Tag Archives: evaluation

Measuring social media success? You’re probably doing it wrong.

logoA nonprofit buys billboard space on a major highway. Thousands of people drive by the billboard every day. After a week, the marketing director declares the billboard a huge success because of the number of people that are driving by the billboard. However, there is no significant gain in donations, volunteers or clients by the organization.

Does this sound like a ridiculous way to measure the success of a marketing activity? It is. Yet, that’s how I regularly hear people measure the success of social media use by a nonprofit, government agency or other mission-based initiative.

If your nonprofit is an animal shelter, or a farmer’s cooperative, or a community theater, or a health clinic, or any other nonprofit that serves a geographically-specific clientele, having thousands of Twitter followers is not an indication that you are having social media success. So what? That’s the same as the billboard out on the highway. It’s just a number, and if it’s not translating into something tangible, it’s a waste of money and effort.

For online activities to translate into something tangible, online action must create and support offline action or behavior. What could this look like?

  • An increase in the number of volunteers providing service to your organization
  • An increase in the number of volunteers who stay with your organization over a longer term
  • A greater diversity of volunteers providing service, with greater representation from under-represented groups
  • Greater numbers of donors
  • More repeat donors
  • New donors
  • Greater attendance to conferences, workshops, etc.
  • Greater attendance to events with an entrance fee, which creates greater revenues
  • Greater numbers of downloads or purchases of a publication or other product
  • Greater numbers of clients or people served
  • More repeat clients
  • A greater diversity of clients receiving services from your organization
  • Larger numbers of people writing government officials, corporate representatives or the media regarding the cause your organization promotes
  • Larger numbers of people filling out surveys that you will use in creating proposals, reports and publications regarding your organization’s work
  • More feedback from volunteers, donors, clients and the general public regarding your work
  • Volunteers and clients reporting a perception of greater support from your organization
  • Volunteers and clients reporting a new / changed perception that relates to your mission (for instance, those you engage with online reporting that they are no longer prejudiced against a particular group or community) or a change in behavior or practice that relates to your organization’s mission (for instance, if you were an organization that promotes recycling, and those you engage with online telling you they are recycling more)
  • Volunteers, clients, staff, the general public and/or the press reporting a perception of greater support from your organization, an improved perception of the organization’s impact, an increased awareness about the cause an organization promotes, etc.

A few hundred Twitter or Instagram followers may not sound impressive, but if most of those followers are in your geographic area, if there are lots of public officials and other nonprofit representatives and local people served by your organization among those followers, you’re doing well. If you are a nonprofit serving teens, and most of those followers are teens, you are doing VERY well. It’s not about the how many, it’s about the who.

How can you measure social media success ? I talk about that on my web page Evaluating Online Activities: Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action & Results. For most nonprofits, measuring is not a matter of a software choice; it’s going to take a more person-to-person approach, involving surveys and interviews. In other words, engagement.

Quit celebrating how many people have “liked” your organization’s Facebook page. Are discussions happening on that Facebook page? Are people asking questions? Are individual status updates being liked and shared? Celebrate engagement.

Also see:

Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: book announcement

Want to make me cranky? Suggest that the best way to measure volunteer engagement is to count how many volunteers have been involved in a set period, how many hours they’ve given, and a monetary value for those hours. Such thinking manifests itself in statements like this, taken from a nonprofit in Oregon:

Volunteers play a huge role in everything we do. In 2010, 870 volunteers contributed 10,824 hours of service, the equivalent of 5.5 additional full-time employees!

Yes, that’s right: this nonprofit is proud to say that volunteer engagement allowed this organization to keep 5.5 people from being employed!

Another cringe-worthy statement about the value of volunteers – yes, someone really said this, although I’ve edited a few words to hide their identity:

[[Organization-name-redacted]] volunteers in [[name-of-city redacted]] put in $700,000 worth of free man hours last year… It means each of its 7,000 volunteers here contributed about $100 – the amount their time would have been worth had they been paid.

I have a web page talking about the dire consequences of this kind of thinking, as well as a range of blogs, listed at the end of this one. That same web page talks about much better ways to talk about the value of volunteers – but it really takes more than a web page to explain how an organization can measure the true value of volunteers.

9780940576728_FRONTcover copyThat’s why I was very happy to get an alert from Energize, Inc. about a new book, Measuring the Impact of Volunteers: A Balanced and Strategic Approach, by ChristineBurych, Alison Caird, Joanne Fine Schwebel, Michael Fliess and Heather Hardie. This book is an in-depth planning tool, evaluation tool and reporting tool. How refreshing to see volunteer value talked about in-depth – not just as an add-on to yet another book on volunteer management. But the book’s importance goes even further: the book will not only be helpful to the person responsible for volunteer engagement at an organization; the book will also push senior management to look at volunteer engagement as much, much more than “free labor” (which it isn’t, of course). Marketing managers need to read this book. The Executive Director needs to read this book. Program managers need to read this book. The book is yet another justification for thinking of the person responsible for the volunteer engagement program at any agency as a volunteerism specialist – a person that needs ongoing training and support (including MONEY) to do her (or his) job. This book shows why the position – whether it’s called volunteer manager, community engagement director, coordinator of volunteers, whatever – is essential, not just nice, and why that person needs to be at the senior management table.

I really hope this book will also push the Independent Sector, the United Nations, other organizations and other consultants to, at last, abandon their push of a dollar value as the best measurement of volunteer engagement.

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement, here are my blogs on the subject (yeah, it’s a big deal with me):

Valuing volunteer engagement: an imaginary case study


Imagine a nonprofit theater showing the value of its volunteer usher program by saying:

We involved 40 ushers in 2015, and they provided 100 hours of service, and since the Independent Sector says the value of a volunteer hour is $23.07, the value of our volunteer usher program in 2013 was $2,307.00.

Here’s what such a statement shows:
moneysigns

  • The value of volunteers is that the organization doesn’t have to pay them
  • Volunteers save money, because they do work for free.
  • Volunteer time, hour per hour, is more valuable than that of all the staff members that aren’t directors, because they are all paid far less than $23.07 an hour.
  • The organization could get even more value for its volunteer program if it could get more volunteers doing things it is currently paying staff to do.
  • The greater the number of volunteer hours, the greater the value of the volunteer engagement.

How would such a stated value of the volunteer usher program make the ushers feel? Make the receptionist feel? Make donors that are union members feel?

It’s an obviously awful idea. Yet, this is how so many consultants and organizations want nonprofits to state the value of volunteer engagement.

By contrast, I would find the value of a volunteer usher program through collecting data that could be measured against both the mission of the organization and the mission of the volunteer program. Let’s say the mission of the organization is “to provide theatrical works that entertain, enlighten, and have a transformative impact on our audiences, and build an appreciation of the arts in our community.” Yes, I just made that up. I have examples of mission statements for volunteer engagement programs here. Here’s how I would collect that data:

I would find out what impact being a volunteer at the theater had for the ushers. I would find this out through interviews and surveys, asking things like “Why did you want to be an usher at our organization?” and “What have you learned as an usher that you might not have known otherwise about our theater? Or about putting on theater productions?” I would also ask why they think volunteer ushers might be preferable for the theater to paying people to do the work.

I would survey new ushers before they began their volunteering, and then survey them after they had served a certain number of hours, asking them the same questions, to see if their perceptions about theater in general, and our theater, specifically, had changed.

I would ask audience members how ushers help their experience at our theater. I’d do this through surveys and interviews.

I would ask staff members how they believe hosting ushers benefits them, the audience, and the theater as a whole. I would also ask why they think volunteer ushers might be preferable to paying people to do the work.

I would look at the profiles of the ushers, and see what range of age groups were represented, what range of zip codes were represented (based on residencies), and if possible, look at the range of ethnicities represented, and other data, that could show how representative of our community the volunteer ushers are.

If I didn’t have time to do all of this data gathering and interviewing myself, I would talk to faculty members at area universities and colleges that teach classes in nonprofit management, sociology, psychology or sociology, to see if students in one of their classes could do the data collection as part of an assignment, or a PhD student who might want to oversee the project as part of his or her doctorate work. The students would get practical experience and I would get people who, perhaps, people would be willing to give more honest answers to than me, someone they know from the theater.

None of this is vague, feel-good data; it’s data that can be used not only to show the organization is meeting its mission through its volunteer engagement, but also testimonials that can be used in funding proposals and volunteer recruitment messages. It would also be data that could help the organization improve its volunteer engagement activities – something that monetary value also cannot do.

Whether your organization is a domestic violence shelter, an after-school tutoring program, a center serving the homeless, an animal rescue group, a community garden – whatever – there is always a better way to demonstrate volunteer value than a monetary value for hours worked. What a great assignment for a nonprofit management or volunteer management class…

For more on the subject of the value of volunteer or community engagement:

Get to know the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

2015-07-21-SDGsGoodbye, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), hello, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs are the 17 goals towards which all United Nations efforts will now work, and the UN will encourage all NGOs and governments to work towards them as well, to make our world a better place. Like the MDGs before, the SDGs will help UN initiatives better focus its work across various agencies, various partnerships, and various regions.

I congratulate my United Nations colleagues, especially those at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) , who have been working on drafting these. I encourage you, if you work in addressing any of the areas mentioned by the SDGs, or you want to work in international development, to become familiar with these, and to start referencing them in your work.

The MDGs were introduced in 2000. I began at the UN in February 2001, and I found the MDGs incredibly helpful in approaching my work, in making it more focused. In my opinion, the MDGs did an excellent job of focusing the work of the UN, various NGOs and governments, providing a framework for all of our initiatives. The MDGs are simple, with goals with which no one would disagree, for the most part. The MDGs are “an explicit recognition of the reality that a large proportion of people in the world were deprived and poor.” The MDGs sought a time-bound reduction in poverty to improve the living conditions of those deprived and excluded, and it was an attempt to place this persistent problem, until then a largely national concern, on the development agenda for international cooperation.1 The MDGs specified a destination but, purposely, did not chart the journey, so that each country – indeed, each community – could develop its own way of reaching the goals.

But, as we all knew it would, the world has changed significantly since the MDGs were created in 2000. Notions of developed and developing have continued to evolve. Now, international development is less about the transfer of aid from rich to poor countries and more about progressive change from within, and empowering those local agents of change. The world has always been interconnected, but challenges and opportunities seem to happen so much more quickly now, across borders, requiring incredibly rapid responses. The MDGs were always meant to be replaced as the world evolved, and now they have. No, we didn’t reach the MDGs by 2015, but we did better target our work towards the world’s most poor.

The MDGs made no mention of human rights and did not specifically address economic development; the SDGs correct this. The SDGs apply to all countries, rich and poor alike, and the UN conducted the largest consultation in its history to gauge opinion on what the SDGs should include. I’ve read several comments that say the SDG framework brings together the different aspects of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental – in a much more integrated way than the MDGs, but I haven’t read any specific examples of that, or seen any illustrations of this yet.

The deadline for the SDGS is 2030. Will we reach the goals by then? Probably not. But we will make progress towards them, if we have the will to do so. Are the SDGs perfect? No. But there better than what we had, and better than nothing. I often think the arguments against the SDGs, like the MDGs, keep us from activities that the world desperately needs.

Footnotes

1. “The MDGs after 2015: Some reflections on the possibilities,” by Deepak Nayyar, for the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, April 2012

Finding out how many orgs are involving online volunteers

A followup to my last blog, where I whined that so many organizations charged with measuring volunteering in a region or country refuse to ask any questions related to virtual volunteering.

As I’ve said many times: when I do workshops on virtual volunteering, and describe all the different aspects of what online volunteering looks like, including microvolunteering, someone always raises a hand or comes up to me afterwards to say, “My organization has online volunteers and I didn’t even know it!” or “I’m an online volunteer and I didn’t know it!”

If you ask organizations, “Do you have virtual volunteering / microvolunteering at your organization?” most will say “No.” But if you ask the question differently, the answer is often “Yes!”

How would YOU ask the question of organizations to find out if they were engaging volunteers online?

Here’s one idea:

In the last 12 months, did any volunteers helping your organization work in whole or in-part offsite on behalf of your organization, and use their own computers, smart phones, notebooks (Internet-enabled devices) from their home, work or elsewhere offsite, to provide updates on their volunteering, or the results of their volunteering?

What is your idea for ONE question? Please post it in the comments.

Challenges to getting answers:

  • There’s rarely just one person at an organization involving volunteers; often, several employees or key volunteers are involving volunteers, but there may not be one person tracking all of this involvement. So if you ask this question of just one person at the organization, you might not get an accurate answer.
  • The word volunteer is contested. People will say, “Oh, we don’t have volunteers. We have pro bono consultants, we have unpaid interns, we have executives online, we have board members, but we do not have volunteers.” That means someone who is advising your HR manager regarding the latest legislation that might affect hiring or your overworked marketing person regarding social media, and offering this advice unpaid, from the comfort of his or her  home or office or a coffee shop, won’t be counted as an online volunteer – even though they are. In fact, I talked to the manager of an online tutoring program who brought together students and what she called “subject matter experts” (SMES) together online for school assignments, but because it never dawned on her that the SMES were volunteers (unpaid, donating their service to a cause they believed in), she had no idea she was managing a volunteer program, let alone a virtual volunteering program.

This is not easy. I’ve been researching virtual volunteering since 1996 and, geesh, it’s still not easy! When does it get easier?!

volunteer managers: you are NOT psychic!

A colleague recently posted that this was one of the things that makes a great volunteer manager: going with your gut feeling.

UGH! Dislike!

In my trainings, I say just the opposite: do NOT assume your gut is telling you the truth.  

NEVER let your gut be your guide to decision-making.

I’ve had volunteer managers tell me that their gut reaciton to applicants to volunteer is their primary guide to keeping “bad” people out of their program. And, so, I remind them of all of the many people who had no negative gut feeling about clergy, coaches or youth group leaders before or while those people abused children. And of all many people who did not have a negative gut feeling about that boyfriend, spouse, family member or friend who, after years of knowing each other, turned out to be a liar, a cheat – even a killer.

Everyone in the Penn State/Second Mile scandal went with their gut instead of following good policy and procedures. Look where it got them!

Linda Graff once told me that one of the most chilling things you will ever do is sit in a courtroom and watch all of the many people ready to testify on behalf of their husbands, wives, sons, daughters, neighbors, co-workers, etc. – oh, no, that person could NOT do the things you have accused him/her of. It’s impossible. I KNOW this person. I don’t care what your evidence says – I know in my soul he/she is a good person. Those people’s guts told them one thing – and despite the facts, they prefer to listen to their gut.

I have almost let my gut feeling turn volunteers applicant away — and those people have turned out to be some of my best volunteers. What I was actually doing was hearing my prejudices: about age, about culture, or about education (or lack their of). And I was honest enough to explore that and admit to it.

I have had people tell me, after working together for a couple of months, “You know, my first impression of you was insert-negative-comment-here. You have turned out not at all to be that way.” And I thank them for NOT going with their gut!

I’ve had endless numbers of volunteer managers tell me that their gut reaction to virtual volunteering is NO WAY IS THAT SOMETHING MY ORGANIZATION SHOULD DO.

In the course of my job, I never let my gut make decisions for me. Ever. Yes, my gut reaction might lead me in a direction, but if my gut is telling me something in the work place, such as don’t accept that person as a volunteer or that new idea just isn’t worth trying, I don’t make a decision based on that – I do more investigating and questioning. When it comes to effectively supporting and engaging volunteers, I need facts. Why am I having that feeling that such-and-such isn’t a good volunteer? Is it that he is being evasive in his answers? Is it that she seems too good to be true? Is it that he looks like an ex-boyfriend? When I start answering those questions honestly for myself, I either come to the concrete, fact-based reason I don’t want the person as a volunteer or I have to accept that my reluctance is more about prejudice than reality.

Volunteer managers: you are not psychic. There are no such things as psychics. Listen to your gut, but do NOT let it make your decisions, and if you haven’t said in the last three months, “Wow, my gut was wrong about that!” then you are NOT being honest with yourself!

Also see:

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us by retired FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole (with co-author Alisa Bowman)

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Beyond Police Checks: The Definitive Volunteer & Employee Screening Guidebook by Linda L. Graff

 

Judging volunteers by their # of hours? No thanks.

I would never judge the quality of an employee by how many hours he or she worked. When I see someone regularly working overtime, week after week, here are my thoughts:

  • That person’s job might be too much for one person; that job might need to be broken up into two positions.
  • That person might be doing things he or she shouldn’t be doing, and ignoring what should be priorities. I wonder what isn’t getting done?
  • That person may not be qualified for this position.
  • That person may have personal problems that aren’t allowing him or her to get this job done.

So, if I wouldn’t think the number of hours worked by an employee is a good indicator of their job performance, why would I judge a volunteer by the number of hours he or she contributes?

When judging volunteer performance, I look at:

  • What did he or she accomplish as a volunteer for this organization?
  • How does this person’s volunteering – specifically this person’s time and effort – have a positive effect?
  • How did volunteering have a positive effect on him or her?

Which is actually how I judge paid employees as well…

I gather that data by:

  • surveying volunteers, employees, clients and the public, through both traditional online and printed surveys and formal and informal interviews
  • reading through feedback that comes through emails, memos and online discussion groups
  • listening and writing down comments I hear
  • observing their work for myself

What about you? Is your organization still giving out volunteer recognition based on number of hours provided to an organization? Is the person who donated 100 hours to your organization last year really more valuable than the person who donated 20?

Who IS that person in charge of your social media?

There is a large international organization I follow on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m sorry to say that its been making major missteps via these social media tools.

In the last four weeks, whomever is in charge of social media at this organization has posted a message that, in my opinion, was completely inappropriate and put the organization in a very bad light, as well as repeatedly posting inaccurate information relating to the mission of this organization and not responding to most online questions and criticisms. But no one seems to be noticing at the organization – the mistakes keep happening, and when I made inquiries to two people who work for the organization, they had no idea what was going on online (in fact, they weren’t sure who was in charge of social media activities). 

It’s painfully obvious that there is no strategy regarding this organization’s use of social media. Perhaps the job has been handed over to an intern or two – after all, if you are in your 20s, you are just automatically an online social media expert, right? It’s also obvious that no one in senior management is following the accounts regularly – because if they were, these very public missteps wouldn’t have gone on this long.

It brings to mind a long, long time ago, way back in the 1990, when a lot of marketing directors at nonprofit organizations handed over web site development and management to the person in charge of IT – the person who kept the computers running. These marketing managers saw the Web as technology, rather than as outreach. Web sites for these organizations often were packed with flashy web features, but light on information, and answers to basic questions that someone goes to a web site for – where the organization is located, the nearest free parking, the nearest mass transit stop, hours of operation, upcoming event information, how to volunteer, etc. – were oh-so-hard to find. Many marketing directors were oblivious to the web site’s shortcomings – they never looked at the site beyond a unveiling of such (at which pizza and soda was served in the break room and a good time had by all).

Back in 90s, I worked at an organization where I was the internal communications manager – but ended up in charge of all Internet outreach. The marketing director (to whom I did not report) thought the Internet was a fad and said he wasn’t interested in it, so I was in charge of building the organization’s web site, and in undertaking all online outreach via email and online discussion groups. He never had any idea what I was doing, and was never interested in sitting down and learning. After several months, he realized his mistake, as what was happening online was being talked about by people and organizations we were trying tor reach much more than our print materials.

I said it back in the 1990s, I’ll say it again now: everyone has a role in an organization’s outreach, online and offline. The receptionist needs to see the organization’s main brochure before it goes to print, or the web site before it’s launched – she or he knows the primary reasons why people call the organization, and she or he can make sure these publications include this information. The people that deliver the organization’s programs or interact most with the public, as well as senior managers, including the head of marketing, need to follow the organization’s social media profiles, and their feedback about such needs to be listened to. Everyone at the organization needs to have copies of print publications and, if they have a comment about the usability of an online tool or how the public is responding to the organization online, senior management needs to listen to them.

Just as importantly, your organization needs a fully integrated social media strategy, a plan that puts a reason behind every Facebook status update and every Tweet, one that answers the questions What are we going to accomplish today with our social media use? What are we going to accomplish this week with our social media use? Three months from now, how are we going to measure social media success? Does the head of marketing have a written outreach plan, and are online tools fully-integrated into such – not just mentioned? Does the head of programming have a fully-integrated plan for using online tools, including social media, in his or her written strategy for the coming year?

And, finally, make sure whomever is posting those messages to Facebook or Twitter or GooglePlus or whatever on your organization’s behalf is fully supervised. That person needs to be sitting in on every marketing meeting and every public event. That person needs to be presenting a briefing on what’s happened in the last week – and not just number of tweets, number of Facebook status updates, number of “likes”, number of “friends”, etc., because numbers really mean nothing. And senior management needs to be following what this person is doing online in real time.

Delegating social media tasks doesn’t mean senior management stops participating online. Too many nonprofit organizations, international aid agencies and other mission-based organizations forget that.

Yes, research microvolunteering, however…

I was oh-so-excited when I read that the Institute for Volunteering Research in the UK is going to be undertaking a project to research microvolunteering, a form of online volunteering/virtual volunteering that’s been around for many, many years – long before there were smart phones.

But I was oh-so-disappointed to see that IVR’s project will be focused only on microvolunteering from the volunteers’ point of view.

The hype regarding microvolunteering, a form of online volunteering, is similar to the excitement a few years ago regarding family volunteering. That excitement regarding family volunteering translated into lots of campaigns to encourage families to volunteer together, rather than helping organizations get the knowledge and resources necessary to create volunteering opportunities that entire families could undertake. The result was, and is, a lot of very frustrated families who want to volunteer, but cannot find opportunities. I see the same thing happening with microvolunteering – far more organizations and media articles encouraging people to try it, rather than resources to help organizations to be able to create microvolunteering opportunities and support volunteers in these roles.

What’s needed – desperately needed – is research about microvolunteering from the *organizations’* point of view, specifically:

  • what kinds of organizations are creating microvolunteering assignments (in terms of the mission of the organizations, whether or not they have a staff member devoted to managing volunteers, the level of tech-saviness of staff, etc.)?
  • what kinds of microvolunteering assignments are most popular with volunteers? (which attract the largest numbers of volunteers, or seem to always attract at least some volunteers)
  • what kinds of volunteer management practices are necessary to ensure microvolunteering assignments are completed such that they are of value to the organization?
  • how is success measured by organizations regarding microvolunteering assignments? (is it just in number of volunteers that were involved or the amount of work done? Or do some organizations track different measures, such as volunteers’ perceptions changed, volunteers’ awareness built, volunteers signing on to longer-term projects, volunteers becoming donors, etc.?)
  • what are the challenges to organizations creating microvolunteering assignments and to effectively supporting volunteers undertaking such assignments?
  • when microvolunteering doesn’t work, from the organization’s perspective (it has no real impact on the organization, the volunteers don’t go on to become more longer-term volunteers, donors, other kinds of supporters, it’s a lot of work for very little, real return, etc.), *why* doesn’t it work?

Unless researchers try to get answers to these types of questions, unless microvolunteering research is focused on organizations themselves, rather than just volunteers, more organizations won’t create more microvolunteering assignments – and more potential volunteers will be frustrated when they get excited to participate in something that actually isn’t available to them.

UN Volunteers, IFRC, ILO & others make HUGE misstep

I’ve been trying to follow the Global Volunteering Conference in Budapest (one of my favorite cities) from afar. It’s co-hosted by the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and it has “gathered leaders from governments, UN agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs) and other international organizations to discuss ‘Volunteering for a Sustainable Future.'”

I recently read this statement by UN Volunteers Programme Executive Coordinator Flavia Pansieri, and I cringed. It’s a call to value volunteers based on the money value of the hours they contribute.

Yes, you read that right. The measurement so many of us have been campaigning to end – or at least not make the primary measurement of the value of volunteering – is being officially embraced by UNV and IFRC.

As you will see from the UNV statement, the conference is touting that the value of volunteering across just 37 countries amounted to at least $400 billion and celebrates a new manual by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies  which aims to help statisticians and economists measure the value of volunteer work at the national, regional and global levels by tracking the amount, type and value of such work in their countries. The manual is a strategic plan to try to measure how many people are volunteering and to value their time based on industry/professional classifications were they being paid.

I’m all for the value of volunteering coming to the increased attention by policymakers. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again (and probably a lot more): Involving volunteers because of a belief that they are cheaper than paying staff is an old-fashioned idea that’s time should long-be-gone. It’s an idea that makes those who are unemployed outraged, and that justifies labor union objections to volunteer engagement. These statements, and others that equate volunteers with money saved, have dire consequences, which I’ve outlined here.

How to talk about the value of volunteers? Instead of looking for the money value of the hours contributed, UNV and IFRC and other players could look at:

  • Do communities that increase volunteering rates lower unemployment, or have more resilience in dire economic times? The National Conference on Citizenship (in the USA) did a study that found such. Couldn’t ILO do the same?
  • Do increased levels of volunteer engagement lead to less violence in a community?
  • Do high levels of volunteer engagement lead to healthier, more sustainable NGOs and civil society?
  • Do high levels of volunteer engagement lead to more voters, more awareness of what is happening in a community or more awareness of how community decisions are made?
  • Do high levels of local volunteer engagement relate to successfully addressing any of the Millennium Development Goals?
  • Does increased volunteer engagement by women contribute to increased women’s empowerment?
  • Does volunteer engagement by youth contribute to youth’s education levels or safety?

What an important, powerful study that would be! THAT would be a wonderful measurement of the value of volunteers that could help volunteers, the organizations that involve such, and the funders that finance the involvement of volunteers (because, ofcouse, we all know that volunteers are never free, right?)!

But, instead, as a result of UNV, IFRC, ILO and all of the other organizations touting the volunteer-value-based-on-dollar-value:

  • Governments can be justified in saying, “Let’s cut funding for such-and-such programs that the community relies on and, instead, get some volunteers to do it, because volunteers are free labor – they save money!”
  • Corporations can be justified in saying, “We’re cutting our philanthropic programs because these nonprofits should just find some people to do the work and not be paid for it! That will save money. And nonprofits can, instead, create a half day for our staff to come onsite and have a feel-good volunteering experience – it won’t be any extra work for the nonprofits because, you know, volunteers are unpaid, and that makes them free!”
  • Unions can be justified in saying, “We are against volunteering. Because volunteers take paid jobs away.” That’s what the union of firefighters in the USA says – and the UN’s action says it’s right.
  • Economically-disadvantaged people that are being asked to volunteer are justified in saying, “How can you volunteer if you have no income, no money and are concerned about the means to provide your kids with something on their plates every night? With all due respec…I say, ‘Please be serious!'” (yes, that’s a real quote)

All of those scenarios are happening right now in response to calls for more volunteers. And there will more of them as a result of this approach by UNV, IFRC and others.

It’s nothing less than a tragedy.

Also see: Judging volunteers by their # of hours? No thanks.