Today’s post is by Guest Agitator Bob Roth. He’s trying to figure out a way to encourage volunteerism, in part by being more systematic in the way we place value on the work volunteers do.

Bob fell into the world of internet marketing in the mid-1990s when the sole job requirement was being a hard-working, intelligent body. Through experience at SimpleNet,, Yahoo!, 4INFO and multiple projects, Bob has gained an expertise in the fields of advertising, communications, creativity, retention, strategy and useability.

Here are Bob’s thoughts — and questions — on assigning a value to volunteers …

Have you met your giving goal?

In 2002, George W. asked that Americans should volunteer 4000 hours (about 5.5 months) over the remainder of their lifetime.

How do we measure up?

I’ve been wondering how to put a value on a person’s contributions of both money and volunteer hours. We know that Americans revel in being able to rank themselves, acquire points for action, all toward a goal…we like to see our names in lights.

There are those that feel we should put an economic value on volunteer hours. The Independent Sector calculates that the economic value of a volunteer hour was $19.51 in 2007.

That would make it easy, an American could simply multiply their volunteer hours by $19.51 and add in contributions.

Except, I can’t see how a volunteer hour can be boiled down to $20. First of all, there are those that argue that the role of a volunteer is so varied and often requires a special skill set, that you can’t find a worthwhile mean hourly value. Second, $20/hour just seems like a really low value on anyone’s time.

It would seem that we really need a conversion factor; a coefficient of contribution, so to speak that allows us to convert dollars and hours, respectively, into another unit of philanthropic measure. How about the "DoneGood?" 🙂

But for argument’s sake, let’s look at the dollar figures to see if they really make sense as a means to measurement.

If, for the rest of your life, you need to contribute 4000 hours, then we can multiple volunteer hours by hourly value to get total contribution needed: 4000 hours x $19.51/hour = $78,040 is what each needs to contribute.

With the 2007 life expectancy of an American at 78.1 years (CIA Factbook) and the median American of 36.7 (CIA Factbook, I couldn’t find a reliable mean age), then the average American has 41.4 years to contribute $78,040 of money+time.

For each year, one would have to contribute a combination of money and time that valued: $78,040 / 41.4 = $1885

If 100% volunteer time, that would amount to: $1885 / $19.51 per hr = 96.6 hours/year.

The Independent Sector, in 2001, said that average American volunteered 81 hours per year, which is less than the 96.6 calculated above. Has Bush’s call to action increased that average? Many argue that 2001 was a watershed year because of what happened on 9/11, but volunteer activity has dropped off since then.

I’m looking for something to motivate the people to do good. We all know that people act based on emotional reasons. Such numbers as above could provide the logical alibi to support and strengthen the emotional action. But I believe it would be imperative to remove the "$" symbol and make the value factor a plain number. My worry is that the $ reverts the brain from emotional to logical and that prompts people to start thinking about their checkbook balance.

On the other hand, if "doing good" is not necessarily an act of donating money, then showing people that they can do something else might have value and being the aggregator of available opportunity and the reservoir, or logbook, of individual action across multiple opportunities is an interesting thought which could lead into the advent of more accountability in the space.

What are your thoughts? Does the dollar sign as a metric measure activate the logical side and prevent action? Or, is the dollar sign as a metric understood, such that we know where we stand and it activates the desire to have a higher number than the Jones?



Personally, I’m dubious that a one-size-fits all volunteer value metric can be devised. But I do think each nonprofit should attempt to quantify its volunteer contributions in some systematic way … it would encourage the volunteers, remind managers of the importance of these workers, and reinforce public perception of the full value of voluntarism in the public sector.

What do you think? Does your nonprofit have a "volunteer valuation scheme" you’d like to share?


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