A German Football Federation social return on investment study shows volunteers working across 24,500 amateur clubs generate €2.18bn in benefits and savings.
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The German Football Federation (DFB) launched a digital campaign on Wednesday to highlight the hidden contribution of more than 1.5 million volunteers to grassroots football in Germany.
'Volunteer work is priceless' (#ehrenamtistunbezahlbar), launched ahead of International Volunteer Day on 5 December, will see thank you banners displayed at all men's and women's domestic league fixtures over the next two weekends: 4–6 and 11–13 December.
The campaign follows the publication of an important new DFB study revealing voluntary work at amateur football clubs in Germany accounts for €2.18bn in cost-savings.
"This impressive figure underlines the outstanding work of volunteers, not just for football, but for the whole of society. We would like to say thank you, from the bottom of our hearts," said the DFB president, Fritz Keller.
Benefits for economy, society, healthcare
The DFB study also estimates the nation's 24,500 amateur clubs generate a total €13.9bn each year in savings and benefits to the economy, society and healthcare.
In addition to the direct contribution of volunteers, the final figure includes in-kind savings through football's positive social impact on local communities: from educating young children and creating job opportunities (equivalent €386m) to lowering crime rates (€33.8m) and reducing the risk of illnesses like diabetes Type II and heart disease (€5.6bn in reduced health care costs).
"The impact of volunteers on amateur football is invaluable," said UEFA's first vice-president Karl-Erik Nilsson, addressing Wednesday's press conference. "Together they bring companionship, passion and competitiveness – the lifeblood of all amateur sport."
Social return on investment model
The DFB based their research on UEFA Grow’s social return on investment (SROI) model – a cost-benefit analysis that allows governments and national associations to evaluate the social benefits of Europe's most popular mass participation sport.
To date, the model shows that 8.6 million registered amateur players across 25 European countries (including Germany) generate a cumulative €39.4bn annually.
"The positive economic impact of amateur football is immense," added Nilsson. "The DFB study shows that, in Germany alone, it delivers three times more value than the revenue attributed to all 18 clubs playing in the top tier of the Bundesliga."
Making the case for public funding
By demonstrating the economic value of amateur football, UEFA encourages associations to use its social return on investment model to make evidence-based cases to governments for adding a fixed line in national budgets financing the grassroots game.
"The model helps national and regional federations, as well as local clubs to prove that every investment in grassroots football will benefit the community and society as whole," said Nilsson. "This is a strong argument to secure funding."
Following the Polish Football Federation's (PZPN) calculation of amateur football's social and economic value, the government committed to investing €10m in the game annually. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) points to its social return on investment report as a key fact in developing stronger relationships with the ministries for education, communities and public finance.
Designed with the support of nine European universities, the model draws on football participation data from 25 UEFA national associations as well as more than 100 peer-reviewed research papers across different disciplines, such as health, education, employment, sociology and sport. The European Union, Council of Europe, the World Health Organization and the United Nations have all verified the validity of the approach.
"Reliable data and peer-reviewed research are the cornerstones of our approach," said Professor Pamela Wicker, a member of the advisory panel that oversees the development and implementation of the UEFA Grow social return on investment model.
"We are currently conducting new research in nine countries, including Germany, to better measure the benefits of voluntary work for individuals, not just football clubs," added Professor Wicker. "This means looking more closely at transferrable skills, personal development and improvements in well-being."
DFB's volunteer programme
Set up in 1997, the DFB's volunteer programme (Aktion Ehrenamt) has long helped amateur clubs recruit and train volunteer workers. Each year the DFB teams up with the German Football League (DFL) to organise a joint campaign called 'Danke ans Ehrenamt' – 'Thank you, volunteers' – in support of International Volunteer Day. Learn more here.
The UEFA Grow programme offers a range of strategic development services to help Europe's 55 national associations fulfil their potential for growth, on and off the field.