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The Value of Volunteers

Volunteering is more than just money

Every month, volunteer managers are asked to report on things like the number of volunteers that month, the number of hours they’ve given, and—most importantly—the financial value of those hours.  

It is all well and good to know how many volunteers an organization is engaging, and how much they are engaging.  Those numbers are helpful in tracking a program’s growth (or decline), and without a doubt helps set goals and outcomes for a Volunteer Services Department.

I have less faith in the financial value judgment of those volunteer hours.  Usually this is calculated using the Independent Sector index. Currently the rate is $29.95/hr. Is this an accurate calculation of your volunteer jobs? Are your volunteers working entry-level sorting goods at the thrift shop, or providing pro-bono legal work? Those are two very different tasks, worth very different amounts if you were paying for them. Even if this is a true calculation, how is this helpful? 

One implied calculation is that this amount is how much an organization has saved by using volunteers instead of staff. But even if an organization wanted to replace staff with volunteers, recent court rulings instruct us that volunteers cannot replace staff. So this calculation this is not relevant.

Or perhaps this amount is the added value volunteers bring to an organization. That’s got a nice ring to it. But can we boil down and package the value volunteers bring to an organization into a monetary amount? Do we really want to? Are our volunteers a currency?

To me, it seems, the value of the volunteers go far beyond the money thing. 

Outside of your organization, there is no one better to sell your mission than a volunteer. Volunteers are seen as the most trustworthy spokespeople for an organization: When a volunteer shares, people listen. For outreach, there is no one better to bring in other volunteers, outside resources, partnerships, and donors.  Even if you could calculate all the in-kind and donors they bring in (“soft credit”), it is impossible to measure and calculate the value they provide while sharing about their favorite charity online and to their friends, everywhere, all of the time, without even being asked!  Hard to put a dollar amount on that.

Volunteers keep passion alive. Maybe because it is their choice to be present, or maybe simply because it is not their paid gig, volunteers are invested differently than any other stakeholder in the organization, and their enthusiasm is worth more than money can buy. I have seen time and again bored employees, discouraged clients and questioning donors all become re-engaged and renewed after a positive interaction with a passionate volunteer. Ever feel down about your organization? Spend a day with the volunteers to spark that passion again!

Volunteers, if listened to, move the mission forward. Volunteers, even unintentionally, steer organizations into greater efficiencies.  Because volunteers are engaged in the “outside” world in ways unconnected with the organization, they bring experiences and perspectives that staff and board members do not have. Volunteers provide fresh insights, helping to apply and adapt new trends and technologies from other industries into the way of work. Helping an organization accomplish more–and more efficiently–is not captured on the Independent Sector’s scale.

But perhaps the greatest value volunteers bring is contributing to the greater good of society. Volunteers give their time to build a better world. Desmond Tutu put it this way, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” How do you put a financial value on that?

The Real Value

Taken altogether, I say, ditch the Financial Value of Volunteering reports. Let’s talk about the real value those volunteers contribute each month to our organization. Share stories. Share experiences. Imagine your organization without volunteers. It’s like that commercial:  Priceless.