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From Tasmania: A New Take on the Value of Volunteering

Recently I’ve shared insights from new research on measuring volunteer impact, why episodic volunteers keep coming back, and employee motivations for volunteering. Another report, from Tasmania, Australia, offers an interesting take on the economic value of volunteering.

The State of Volunteering Report 2014: The Economic, Social and Cultural Value of Volunteering, was commissioned by Volunteering Tasmania and researched by the Institute of Project Management. This is not the first study about the economic impact of volunteering in a region or country or even worldwide. But what is particularly interesting about the report is that it studies volunteering as an industry in its own right, rather than as a component of our professional, educational or personal lives.

It turns out that volunteering is Tasmania’s largest industry, contributing nearly 5 billion dollars (about 3.8 billion U.S.) in benefits to the community. The authors of the report contend that volunteering benefits more than individuals and organizations; “it is a significant driver of growth.” This reinforces what I wrote about last fall, that volunteering is thriving in Australia overall, through companies, United Way Australia and other nonprofit organizations.

In the U.S., The Independent Sector has calculated the value of volunteer time since 1980, and it is broken down for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The most recent estimated national value of volunteer time is $22.55 per hour. And according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, about 64.5 million Americans, or 26.5 percent of the adult population, gave 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service worth $175 billion in 2012. For information about volunteering throughout the world, check out the United Nations Volunteers’ State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2011.

There’s a quote coined by the sociologist William Bruce Cameron, who wrote “….not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  I think that’s true of volunteering. We need to know the value of volunteering and understand how and why time that is given freely creates important social and economic impacts. But I am not sure we can ever put a number on the other positive aspects of volunteering, such as proven health benefits to the volunteer and the good will that can lift spirits and communities.