Why doesn’t your charity track its volunteer time?

 

           I used to think every nonprofit that was supported by volunteers in some way tracked their volunteer’s time. Last week I was on the phone with a colleague from another charity and I asked how they reported the value of their volunteer’s time. “Well we don’t really count or record our volunteer’s time”. This surprised me but I guess there are lots of things that small, often under-resourced nonprofits might not track or measure just because they don’t have the people power to do it. However I was able to find a good post on the Blue Avocado site that provides some good rationales for why your charity might want to start tracking its volunteer’s time.  In the post Walsh (2011) suggests:” Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability”.  Some grants that are available from our provincial government are matching programs. These programs will often allow calculations of volunteer time contributed to a project to be treated as expenses and are thus eligible for matching. That means plain and simple your volunteer’s time is worth double, the value of their time plus the revenue granted to match the investment.

          One of Walsh’s rationales that resonates with me on a philosophical basis is;” We volunteers appreciate appreciation. We count what we value, so tracking is recognition that volunteer time is important. Recognition is a good investment; it pays off spectacularly.” The article goes on to describe:” Funders and donors want to know what resources your nonprofit already receives and from whom. “Our funders see volunteer inputs as a measure of effectiveness,” In some way not reporting the value volunteers contribute to your organization and delivery of your mission, is underrepresenting the value that your charity creates in your local community. The organization I work for does track volunteer time and the number of actual volunteers. In part we do this to be able to report these numbers, as well as to measure how effective we are in mobilizing people to deliver our services.  We also have other very practical reasons to track these hours (and the number of volunteers) some of our insurance coverage covers our volunteers personally and our clients if there were a case when a volunteers actions caused damage. To have this coverage we need to report the number of volunteers we engage and how much they do for us. To further consider tracking volunteer hours, you could also think of this exercise as a risk management activity. Walsh explains;” Documenting volunteer time can help protect volunteers and the nonprofit. Requiring volunteers to log activity creates a record that may become important evidence in defending the nonprofit or volunteers from allegations of misconduct” The article lists an example in which a charity was able to defend itself in a lawsuit based on its volunteer tracking records.

             All of the rationales provided in the Walsh article are good reasons to track volunteer hours, however probably one of my favorite reasons for volunteer tracking is not specifically described. Volunteer tracking can be a continuous improvement activity. If we deploy more volunteers who invest more time than we did last year, we are getting better at figuring out ways to deploy more resources towards delivering our mission. It is hard to get better at something that you don’t measure your outcomes on, and having the support of volunteers is a outcome.

References

Walsh, D (2011) Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide: Blue 

          Avocado: as retrieved from:  http://www.blueavocado.org/node/330

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