Volunteering reflects our values – what we care about, our vision for our community, our notion of justice, and our sense of responsibility for the planet and all those with whom we share it.  Volunteering also generates value for organizations, neighbourhoods, businesses, society, and for those volunteering.  It is the interplay between what we value and the value that we create through our actions that is behind the Value of Volunteering Wheel.

How do we begin to demonstrate the complex value of volunteering?  It has become common place to use a wage replacement formula, multiplying the number of volunteer hours by an hourly wage (using minimum wage or industry pay rate scales) and to come up with a dollar value for the volunteer time.  Others have tried to calculate the fair market value for the service provided (a tutoring session, a meal delivered, a strategic planning session facilitated). While talking about the thousands, millions, or billions of dollars worth of time or service given captures peoples’ attention, it still falls short of capturing the full story. 

The Board of Directors of Volunteer Canada adopted the following policy statement in 2010:

Volunteer Canada recognizes the need to demonstrate a clear measurement of the value of volunteer time and volunteer programs and that in doing so, valuing volunteerism will take many forms. Determining the impact of the contribution of volunteerism is complex and multifaceted and Volunteer Canada believes that any measurement on the value of volunteer involvement must be framed with a social return on investment that integrates both qualitative and quantitative measurements. Both aspects of measurement must be considered equally valid and compelling and each measurement presented in isolation of the other presents an incomplete picture of the true value of the contribution of volunteers. 

Value to Organizations:

Volunteers provide value to organizations through their leadership and governance, setting strategic direction, raising needed funds, forging alliances, and executing fiscal oversight. Board members can raise the profile of the organization, open doors, and bring pertinent perspectives from members and stakeholders. The value of a board’s role goes well beyond the number of hours spent preparing for and attending meetings. Volunteers also bring cultural competencies to an organization that expands its capacity to serve diverse populations and creates a bridge with new communities.  The value of this is well beyond the volunteers’ time. And of course, many volunteers provide direct services that increases the impact of their programs.

Value to Neighbourhoods:

Neighbourhood associations, both formal and informal, provide a platform for people to shape the places and spaces where they live, work, and play.  Areas with high levels of community engagement tend to be safer and more resilient.  Whether we look at value through the lens of concepts such as social capital (the value of people forming bonds with one another and bridging to the community at large) or from a community asset-mapping perspective (space, resources, peoples’ commitments and talents…), volunteering has high value and it is well beyond the hours neighbours spend cleaning the park, flipping burgers at the BBQ, or taking a shift in the homework club. 

Value to Businesses:

One third of the 12.7 million Canadian volunteers indicate that they received support from their employers (paid time to volunteer, group volunteering activities, donations made to organizations where they volunteer, etc.….).  Employee volunteering programs, in addition to contributing to the community, help businesses recruit top talent, enhance employee engagement, improve work place morale, and augment their profile and credibility.  The value to businesses goes beyond the cost of the hours that employees volunteer.  

Value to Society:

Volunteers lead important public policy campaigns that have had significant impact on our society in areas including impaired driving, end-of-life support, and the use of pesticide in public spaces.  The impact of these legislative changes impacts peoples’ health, wellbeing, and saves lives.  The value of volunteers goes well beyond the hours they spend meeting with politicians, organizing rallies, and writing to policy makers. 

Value to Volunteers:

While volunteers give their time to contribute to the community, many report on benefits such as learning new skills, gaining experience, feeling connected to their community, and improved self-esteem.  Many volunteers attribute their success in their education and careers to the experience and connections they have made while volunteering.  Studies have shown that volunteering improves brain health and prevents social isolation in older adults. These benefits go beyond the hours volunteers give to communities.  

The Value of Volunteering Wheel is designed to illustrate the many values and to help you explore the many studies, tools, and resources on the value of volunteering.