09 December 2020

VOLUNTEERS HELP ZOOS TO INCREASE THEIR OPERATIONAL CAPACITY, BUT LITTLE RESEARCH EXISTS THAT ASSESS HOW THIS MAY BE BENEFICIAL FOR THE VOLUNTEER.

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We surveyed volunteers from 19 different UK zoos and found that volunteering had significant personal benefits for the volunteer, particularly with regards to human and social capital.

The biggest benefits were reported by younger volunteers and by those who had received more initial training.

Here we show that, in a survey of more than 500 volunteers at 19 different zoological collections in the UK, zoo volunteers report positive impacts, specifically in relation to increases in their human and social capital. We also found that these benefits were more pronounced in younger volunteers, and with those volunteers who received more initial training.

The main purpose of the modern zoo is to conserve the world’s remaining biodiversity, and zoo volunteers can be essential to achieving this mission. Volunteers assist with a range of roles, but the most prominent of these roles is taking part in visitor engagement activities related to biodiversity conservation education. Little research has been conducted into the impact the provision of such roles has on volunteer themselves.

KEY FACTS
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Volunteers were surveyed
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UK BIAZA accredited zoos involved

We surveyed 524 volunteers in 19 UK BIAZA accredited zoos.

Specifically, the survey questions considered impacts in human capital (personal knowledge, skills, confidence and health), social capital (friendship networks, trust in others and wider participation in local activities), economic capital (financial benefits or costs) and cultural capital (sense of identity). Measurements took place using a series of rating-scale statements corresponding to each capital measure. Statements covered a range of concepts including acquisition of knowledge or skills, expansion of friendship networks and financial benefits.

We found that volunteers reported moderate increases in all four capital measures, although there were significantly higher reported benefits within human and social capital. We explored the aspects of human and social capital further and found that the most significant reported impacts were in relation to personal development (self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation) and in relation to expanding social networks.

Both age and the amount of training a volunteer received were found to have significant effects on the capital measures. Younger volunteers reported significantly higher impacts in human, social and cultural capitals but significantly lower for economic capital. Those who received more initial training reported significantly higher impacts across all four capitals (although this finding applied to only one collection that provided extensive training). In summary, while volunteering in UK zoos correlates with personal benefits to individuals, zoos could aim higher and should seek to do more to maximise the positive effects of connecting volunteers with the wildlife and nature found in zoo settings, as well as tailoring their volunteer training programmes for different age groups.

PUBLICATIONS:

Smith, C., Buckley, N., Bridges, E., Pavitt, B. & Moss, A. (2018) Self-reported impacts of volunteering in UK zoos and aquariums, Cultural Trends27,18-32