522 individuals volunteering in 19 British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) collections took part in the research.
The team used an existing evaluation framework developed by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). The final design used both qualitative and quantitative questions to measure a range of variables.
Whilst zoological collections recognise the benefits of volunteering in terms of adding operational capacity and enhanced opportunities for conservation education and visitor experience, it’s believed that this is the first time a significant study has been carried out to understand the broader benefits of volunteering on the individuals who participate in zoos.
The analysis revealed significant positive self-reported impacts on the volunteers.
HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Volunteers reported significant increases in their perceived fitness levels, confidence, self-esteem and motivation.
Volunteers reported significant positive impacts on their mental health, willingness to try new things and suggested that volunteering had given them ‘things to look forward to in life’. This was a particularly rewarding outcome for those volunteers who reported overcoming specific mental health problems and bereavement.
KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
A significant number of volunteers reported a sense that their communication skills, team working skills, work place and vocational skills had been improved.
CONNECTION WITH PEOPLE
82% of people suggested that their range of friendships had increased since volunteering and a sense of belonging was evident.
SUPPORT AND TRAINING
More than 85% of volunteers felt that they felt valued by the zoo that they had volunteered for and that they received the support that they needed.
The report highlights a number of suggestions related to best practice in terms of volunteer support and how zoos can make the most of the mutually beneficial opportunities for them and for their volunteers.
Head of Conservation Education & Engagement at Chester Zoo and co-author of the report, Charlotte Smith said:
“We’d like to thank BIAZA and all of the zoos involved in the project for their support. It has been hugely rewarding to develop such a comprehensive evaluation of the impact of volunteering on the volunteers themselves and it has given us lots of confidence to grow and develop our own programme.
The results clearly show how zoos can offer a range of social, intellectual and cultural benefits to our local communities, in addition to delivering against our conservation and education aims.”
It’s hoped that the report will be used to inform future developments of zoo based volunteer programmes.
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