building confidence, gaining work experience, increased mental and physical health, a sense of wellbeing and making new friends are well documented. However research seems sparse when it comes to the direct benefits for young people, although in our experience the impact is huge.

Volunteers come to YAT from all different backgrounds and experiences. They offer our young people diversity and inspiration, helping each young person to find someone they naturally relate to and feel understood by. Young people are amazed to discover people would give up their time to volunteer, and the feel-good factor of knowing people choose to be there, to invest their time in you for no material gain, is powerful. Our volunteers invest so much time, energy and care into helping the young people get the most out of the opportunities on offer; young people really feel their commitment and the very essence of that investment helps them to be ready and willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones.

One research article we did find to evidence this volunteer effect was published in 2006, entitled “When Good Overcomes Bad: The Impact of Volunteers” by Natti Ronel. The research focused on the encounters between at-risk young people and volunteers offering a mobile outreach service. In summary there were five key findings, which resonate with our experience of the impact of volunteers who work with young people.

They found volunteers: 

  1. Broaden young people’s world view
  2. Are viewed more favourably and with less suspicion than employed staff
  3. Offer diversity which facilitates communication
  4. Help aid the overall view, feel and image for a service, helping to make it more accessible 
  5. Are role models for young people 

Ronel concluded that individuals may remember for years those who gave them human warmth and altruistic love, and that the perceived good of others suggests the possibility of survival without constant struggle. 

At the Youth Adventure Trust we witness first hand on every step on our programme and Mentoring Scheme the powerful impact volunteers have on young people. They bring a crucial dynamic to our work; they are the biggest advocates of the benefits of challenging yourself, and they evidence through every rainy day on camp, every cold evening mentoring walk, every time they stick with a young person who is too shy, too scared or too emotional to respond, that investing in relationships, trusting and helping others can improve both your life and theirs. 

“Being able to communicate to people that you might not know, gives you that skill to be able to learn things about different people and learn that people are different.” Holly, age 14, Youth Adventure Programme 2021-2023

“It’s the fact that you have another connection that may not be your mates or your parents, it’s like someone in between that you can still have a conversation with and do activities with. It will make differences to young people.” Tom, age 15, Youth Adventure Trust Mentoring Scheme 2021-2022

“I don’t think I could put into a few sentences all the great things that happened this week. I’d say it was a life changing experience. I can’t thank you and the team enough. We had a great time whilst doing something amazing – improving the lives of the kids. From my heart I’m so grateful.” Anna, Mountain Camp Volunteer, 2022

A huge thank you to all the volunteers who have helped us out this year, you have without doubt inspired so many young lives.

If you feel inspired to get involved and would like to find out more then please visit the Volunteering pages of our website.