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What is the Value of a Volunteer

Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash

Understand the Value of Your Volunteers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63 million American adults volunteer their time and talents each year. For many nonprofits, these volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization. But how do you measure and understand the actual value of your volunteers’ time?  

The Power of Volunteers

Volunteers provide millions of hours of service every year. But their contributions go beyond just the hours they spend. Many individuals volunteer their professional skills, giving your organization expertise you wouldn’t otherwise have. Accountants may help you with your tax filings. Graphic designers may create invitations for your fundraiser. Individuals who speak multiple languages can provide translation services, expanding the reach of your services. Volunteers offer a pool of invaluable skills to help your organization succeed. 

The enthusiasm provided by volunteers pours energy into your organization. Individuals donate their time because they are passionate about helping your cause. That passion can inspire members of your organization, the individuals you serve, and the community at large. Recruiting volunteers from various backgrounds increases your visibility and outreach in the community. The same zeal that motivates them to spend their time may also lead them to spread the word of your organization to their circle of influence. 

The Cost of Volunteers

Though volunteers provide their services free of charge, there is a cost associated with maintaining your volunteer team. Recruitment, training, and management are essential for effective volunteer staff. Because of the inherent turnover related to volunteers, these are ongoing needs. Your most experienced volunteers may handle much of the training and management tasks for newer volunteers, but your organization is ultimately responsible for all of this work. 

How Do You Measure Value?

You may intrinsically know the value of your volunteers. But how do you quantify that value? How do you track and then communicate the worth of your volunteer team? Is it worth the time and effort to figure this out? Hint: it definitely is.

Understanding the value of a volunteer starts with understanding the impact of your organization itself. Your nonprofit needs reliable data in order to understand how your beneficiaries are better off because of the services your team provides. Understanding your impact can help with two common challenges. First, it allows you to better serve your cause. Knowing what works and what doesn’t gives you the insight necessary to do the best with your available resources. Second, understanding and then communicating your impact provides a powerful tool in fundraising. Reliable impact data gives current and future funders confidence that their donations will continue to create positive change. 

What Do You Measure?

When measuring the impact of your nonprofit, it may be helpful to start by asking a few questions. 

  • What is the connection between the services you provide and the outcomes you produce?
  • How is your work contributing to positive changes in the community?
  • What does success look like?

How Much Does Success Cost?

Once you define success, you must determine what it takes to get there. You can calculate the cost of a successful outcome by determining the cost to run your program, including the administrative costs of managing volunteers and running your organization, and divide that number by successful participants. For example, if your program and administrative costs equal $2,000,000, and you have 1,000 successful participants, it costs you $2,000 to get one participant to a successful outcome. With this understanding, donors, funders, and other stakeholders can visualize the direct impact you’re making on your community and how their investment will make a difference.

The next step is calculating what it would cost your organization to reach those successful outcomes with paid employees instead of volunteers. There are two common ways to complete this calculation. The first method requires tracking your total volunteer hours and then multiplying that number by a flat hourly rate. For example, the Independent Sector estimates the hourly value of a volunteer at $29.95. Assuming your volunteers spent 40 hours on each successful outcome, this calculation suggests that the same result would cost $1,141.60 in paid wages. (P.S. Did you know that POINT automatically calculates this for your nonprofit?)

The second method of calculating estimated wages involves looking at the specific tasks completed. The hourly wages for a doctor providing acute medical care and a college student sorting books for a reading program are drastically different. To calculate the cost of paying employees to complete these tasks, you need to research what a paid employee would make for a comparable job. To continue the previous example, an emergency-room physician makes about $115 an hour, and a library assistant makes about $16 an hour. So, 40 volunteer hours would be worth $4,600 from the physician and $640 from the college student. This method requires more information but provides a more accurate value for volunteer hours. Which method is right for you depends on the needs of your organization and the variation between volunteer tasks. 

How Do You Track Data?

Understanding your nonprofit’s impact and the true value of volunteers may feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is having the right tools. Resources such as POINT’s collaborative volunteer platform allow you to collect and communicate data in a way that does not take time and resources away from those you serve. With POINT’s automatically generated volunteer event statistics, you have all the tools needed to understand and communicate your volunteer impact. 

Your organization can also benefit from an impact management solution that enables you to track individual volunteer, program, and organizational outcomes. SureImpact is an impact management solution designed specifically for socially good organizations, allowing you to create custom outcome measures aligned with your organization’s mission and vision. SureImpact also has a measurement library with over 200 best practice outcome measures created from working with thousands of nonprofit and government organizations. 

Your organization’s mission is more important than ever as the economy continues to be uncertain and more individuals and families struggle to meet their basic needs. Data is an important asset that will help you increase volunteer engagement, strengthen your organization’s impact, and build long-term sustainability. Download this free guide today to learn more about measuring your organization’s impact.

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Photo Brandy Strand
Brandy Strand
Nonprofit Partnerships Account Executive

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.