The value of volunteering

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Is it important to demonstrate the value and impact of volunteering? With the emergence of true-cost accounting, return on investment models, and results-based management, leaders, funders, and policy-makers are looking for ways to illustrate the benefits of investing in volunteer resource management infrastructure. Successfully engaging volunteers is also regarded as an indication of community support, grass-roots involvement, and in-kind contributions in funding applications. Volunteers themselves have given us a clear message that knowing the impact of their volunteer efforts is the preferred form of recognition. Yet, the traditional methods of measuring the value of volunteering fall short of telling the full story. With that in mind, we teamed up with the Conference Board of Canada to examine the economic, practical, and philosophical issues surround the measurement of the value of volunteering.

Volunteering reflects our values – what we care about, our vision for our community, our notion of justice, and our sense of responsibility for the planet and all those with whom we share it. Volunteering also generates value for organizations, neighbourhoods, businesses, society, and for those volunteering. It is the interplay between what we value and the value that we create through our actions that is behind the Value of Volunteering Wheel.

How do we begin to demonstrate the complex value of volunteering? It is now common place to use a wage replacement formula, multiplying the number of volunteer hours by an hourly wage (using minimum wage or industry pay rate scales) and to come up with a dollar value for the volunteer time. Others have tried to calculate the fair market value for the service provided (a tutoring session, a meal delivered, a strategic planning session facilitated). While talking about the thousands, millions, or billions of dollars of time or service given captures peoples’ attention, it only addresses a single dimension of the full value and impact of volunteering. Let’s look at the various dimensions.

Value to organizations

Volunteers provide value to organizations through their leadership and governance, by setting strategic direction, raising needed funds, forging alliances, and executing fiscal oversight. Board members can raise the profile of the organization, open doors, and bring important perspectives from members and stakeholders. Clearly, the value of a board’s role goes well beyond the number of hours spent preparing for and attending meetings. Volunteers also bring cultural competencies to an organization that expand its capacity to serve diverse populations and create bridges with new communities. And of course, many volunteers provide direct services that increase the impact of their programs.

Value to neighbourhoods

Neighbourhood associations, both formal and informal, provide a platform for people to shape the places and spaces where they live, work, and play. Areas with high levels of community engagement tend to be safer and more resilient. Whether we look at value through the lens of concepts such as social capital (the value of people forming bonds with one another and to the community at large) or from a community asset-mapping perspective (space, resources, peoples’ commitments and talents), volunteering has a high value and it is well beyond the hours that neighbours spend cleaning the park, flipping burgers at the BBQ, or taking a shift in the homework club.

Value to businesses

One third of the 12.7 million Canadian volunteers indicate that they received support from their employers (paid time to volunteer, group volunteering activities, donations made to organizations where they volunteer, etc.). Employee volunteering programs, in addition to contributing to the community, help businesses recruit top talent, enhance employee engagement, improve work place morale, and augment their profile and credibility. That value to businesses goes beyond the cost of the hours that employees volunteer.

Value to society

Volunteers lead important public policy campaigns that have had significant impact on our society in areas including impaired driving, end-of-life support, and the use of pesticide in public spaces. The impact of these legislative changes impacts peoples’ health, wellbeing, and saves lives. The value of volunteers for society goes well beyond the hours they spend meeting with politicians, organizing rallies, and writing to policy makers.

Value to volunteers

Many volunteers giving their time to contribute to the community report on benefits such as learning new skills, gaining experience, feeling connected to their community, and improved self-esteem. Additionally, many volunteers attribute their success in their education and careers to the experience and connections they made while volunteering. Studies even show that volunteering improves brain health and prevents social isolation in older adults. These personal benefits go far beyond the hours volunteers give to communities.

What is clear throughout these dimensions of value, is that the value of volunteering goes deeper and well beyond the number of hours that volunteers contribute. And, knowing that value is key for organizations because most volunteers want to know the impact they are having.

The Value of Volunteering Wheel is designed to illustrate the many dimensions of value that volunteering brings by linking you to research and studies on various beneficiaries. Help us keep the wheel turning by letting us know of additional sources that help illuminate the multi-dimensional value and impact of volunteering.

Paula Speevak, President and CEO, joined Volunteer Canada after serving as the Managing Director of Carleton University’s Centre for Voluntary Sector Research and Development. Volunteer Canada provides national leadership and expertise on volunteerism to increase the participation, quality and diversity of volunteer experiences.

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