Volunteers and the volunteer function are often overlooked in organizations. One reason is how we report on their work. Too often, the “value” that volunteers bring to organizations is reduced to their numbers, hours served, and an assigned dollar value for their time. These statistics are front and center in annual reports on service from national entities like Independent Sector and the Corporation for National and Community Service, to local nonprofit and government agencies.
There is a time and place for these figures. However, our over-reliance on them tends to obscure important aspects of volunteer contributions, such as the results of volunteer time, how volunteers influence the quality of an organization’s services, and how their efforts advance the mission and goals of the organization. Defining volunteer efforts primarily in quantitative terms also is problematic since service so often includes intangibles like meaning and purpose.
We have an opportunity to expand the way we talk about volunteers:
- Identify when and where it is appropriate to use volunteer volume and dollar value. Discuss the pitfalls of applying them inappropriately.
- Develop and expand data indicators about volunteers to reflect their diverse work. This will support organization leaders in telling a more nuanced and complete story of their volunteer workforce.
- Link volunteer data to organization mission, goals, and data. Too often, organization planning and evaluation omit volunteer strategies and contributions.
- Own the diversity of our sector and volunteerism. Reducing volunteerism to its lowest common denominators diminishes the need for and power of engaging community volunteers in our work.
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