Find out why communicating the monetary value of volunteering is crucial to give volunteering the recognition it deserves.
Volunteering is priceless. To those in the voluntary sector, you don't have to explain the value of volunteering. This value is illustrated in annual reports and on social media with beautiful stories of connection and meaning, and it often touches a nerve with most of us. While these stories are inspiring, the value of volunteering described in these reports is often difficult to quantify. That (voluntary) work is good is beyond dispute, but there is little visibility on the amount of impact, on both an individual and societal level. And yet the latter is crucial for policymakers and funders. On top of that, quantification is essential to giving volunteering the appreciation it deserves. In this article, I would therefore like to give you guidance and practical tools to get started right away. Happy reading!
First things first, volunteering should not be separated from finances. There is a need to make volunteering tangible, as research by Auke Witkamp and Gregor Walz (2022) demonstrates. They indicate that the importance of volunteering is clear among the entire population. Almost every respondent called volunteering "the glue that holds communities together". However, government officials responsible for volunteering said they struggled with the question of how to demonstrate the value of volunteering. After all, the government is also an economic institution (even if we would prefer otherwise), and justifying expenditures is part of their job.
The monetary value of volunteering is a tangible indicator of the recognition and valuation of volunteer efforts. Why? Because everybody knows the value of money. By highlighting the economic value of volunteering, you demonstrate that volunteering is more than altruism or feeling good in general. You’re positioning volunteering in the world economy, just like every other sector, company, and industry. This way, volunteering transforms from a silent force into a recognised economic powerhouse, thereby making voluntary action a real driver of the economy and society. This ensures that both volunteers and organisations and the entire sector get the appreciation it deserves by making it easier to understand the value of voluntary action even outside the voluntary sector. In short, by mentioning the economic value of volunteering as well, you make volunteering more understandable and cross-sectoral.
The reality is that while we (and therefore officials) often have a fair amount of data at our disposal, the same data is often too vague about the value of volunteering. Modern data focuses on target audiences, types of activities, hours, and matches. While this data is excellent for internal decision-making, it is not comparable with data from other sectors. As a result, the value of volunteering is often vague for policymakers.
The economic value of volunteering is, among other things, very important for policymakers because it allows them to make a return on investment (ROI) calculation. They often fund your organisation (investment), and you deliver social value, which you express in pounds. They can compare this with other sectors and thus determine how much the investment is giving them. If policymakers understand the value of volunteering, you can be better supported in terms of grants, and it can also lead to a more strategic policy towards volunteering. That is what the voluntary sector needs to ensure its future, which is vital in a time where the number of volunteers is declining (NCVO, 2023).
Now that it is clear why we need to convert volunteering into monetary value, I would like to explain how this can be done. There are a variety of ways to calculate the value of volunteering:
Since we do not have personal data on each volunteer’s employment status, it is best to use the replacement value, as it assumes either the minimum wage or the average wage for a sector or occupational group (Meijs & Van Overbeeke, 2017).
Naturally, this value is far from capturing all the value of voluntary action. Therefore, I would prefer to call this a minimum economic value. Because let's not forget that voluntary action is so much more than unpaid work. It lies so much deeper than that. The volunteer's experience takes center stage, and that revolves around pride, compassion, positivity, networking, and love. All of these are priceless aspects of volunteering.
Volunteering also has a great spillover effect on personal or social value. We know that volunteering is good for your physical and mental health and that you learn a lot of new skills that you can use again in your paid work. These benefits can also translate into cost savings in healthcare, housing, or education. In short, the real economic and personal value is many times higher.
Therefore, I am not asking you to stop reporting the way you’re reporting right now, but simply to give the monetary value of volunteering more recognition and include it in your reports. It makes voluntary action more tangible and understandable outside the sector, which increases understanding, appreciation, and recognition, and it makes it easier for you to position yourself for funding and policymaking. This is how we take the world of volunteering to the next level and give it the appreciation it deserves!
Since calculating economic value can often be a lot of work, we have developed a free tool to help you do this. It works like this:
Afterwards, four figures roll out:
PS: Do you want to know more about the monetary value of volunteering? We highly recommend the Works4u report on the monetary value of charity trustees. Find this report here: https://www.works-4u.com/copy-of-download-the-guide
Find 12 creative ideas to appreciate your volunteers, with pros, cons and requirements!
Student volunteers are a huge benefit for your organisation. Learn how to appeal to them!
Find out how you can harness your volunteers to work towards a sustainable future.