So what is the value of volunteering?
Few people, I hope would argue that volunteering is not a valuable and worthwhile activity. I have worked with volunteers for about 15 years now, but have seen relatively few ambitious and empirical studies into measuring the value of volunteering. Maybe this is because to most people volunteering is intrinsically good and needs no justification? However, some may feel that because an activity is unpaid, and given freely it is somehow of less economic worth.
In the launch of Join-in’s (a leading promoter of sports volunteering) recent publication on the benefits of volunteering in sport ‘Hidden Diamonds’, the former Cabinet Secretary Lord Gus O’Donnell said
“The Office of National Statistics has just changed the way we define GDP, including illegal drug trading and prostitution. So the more crack dealing we have, the higher will our GDP growth rate be. Volunteering doesn’t appear in the GDP statistic at all. It doesn’t make any impact”.
Lord O’Donnell is a big believer in the power of volunteering and social action. Indeed he is quite outspoken on the benefits of volunteering not just to the cause they volunteer for, but for the wider society and the individual’s health and well-being. Indeed he grabbed the headlines in the Telegraph in April warning pensioners that not volunteering is seriously bad for their health.
I think Join-in’s report was so refreshing and presents a challenge to those of us involved in promoting volunteering. Through their research, endorsed by the likes of the Institute of Volunteering Research they were able to claim that for every volunteer involved in sport the total average value to society was £16K per annum. Now, of course, some volunteers will be different, but as a well researched average that is a staggering value to the society we live in.
Most organisations simply multiply the hours given by their volunteers by a nominal cost of replacing such freely given time by paid staff to give a value of volunteering. This has always felt like an inadequate means to measure volunteering to me. After all, who would expect the return on the investment in an employee to be exactly that paid out in a salary? If so we would think our organisations astonishingly ineffective? So Join-in have looked at the impact of increases of mental and physical well-being generated by volunteering, and the cost saved by the NHS and other services.
If we were to add to their figures the costs we as an Association save health and social care services through our volunteer support of people living with or affected by MND, just imagine what the true value of our volunteers is. As we move in to 2015 we will endeavour to reach our own assessments of the true value. But just using the (non-sports) elements of Join-in’s methodology – a little arbitrarily – it suggests that the true value of our volunteering to society should be at least £2974 per volunteer per year. We have 3000 volunteers, so the annual value could be just shy of £9million!
I am sure none of us are regularly looking at volunteering in that financial manner, we just want to play our part in improving the lives of people affected by MND. But nonetheless it is important to have a clear understanding of the impact our volunteering makes, and we are embarking on a few ventures in the next year that will help us measure the impact of volunteering, starting with an evaluation of the wonderful work provided by our Association Visitors. I hope such activities will help us find ways to improve further our services to those we support, but the intelligence will also help us demonstrate the value our volunteering brings, and attract further funding into our cause.
Chris Wade, Director of Engagement
25 November 2014