Volunteer Value Beyond Numbers, Hours, and Dollars

Volunteer numbers, hours, and hourly financial value are popular statistics for describing volunteer activity. Their use has benefits and limitations, not the least of which is that they can obscure the need for other volunteer value indicators. 

Benefits: provides dollar value for financial statements and in-kind grant matches; shows how many volunteers were exposed to agency mission; demonstrates community involvement; indicates people power needed to deliver mission; feasible to track and calculate. 

Limitations: prioritizes quantity over quality, risks managing for volunteer numbers rather than mission; omits results of volunteer time; does not link to mission; reduces diverse volunteerism to one value; confuses dollar value for cost savings; commodifies community. 

Try these alternatives: number of people served by volunteers; amount of service provided by volunteers (i.e., rides given, meals served); amount of money or in-kind gifts raised by volunteers; satisfaction

Volunteer value is rich and diverse, yet we tend not to report volunteer value beyond numbers, hours, and dollars. The flyer above (downloadable version here) is a new companion piece to my annual blog about using wage replacement rates for volunteer value. It outlines the benefits and limitations of these rates, such as the one released by Independent Sector.

Alternatives Beyond Numbers, Hours, and Dollars

Wage replacement rates are just one small way to talk about volunteer value. We have an opportunity to tell a fuller story about the many ways that volunteers contribute to our agencies and communities. For example,

  • connect volunteer time with the number of people served or number of services provided by volunteers. That helps show the results of volunteer time.
  • tell a story about how volunteers enhance the quality of service provided and/or what they learn about the cause. That can reveal the unique benefits of involving the community as volunteers.
  • highlight the ways that volunteers help contribute to organizational goals. These include recruiting other volunteers, inviting people to donate, referring new program participants, or advocating on behalf of the agency. That demonstrates how volunteerism is more than labor and task completion.

These suggestions are consistent with recommendations from grantmakers about what data to share to make volunteers more visible (and fundable). They can also be useful for reporting to boards, senior leadership, prospective and current volunteers, and the community at large.

Other Resources

This iceberg flyer reminds us that volunteer contributions are not always visible or quantifiable but still worthy of our time and attention. It offers tips for diversifying the ways we track and report volunteer value. You might want to create your own iceberg with staff and/or volunteers.

Ripple Effect Mapping is a technique that is designed to capture the ‘ripples’ of impact that are hard to measure by traditional methods or that don’t happen immediately. The Vision for Volunteering team in the U.K. applies it to volunteer engagement.

Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach adapts the Balanced Scorecard management tool to volunteer engagement. The authors are volunteer engagement professionals who took on the project to address an important need to better articulate volunteer impact.

Reporting the Full Value of Volunteer Engagement, a webinar by Tony Goodrow, provides an overview for creating a service replacement value rather than a wage replacement rate for those who want to translate volunteer into a financial value. It flips financial valuation on its head in a useful way for some missions.


  1. Val Parker said:

    Wonderful insights, thank you. We cannot get away (yet) that granters still want reporting on the number of hours and financial worth, but we can move the discussion along by making sure that we always connect those measurable metrics to the story, even as simply as “600 volunteers gave a total of 900 hours to distribute 1500 boxes of groceries to families with children experiencing food insecurity at 15 different pantry sites throughout the community.”

    ! Thank you, and for the links to further resources.

    May 10, 2024
    • Yes! I’ve been reading a lot of critiques of dashboards lately for being collections of data that do not support the average viewer with analysis or meaning making. Linking the inputs with the outputs as you suggested is one way to create scaffolding for a bigger story to be told.

      Another way to move the discussion along, as you wisely suggest, is to reconnect the work to the humanity of the people involved (in a way that promotes dignity rather than pity). What does it mean for those families to know they can access food? How does having multiple distribution sites make the difference between having access or not?

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Val!

      May 10, 2024

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