Maybe it’s more useful to turn the equation round

Maybe it’s more useful to turn the equation round and treat volunteering as money-equivalents donated into the system instead of “work we didn’t have to pay for”?

Take the current controversy over funds raised by charity shops versus funds raised by using commercial companies to collect clothes donations and give charities a percentage of the profits.

In a sense the charity shop volunteers could be seen as displacing some of the commercial company staff, but by using the original donations of goods more efficiently the work they do is generating funds which the charity will later use to pay people (doctors, researchers, teachers or whatever).

I too prefer the social return type of model as I think it is important to recognize this when assessing the value of any volunteer involvement (if you want to measure it, which I think is a good and useful exercise to do). It would, I’m sure have a much greater figure than the usual minimum wage approach, which I find a very peculiar and frankly insulting measure because there are such a massive range of volunteer roles.

And the fact that it shouldn’t be seen as how much is “saved” by an organization or a country’s economy but rather what the extra value is of involving volunteers, which could also include savings in the way that Rob described for meals on wheels but more importantly, the impact on a local community and even a country and the world as a whole.

The question that needs to be answered here is can we develop this kind of tool to support organizations to do this in as easy a way as possible (as if it’s too complicated and too much research is needed the old method will sadly remain)? Of course there would always be factors that are relevant to add in/adapt depending on your group/organizations goals. And how would we then get funders and the government to see the value of this model and the impact that is measured. Interesting thoughts for a Friday afternoon!

This is a debate between measuring what volunteers do (which the sector is great at) aka ‘the numbers game’ and the difference volunteers make (which the sector is generally hopeless at). I’m not sure anybody on here disagrees with the view that we should be focussing on the latter. However to do it requires the investment of time and resources, can be incredibly complex and often requires longitudinal studies. As I understand the manual produced by John Hopkins, it is to provide some form of international comparative analysis through a survey.

Bearing in mind how difficult measuring impact is, is it practical to think something can be produced that measures impact that is a) systematic and comparable b) straightforward and c) would be taken up by countries? I really don’t think so Therefore the question is whether internationally the measurement of the simple financial value is better than not doing anything? I disagree with Jayne and say actually it is – with the caveat that it’s done properly with the context explained. It’s pretty simple to do, easy to understand and can produce eye-grabbing headlines. That’s important because it’s easy to forget in our cocoon how little volunteering is understood (actually I would add in our cocoon come to that).

Using the financial figures can be used as the gateway to introducing the debates about investigating the impact of volunteering. It’s not perfect by a long way and runs the risk, if not done properly, that it does just come down to the supposed saving on employee costs but better that than not measuring anything.

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.