Not everything that counts can be counted.


“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” — Albert Einstein

           It is National Volunteer week and last night we were honored to be at the Propellus Volunteer Awards Event last night. We were honored because one of our amazing volunteer families was the recipient of the Volunteer Family of the Year Award. It was awe inspiring to hear Donna talk about her family’s investment making a difference in their community and specifically in making a difference for the children and families we serve. When you nominate a volunteer or a family of volunteers for an award like this it does not take long to itemize the number of amazing things they do for your cause but it is hard to measure and quantify the value or the impact of their investment.  Last year for the 2013 National Volunteer Week economists tried to describe the value of volunteer’s investment of time in Canada. They used the International Labour Organizations definition of what volunteering is. They quote :”[the] (ILO) has defined a volunteer as an individual who performs unpaid, non-compulsory work either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.” Good definition but it does not really capture the emotional or social nuances of the impact of volunteers.  TD Economics goes on to describe;” In 2011, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimated that almost one billion people in the world volunteer their time every year.” At a big picture level or a worldwide level the impact of volunteer’s generosity is immense. Even at a national level the impact is staggering. These same economists make projections on the value created in Canada alone. This value they estimate to be a least $50 billion dollars of value to Canadians. The author suggest: “Although individual volunteers may earn more during their regular jobs, they may not use these highly-paid skills in their volunteer activities. In turn, the average wage is a reasonable benchmark to use for our exercise. Based on the hours volunteered and an imputed average hourly wage, the economic value of volunteering in Canada is in the ballpark of an astounding $50 billion each year. This figure, though undoubtedly impressive, is likely a conservative estimate that does not include any capital investment, nor improved skills and attitudes.”

          Assigning a dollar value to volunteer work makes it quantifiable and easier for the average person to come to an understanding of how important volunteers and the volunteer sector is to our nation and in fact our world. But it is unlikely that fiscal calculations will ever fully estimate the true value. Imagine Canada describes;” Counting hours doesn’t show the impact of the volunteer work. And as a result, it gives an incomplete picture of the value of volunteers. For some, the idea of putting a dollar value on involvement belittles the volunteer’s efforts. Many feel the passion and commitment of volunteers is priceless.”  We do count hours in our organization and try to measure the impact of our volunteer’s contribution in as many ways as we can. Heck we even count and record on spreadsheets the number of cookies our volunteer bakers bake for our kids. For example in our Calgary House on average our volunteer bakers bake 10 dozen cookies per day for our families.

          We definitely could never repay our volunteers for what they do for our families but measuring it and reporting it, seems like a small effort to describe the impact. In the summer of 2005 when I started with the organization we had an excel spreadsheet with the names and addresses of 35 volunteers who helped us in the House. Last year when we created our annual report it was staggering to realize that within the year over 1400 people had volunteered, in our House and at our events. Yesterday Donna was writing her acceptance speech (which was amazing) she emailed me to find out how many volunteers had volunteered for the Calgary House in the past year. I almost emailed back 1400 because I figured it couldn’t have changed that much since last year. I asked our volunteer coordinator to do a quick query in our volunteer database. We were both amazed when the database told us 3694 people had volunteered for us in some capacity over the recently ended fiscal year. We are a relatively small charity so realizing in total how many people were helping is a little humbling.

           It is hard to quantify and hard to describe what a difference our volunteers make, but our families and our kids know. At our own volunteer awards night all of our volunteer awards are named after kids who have used our House(s). Each year for each award named after a child, the parents come and give a speech at our event about exactly what the volunteers meant to them. This is a metric that is hard to quantify but like the man said:”… not everything that can be counted, counts”



Imagine Canada (2014) Assigning an economic value to volunteering: company website; as retrieved


TD Economics (2012) An economists case for volunteering,  as retrieved from:


2 thoughts on “Not everything that counts can be counted.

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