5 Reasons to Resist Putting a Dollar Value on Volunteer Hours

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A few weeks ago, one of Vantage Point’s fabulous board members asked us to weigh in on a Nonprofit Quarterly article titled “What’s an Hour of Volunteer Work Worth?” The article cites Independent Sector’s latest annual calculation that deems an hour of an average volunteer’s time to be worth $22.14.

While it may appear to be a clean and simple way to communicate the ‘worth’ of volunteers, here are five reasons I’d like to scrap this method of valuing our volunteers.

1.    It emphasizes quantity over quality. The article states the median time contribution of volunteers is “only 50” hours. In my experience, the highest-impact knowledge philanthropists wouldn’t work with us if we insisted they contribute 50+ hours. Many of our volunteers are strategists, subject matter experts and professionals who are unlikely to commit that much time. And yet, an hour of their expertise is infinitely more valuable to our mission than 10 hours of their time spent stuffing envelopes.

2.    More time doesn’t equal higher impact. It’s easy to slip into multiplying the suggested hourly rate by the number of hours contributed in order to to communicate how instrumental volunteers are. In this model, the more time a volunteer contributes, the more value is accrued. This is a false equation. It can take someone a lot longer to do something if they first have to learn how.

3.    It doesn’t reflect the range of volunteer expertise. Let’s be honest.  An hourly rate of $22.14 significantly undervalues the time of many volunteers.

4.    There are better ways to recognize volunteers. Assigning a dollar value to volunteer contributions perpetuates the myth that people are primarily motivated by money. As a volunteer, it doesn’t really impress me that I “could have been paid” $22.14 per hour. What does impress me is how my contributions positively impact the organization, and what I got out of the engagement, such as learning new skills, meeting new people and connecting to my community.

5.    It ignores impact. Volunteers exponentially increase our ability to deliver our mission. Visit our annual report, and you will see: “198 talented people fulfill 245 roles to deliver 109 learning opportunities, which results in 1830 not-for-profit leaders engaged.” Yes, we could have said “245 volunteers contributed $200,000 worth of time to the organization.” And that would tell you a whole lot less about their contribution to our mission.

How do you communicate the impact of your volunteers?

About the Author

After moving to Vancouver in 2012, Jenn joined Vantage Point as Customer Relations Specialist and has since moved into a shared services role as Vantage Point Online Content Specialist and lead of Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP Vancouver. Jenn is responsible for various communications...
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