Working for a charity is pretty great because you get to help other people. Another great thing about working for a charity is you get to witness every kind of human generosity possible. These situations tend to give you a “glass is half full” perspective of the world. Clearly some of the stories that resonate best with people in general are when children start to think about and act in ways that are very generous. You have to think what kind of great parents are able to raise really generous children. Here is a quick video update on 5 year old Haylen’s efforts to raise money for children at Ronald McDonald House.
Our NPOs should measure and evaluate our volunteer programs, but sometimes the value our volunteers add to our service is much more than can be captured by the numbers alone.
Our volunteer do a great deal for our organizations yet sometimes we forget to communicate with them or keep them in the loop with what is going on our nonprofit.
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.
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
“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:
Around here we talk about a group that is pretty special to us, we refer to them as our Triple Threats. These are the individuals who give us their: time, treasure and talent. For example our board members are triple threats. We recruit members to our board who have specific skill sets that we need (talent) ,they all donate in various ways and they devote their time to board meetings, committee meeting and events. However fortunately we also have other volunteers beyond our board members who are triple threats. Most research I have read about volunteers is that they are more likely to donate to charity and in general they donate more.
Turcotte (2012) in his report, Charitable giving by Canadians describes: “It is well-known that giving, volunteering and helping others are all strongly associated: people who participate in one of these activities are also more likely to participate in another. In addition to having stronger pro-social values, people who do volunteer work are more likely to be solicited for a donation in the course of their activities and to experience social pressure (especially if this pressure comes from people they know well).Thus, in 2010, among people who had performed 60 or more hours of volunteer work in the previous year, 91% made donations, giving an average of $784 In comparison, 79% of those who had not volunteered during the year had made donations, averaging $288.” Even though volunteers are more likely to donate they may not necessarily donate to the organization they volunteer for. There can be a number of reasons for this, but for our organization for a long period of time we held a view point that our volunteers gave us their time- we should ask them for their money too. However reading research that had the same conclusions as the Turcotte study, made us realize that besides being foolish this notion was not helping our fundraising efforts. Some of our volunteers were volunteering in our House and donating to the charities across the street (literally).
There are 14 Ronald McDonald Houses in Canada; according to the national charity 5000 volunteers support those Houses. We have more than our share of good luck as over 1300 of those volunteers (or 26%) support our two Ronald McDonald Houses in Calgary and Red Deer. Each year more and more of our volunteers become triple threats and we have employed a few tactics to make our volunteers aware of how they can financially support us. However one of the things we are launching this year is a new way we are thanking and recognizing our triple threats. The photo above is of a lapel pin that we had made for our volunteers. The three stars represent family members in the families we support but as well they represent: Time, Treasure, and Talent. We have already presented our board members these, but as well at this year’s volunteer appreciation event we will be giving out these pins as well. They will be given to volunteers who both give their time as well as participate in our monthly giving program. If you don’t understand why we would focus on the monthly giving program you can read this blog post that explains why a charity might focus on this program:
Turcotte, M (2012) Charitable giving by Canadians, as retrieved from: