Revealing 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 numbers, hours, and financial value are often the industry standard for volunteer value. Unfortunately, many agencies treat them as a ceiling rather than an entry point. They omit additional numbers, quotes, images, or testimonials that would provide context about the results of all that volunteer time.

Ideally, your volunteer data (and activities) should flow from the agency’s mission and align with programmatic and operational goals. For example, instead of reporting volunteer numbers alone (an input), also share how many people those volunteers served (an output). Better yet, tell a story about how volunteers served the community or agency. (This might hint at an outcome or even impact). This approach shifts volunteers from being this thing we do on the side to an essential ingredient for achieving agency goals.

Check out the suggestions above to spark ideas about how you might tell a fuller story about volunteer value. Consider the value that cannot be captured with numbers or dollars. Given the agency’s mission and the reasons it involves the community as volunteers, what would you add?