The third sector and volunteering have positive impacts on the socio-economic development in Europe.
However, systematic reviews of research do not support unconditional and general claims about improvement of health, wellbeing, innovation, social capital, empowerment, or economic development. Data are not produced systematically and robust analytical frameworks are missing. Policy claims both from governments and from the sector itself are largely based on intuitions that lack European standards and empirical grounding.
Only by using the best available sources of data and suitable methods, it is possible to understand under which circumstances the third sector and volunteering can have positive impacts. Our research shows that better health and well-being may be a result of who decides to volunteer, rather than an effect of volunteering. However, political engagement may increase as a result of volunteering. Among unemployed, volunteering may improve mental health and well-being, but only when there are generous welfare benefits. Variations in levels of engagement in charitable organizations between communities are primarily concerned with the social mix of individuals in communities, rather than the density of charitable organizations. These findings indicate that the impacts of the third sector and volunteering depend not only on the activities that take place, but also on the kind of support and conditions governments provide.
Social impact has become a high profile focus in policy strategy of European and several national institutions and agencies, including the EU Council. To make progress in this area, we need to further develop impact indicators and methods that can reliably identify causal links between third sector activities, their impacts and infrastructure elements by which they are significantly determined.
This TSI Policy Brief provides a definition of what is understood by the term “third sector impact”, summarizes the state of the art of the research, presents recent TSI research findings on the topic and proposes a framework for impact assessment methodology. Finally, in the conclusive paragraph, indications for policy driven actions and suggestions for practical cross/sector collaborations are presented. The Policy Brief is completed with a repertory of essential documentation. It is organized around the priorities for advancing the culture and practice of impact measurement, which can be achieved only by pursuing further collaborations between researchers, policy makers, statisticians, third sector leaders and practitioners.
Table of Contents
|DEFINITION OF THIRD SECTOR IMPACT|
|THIRD SECTOR IMPACT: STATE OF THE ART|
|Impact on individuals and on community: inequalities in opportunities to participate to be addressed|
|Impact on social innovation: contribution to systemic societal change to be studied|
|Impact at organizational level: existing tools inadequate for impact measurement|
|THIRD SECTOR IMPACT PROJECT FINDINGS|
|Empirical research unmasks some widely acquired beliefs|
|Volunteering boosts political engagement, but not necessarily personal well-being|
|Volunteering helps the unemployed only when coupled with generous welfare benefits|
|More organizational density does not mean bigger impact|
|TSI CONTRIBUTION TO IMPACT ASSESSMENT METHODOLOGY|
|Methodological guideline with indicators of third sector impact|
|Affirmative conceptualization of the third sector: actors and activities of the civil sphere|
|PROGRESS IN POLICY RELEVANCE|
|INDICATIONS FOR THE WAY FORWARD|
|REPERTORY OF ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTATION|