Volunteer Value Indicators

“Complexity is inversely related to measurability.”

Satyan Linus Devadoss

One of the most challenging parts of volunteer engagement is capturing and reporting the value that volunteers contribute to the agencies or communities they serve. Too often, leaders rely on reporting volunteer numbers, hours, and financial value. This describes volunteer volume and what volunteers might be paid if they were in a staff role. It’s relatively easy to see and count. Unfortunately, it omits the results of what all those volunteers accomplished with their time and a whole host of other important things about volunteer service.

Iceberg photo from Shutterstock
Iceberg photo from Shutterstock

To help leaders expand their understanding and tools for exploring volunteer value, I studied this topic for my dissertation in multiple stages. The following list includes recommendations from academic and practitioner articles and books. I developed it further by interviewing consultants, practitioners, and academics about how they defined volunteer value. Finally, I asked nonprofit executives, volunteer administrators, and funders to sort and prioritize indicators by what was meaningful and relevant to them.


Along the way, I assembled a list of indicators and learned a few things about to use it.

  1. It should not be treated as a menu where you select your favorite items. Organizational effectiveness research, as well as my own, suggests that indicators should flow from purpose. What is the agency trying to achieve? What practices do you put in place to achieve it? And then, what indicators will demonstrate that you’ve been successful (or not)? And what indicators would matter to those closest to the mission (participants, participant loved ones, volunteers, etc.)?
  2. Context matters. Select a bundle of indicators that makes sense for your particular context and engagement of volunteers at this particular time.
  3. It is by no means exhaustive. Hopefully, however, it expands thinking beyond the usual suspects of volunteer numbers, hours, and financial value.
  4. Items that are a great fit for one organization may be a bad idea for another organization. (For example, volunteer centers may find it valuable to report volunteer hours in terms of full-time equivalents, FTEs, but an agency with union staff might avoid it because it seems to suggest that volunteers are taking staff roles.)
  5. It is a mix of items that includes inputs (i.e., volunteer hours), throughputs (i.e., traditional or organizational volunteer management practices), and outputs (i.e., number of clients or participants served by volunteers).

Volunteer Value Indicator Ideas

Service and Client Items
  • Number of clients or participants served by volunteers  
  • Number of services provided by volunteers (rides given, meals delivered, youth mentored)                        
  • Quality of service/level of attention provided by volunteers
  • Amount of change achieved by volunteers (i.e., number of seniors able to live independently)
  • Percent of need met by volunteers (number of hours filled/number of hours needed)
­Organization and Department Items
  • Number of organizational goals met through volunteer support
  • Type of organizational goals met through volunteer support
  • Range of roles performed by volunteers
  • Number of people referred to organization by a volunteer (volunteers, board members, clients)
  • Number of volunteers participating in other organizational roles (program participant, donor)
  • Program or process improvement suggestions made by volunteers
  • Volunteer feedback about what they observe in the field
  • Extent to which volunteers reflect the community served (language spoken, race/ethnicity, age, gender)
Human Resource Items
  • Volunteer time converted to full-time equivalents (FTE) (i.e., volunteer who works 10 hours per week all year would be .25 FTE)
  • Ratio of time invested in volunteer management to volunteer time contributed
  • Number of volunteers supervising or training other volunteers or staff
  • Amount of staff time freed up by volunteers
  • Volunteer ratios (volunteers to paid staff, volunteers to volunteer administrators)
Volunteer Activity Items
  • Total number of volunteers engaged at the organization annually (new, traditional, skilled)           
  • Total number of volunteer hours contributed to organization annually                                    
  • Number of hours per volunteer
  • Volunteer frequency (how often the volunteer serves)
  • Volunteer retention (how long volunteer stays compared to expected length of stay)
  • Volunteer engagement rate (number of active volunteers/number of enrolled volunteers)
  • Percent of volunteer positions or slots filled
  • Percent of groups (or individuals within them) that serve more than one time or donate­
Organization Perception and Satisfaction Items
  • Perception of organization by volunteers, clients, or the community at large
  • Volunteer satisfaction rate  
  • Paid staff’s level of satisfaction with volunteers    
  • Clients’ level of satisfaction with volunteers
Qualitative Items
  • Stories about the impact of service
  • Stories about volunteers
Financial Items
  • Amount of money/in-kind gifts raised or donated by volunteers
  • Extension of budget achieved by engaging volunteers (additional services provided because of volunteers)
  • Cost savings to the organization achieved by engaging volunteers (funds not expended because of volunteer support)
  • Cost savings to the client achieved by engaging volunteers (fees reduced or not required because of volunteer support)
Economic Valuation of Volunteerism
  • Social Accounting (estimated financial value of volunteering for the client, volunteer and staff)
  • Value of volunteer hour (Independent Sector rate = $28.54/hour, as of April 2021, or other wage replacement formula)
  • Organization cost (what the hour would be worth if the organization had to pay staff for comparable work)
  • Cost-benefit analysis/Relative Impact/ROVI (ratio comparing the benefits and costs of volunteer engagement)
Volunteer Practices
  • Volunteer Net-Benefit Analysis (tool to assess if challenges of volunteer management outweigh benefits)
  • Traditional volunteer management practices (recruit, screen, orient, train, supervise, evaluate, recognize)
  • Organizational practices that support volunteering (leader buy-in, planning, resource allocation, data collection, technology)
  • Extent to which volunteers are integrated into the organization
  • High-caliber staff member or volunteer dedicated to involving volunteers in the organization
  • Organization culture that supports volunteer engagement
  • Staff beliefs about potential of volunteers to contribute