Volunteering is never free.
Volunteers come to you with time, energy, and talents to share. They volunteer for all sorts of reasons. Whether it be it out of the goodness of their little hearts or because an authority figure mandated it–volunteers are there in hopes of doing good and benefiting your organization.
At the same time, volunteers take a ton of time, energy, and talents to organize and communicate with. Heck, your entire job is to be a volunteer coordinator because it’s a lot of work! And then there’s the t-shirts, and the pizza party, and the info packets, and maybe even the volunteer management software. These costs all add up quick, so you might start to wonder if it’d just be easier (or cheaper) if you did it all yourself and skipped the volunteers altogether.
Let’s unpack some of the values that volunteers bring to the table…because even though there’s a lot of expense that comes along with running a volunteer program, often what you gain is even greater.
Sometimes it feels like when the price is free that there’s no actual value to something. Instead of “free help,” volunteers can quickly be added to your mental list of “more work to take care of.” Think it’d just be easier to hire someone at minimum wage? Think again. The estimated value of volunteer time is $24.14 per hour according to the Independent Sector in 2016. When you start to count up the vast numbers of hours contributed by your many volunteers, this really adds up to both a huge savings to you and a huge benefit to your organization.
When you have volunteers from all different backgrounds and experience, you gain access to valuable resources and talents. A diverse group of volunteers are going to bring new ideas and wisdom that you can’t come up with alone, not to mention connections to the community. Whether it’s through a senior-level volunteer advisory board or someone full of spunk handing out water to runners, the thoughts and enthusiasm volunteers can breathe into an organization really boosts your capabilities as an organization. Be sure to tap into this resource along the way by asking lots of questions and gathering feedback after they volunteer.
We’ve all heard the phrase “many hands make light work” … because it’s true! Yes, there’s a lot of organization required to coordinate a large group of people, but you can’t actually be everywhere at once and do all of the things. Your back would eventually go out; everyone attending the event would be hungry, thirsty, or lost; and the inflatable bounce house would be overrun with kids. When you have an army of volunteers, this can all be easily staffed to keep things running smoothly without killing your spirit or your budget.
When you have a lot of volunteers invested in your cause and organization, you build awareness and credibility in the community. Those free t-shirts become walking billboards on the faces of people who are passionate about what you do. But more than that, the more volunteers you have, the more sponsors you might also be able to get on board. It builds credibility to have several committed volunteers active in your organization. Ask corporate sponsors to match dollar-for-dollar the amount of volunteer time spent with a financial contribution. Say you have 100 volunteers who give 2 hours of their time for your event. If you multiply that times the value of their hour ($24.14), you’re looking at $4,828. Now, if you manage to recruit 500 volunteers to work 4 hour shifts at $24.14 an hour of value, that would mean a $48,280 check!
Yes, volunteers add work and sometimes require resources and incentives that cost money. But don’t let that overshadow the value volunteers bring. Next time you have to invest money for volunteer resources, remember the potential return on your investment. With each volunteer, you are gaining monetary value, brain power, physical strength, and community.