Assessing the Value of Volunteers

Assessing the Value of Volunteers

Assessing the Value of Volunteers

It’s National Volunteer Week! This is an opportunity to celebrate volunteers, recognize their achievements, and mobilize new supporters. Some news coverage this week has discussed the fact that volunteering in 2013 was at a ten-year low. Greg Baldwin, President of VolunteerMatch, wrote a compelling article that discusses the narrative that has developed due to this time.

Some have argued that the decline in volunteering is a reflection that society does not value volunteering as much as it used to. Baldwin writes, “Nonprofits are not immune to difficult economic conditions, and when times are tough they typically lack the resources and extra capacity necessary to effectively engage and organize volunteers.”

Volunteers are one of the most valuable resources that a nonprofit has. Their passion and engagement is contagious. They are the advocates, champions, and evangelists of our work. One of the few resources that may be more valuable than volunteers is time. As Baldwin suggests, the decline in volunteer hours is because staff time to cultivate volunteers has been reduced due to economic issues.

This decline may also be due to a better understanding of the opportunity cost of engaging volunteers. Recruiting, training, and managing volunteers can absorb a lot of staff time. This time has a dollar value and due to the recent economic downswing, nonprofits are more aware of what this cost.

More nonprofits have recognized that the nonprofit adage, ‘Don’t pay for something that you can get for free” isn’t always fiscally responsible. If a staff member spends 15 hours going through all of the steps to enable a volunteer to lead a project you can determine the institutional cost. How does this time allocation compare to other alternatives? How will this volunteer save your organization money once they’ve been set up to manage a project? Will the volunteer save 100 staff hours? Will they recruit enough fundraisers to offset the expense of the initial staff time investment? Is dedicating staff time needed to set the volunteer up to be successful the best financial decision for your nonprofit?

While volunteer engagement is often more complex than a just a financial assessment, a volunteer needs to provide more value than the cost of the staff time spent on recruiting, training, and managing a volunteer. This article shares an in-depth process for recruiting communications volunteers. For any organization dedicating extensive staff time to recruiting volunteers to serve in this role, they need to ensure that they have the time needed to research the volunteer need, articulate and design the volunteer role, recruit potential volunteers, screen and assess the candidates, build an orientation, manage their ongoing work, and evaluate their performance. Is spending the amount of time suggested in this article realistic for your organization? Is investing the amount of staff time needed worth that cost?

We agree with Baldwin when he suggests that volunteer hours will increase as nonprofits continue to recover financially. We also suspect that nonprofits will continue to increase the efficiency of their volunteer and staff allocation as they better understand time allocation data and organizational needs.

Below are a few of our favorite links from the week. If you like these, then you should also partake in our Tumblr.

  1. Our friends at M+R and NTEN released their annual benchmark report. While there are a few sad trombones (especially the 0.07% response rate) there is a lot of great data.
  2. This one just missed being in the blog last Friday. Beth Kanter shares five tips to help your crowdfunding.
  3. At times it feels like email controls our professional (and personal) lives. Matt Griffin’s simple tips on managing email is a must-read for everyone.
  4. Frogloop investigates five tools to help your organization track online organizational metrics.
  5. Too often, current needs outweigh necessary future planning. Eugene Fram provides tips on increasing strategic planning an executive and board level.
  6. Few nonprofits have faced challenges quite as unique as Livestrong. NPQ comments on an Inc. article from last week discussing the organization now.
  7. Mary Cahalane shares her thoughts on the difference between dollars and relationships.
  8. There are a few Facebook news items this week. Facebook is adjusting their algorithm to reduce spam-like posts. Facebook is increasing the ad size in the right hand columns but reducing the number of ads – they’ve seen an increase in engagement when testing this new design. If you’re still looking for Facebook tips, Social Media Examiner captures five tips to improve your management.
  9. NPQ investigates how nonprofits develop their brand.


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