UNV, ILO & others huge misstep

The UN Volunteers program is celebrating a new manual by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies, which aims to help statisticians and economists measure the value of volunteer work at the national, regional and global levels by tracking the amount, type and value of such work in their countries. The manual is a strategic plan to try to measure how many people are volunteering and to value their time based on industry/professional classifications were they being paid.

I am, of course, extremely upset about this.

Sorry Jayne, but I have to disagree entirely. Although I totally understand that there may be very different politics and history at play behind this in the US. I think its actually totally sensible. Here in the UK trying to equate some monetary value certainly isn’t ever about making volunteers look cheap – in fact quite the opposite – its an indication to funders, policy-makers and government that volunteers are worth their weight in gold and that more should be invested in supporting them and that they, and their managers/supporters should be taken far more seriuosly because they are a huge part of both economic and social wealth of the country. That is in addition to all of the lovely fluffy stuff we may or may not feel about social involvement, not instead of it.

But interesting how different that position may be in the US. Things do differ from the UK volunteering picture as much as finding things in common – very different histories in terms of the whole voluntary sector and political and social attitudes, neither good nor bad – just utterly different contexts.

Hi all.

Sorry Lynne but I’m with Jayne on this one.

The issue isn’t a cultural one that is relevant in the US. I’ve come across the issue in a number of countries.

The core of the problem isn’t whether assigning a financial value to volunteering is a bad thing or not, it is how we do it.

For those of you not so familiar with the issue, traditionally the financial value of volunteering is calculated by calculating or estimating volunteer hours and assigning a notional wage to what volunteers do. So when we say volunteers are worth £300,000 we are saying that is what it would cost us to pay people to do the work. But in most cases we’d never pay people to do that work. And often the figure is calculated at national minimum wage yet the volunteers are performing roles that, were they paid, would attract much higher wages. So the calculation is pretty meaningless.

What Jayne argues for, and what I personally think would be much more useful, would be more of a social return on investment approach. So, to take the example of meals on wheels which current has a high profile through BBC2’s Hairy Bikers show, the financial value of volunteering is not what it’d cost to pay people to do that work but what is saved by keeping older people healthy, living in their own homes, and maintaining social contact. If meals on wheels wasn’t there those older people may be in residential care, poor health etc. all of which have a cost to the state that is ‘saved’ thank to volunteers.

Sure those calculations are harder to do – how do you quantify the money ‘saved’ by someone no re-offending because of volunteering – but they are more meaningful. And that holds true regardless of the country we are in.