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Valuing Volunteers

Knowing the value of the work your volunteers do, as well as showing gratitude for their efforts, go hand-in-hand when it comes to ensuring your volunteers not only feel appreciated, but are appreciated.


How much your volunteers are worth

An exercise to think about when it comes to showing appreciation for your volunteers' efforts is to cost them by the hour. ABS stats suggest your volunteers are worth about $40-an-hour. And here's why:
  • If one of your organisation's projects involves a local professional or tradesperson completing some pro-bono work for your community group, how much would your group have normally paid for that work - $50 an hour? $100? $200? $500?
  • What about if a group of 10 or 20 volunteers works to revegetate around the local river - how much would each volunteer be worth in monetary terms in that case? Their efforts would probably total several thousand dollars.

Undertaking this sort of exercise suddenly puts into perspective the true worth of volunteers' efforts.

Another way of looking at a volunteer's worth is the way the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) does - by valuing them at about what they would cost to replace.

Based on figures calculated in 2013 and reassessed in late 2015, volunteers are now worth $39-an-hour if you calculate the value of the hour to the volunteer - based on their salary, or $36-an-hour if you look at what the not-for-profit would have had to pay for the services if they hadn't got it from a volunteer.

Allowing for 5% inflation in the years since, your volunteers are now worth between $38-41 per hour.

These are the figures your organisation should plug in when you're doing your project budgeting and applying for grants, and assessing your contribution in volunteer time - that is "x" hours at $38 or $41 per hour. 

Crunching the numbers

In 2006-07 volunteers contributed 623 million hours to not-for-profit groups, at an economic value of $14.6 billion (ABS media release, September 2009) - that's $23.50 per hour.

The latest assessment shows volunteer effort now equates to about 254,300 full time workers generating $18.1 billion dollars worth of services (August 2015, ABS assessment). That's about $71,000-a-year, or $37 per hour.

Updating for inflation of since 2014-15, we arrive at the $38-$41 figure for 2016.

Keep in mind, It's not easy to directly compare the value of philanthropic gifts or volunteer hours across time.

The £378,033 Felton Bequest that in 1904 turbo-charged the National Gallery of Victoria's collection was roughly equivalent to $56,999,576 in 2016, according to the Reserve Bank's online inflation calculator.

So, for example:

  • If you have four volunteers working on a project for one day a week over four weeks, that would result in the project having a "volunteer value" of $5056. (Four volunteers x four days x eight hours per day x $39.50).

Further to that, many groups will cost pro-bono support from professional volunteers at a rate closer to the market rate. For example: If a public relations company was offering to volunteer it's time, the value would be much higher than that calculated on the general per hour rate.

This sort of exercise gives you an idea of what sort of value these volunteers add to your organisation, and how it is worth ensuring they feel valued.

Knowing your volunteers' value when applying for grants

Knowing the value of your volunteers and their work can also be important when it comes to applying for grants, as many grantmakers want to know what your level of volunteer commitment is.

You should:

  • Use the updated ABS formula detailed above to cost out how many volunteers and how many hours will it take to complete the project and calculate that figure as your in-kind contribution to the project. Not only does it show that there is a cost for your organisation, but it also helps in the budgeting of how many hours it really will take to achieve your objective. (You should however check with any grant provider regarding this value as they may already have factored an alternative value into their guidelines or assessment, and calculating based on an incorrect value may lead to you missing out.)
  • Factor in any pro-bono advice you may be receiving to assist with the project. Again it shows that the grantmaker is contributing to a partnership - and that without both sides of the equation, it will not work.

Importantly you need to be able to offer to funders a justification for quoting this updated figure, as well as an explanation of the logic and data you used to determine it.

Your explanation could be as simple as a footnote next to the figure, with an explanation as follows: "Figure based on average hourly earnings estimate for volunteers from 2006 ABS data, with increases reflective of rises in average weekly earnings since then, determined with the ABS data from both 2006, 2013 and 2015."

Valuing your volunteers

An organisation that values its volunteers tends to attract more volunteer help, meaning there are more people helping with every activity - and getting more done. Valuing your volunteers can be done in many ways - some simple, some requiring a little more thought.

Think about ways you can reward your volunteers, recognise them and, importantly, respect them and the work that they do. Some ideas include:

Rewarding volunteers

  • Make sure that you put on a function at least once a year involving volunteers. Provide a few drinks, nibblies, or a barbecue. Invite volunteers to your end-of-year party and other functions held during the year.
  • Work at building team spirit - ways of doing this could include providing volunteers with team t-shirts and helping them to get to know their fellow volunteers. Hold social events a few times a year - where the volunteers can relax, rather than work.
Recognising volunteers

  • List volunteers' names where appropriate - in your newsletter, annual report, and on your website, for example.
  • Thank your volunteers publicly in speeches, or by name dropping.
Respect volunteers and their work

  • Give your volunteers the training they need. Find out their expectations for their contribution and help them learn new things.
  • Supervise your volunteers properly and offer them resources and support.
  • Don't under-value your volunteers' contribution - demand that they do a good job.
  • Consult your volunteers. Ask them to suggest other volunteers and seek their opinion on things going on in the organisation. Brainstorm for their ideas.
  • Tell them about the complaints and grievance resolution procedures in case they have a problem.
  • Challenge your volunteers . Find them tasks that produce results worth as much as what they have put in. Allocate their time just as if they were paid staff.
  • Work your volunteers' particular skills and abilities - use them for your organisation's best benefit. It will also give them confidence because they will know what they are doing.
  • Survey your volunteers to find out whether or not they are satisfied with the way your organisation uses them.

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