• Sandra Velthuis

Social Value Q&A: Valuing Volunteering

In 2021, we asked if you had any burning social value questions that we might be able to answer. The first of these, which talked about balancing competing potential benefits, was published in October. Please keep your questions coming! In the meantime, here is another one that caught our eye.

Question: I am trying to value the work our volunteers do. What is the per hour figure that I should use?

Answer: Volunteers are often regarded as a ‘free’ resource and they are omitted from an organisation’s accounts, especially when that organisation only publishes financial accounts. There might be a vague 'thank you to our volunteers' somewhere, but that is often it. When the value of volunteers does begin to be considered, almost invariably the answer is seen to lie in using wage equivalents for the work that they do. This is highly unsatisfactory and potentially very damaging as argued in an excellent article by Jayne Cravens.

This does not mean that wage equivalents have no place in social value accounts. But the time, skills and energy invested by volunteers should only be regarded as inputs (that is, the resources that are needed in order for activities to be able to take place and outcomes to be generated). There can be no standard wage equivalent for volunteers. Why? Because there is no one cookie cutter volunteer or type of voluntary work or level of performance by a volunteer. Some people choose to use the National Minimum Wage, others the Living Wage, others still the Average Industrial Wage. A preferable approach is to match the volunteer role in question as closely as possible to equivalent or similar paid work roles and use those wages as a benchmark. Obviously, if the volunteer - due to spending less time or having a lower capacity/experience - ‘produces’ less than a full-time paid staff member would, then you should pro rata that figure.

So what about the outcomes generated through volunteering? There are two distinct types that need to be considered: outcomes for volunteers themselves and outcomes for others.

There is a large body of evidence that shows that the act of volunteering enhances the wellbeing of volunteers. Attempts can be made to value this increased sense of wellbeing (for instance, see HACT’s Social Value Bank), although firstly, it is very important to understand what volunteers’ own perspectives are.

Arguably more important are the outcomes generated for other stakeholders through the work done by volunteers, such as children's improved reading skills resulting from a voluntary literacy scheme or older people’s reduced feelings of loneliness arising from voluntary befriending projects. These each need to be valued in their own right. Doing so and reporting this back to volunteers can be a powerful retention tool.

We haven’t used it ourselves yet, but the Volunteer Impact Assessment Toolkit may also be worth a look.