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Quantifying the Value of Volunteering

4 December 2014 at 9:26 am
Xavier Smerdon
New figures in the State of Volunteering in Tasmania Report 2014 will surprise and inspire, writes CEO of Volunteering Tasmania Adrienne Picone in this sneak peak of the report due out on Friday.

Xavier Smerdon | 4 December 2014 at 9:26 am


Quantifying the Value of Volunteering
4 December 2014 at 9:26 am

New figures in the State of Volunteering in Tasmania Report 2014 will surprise and inspire, writes CEO of Volunteering Tasmania Adrienne Picone in this sneak peak of the report due out on Friday.

When we talk about the contribution that volunteers make to our community it is not uncommon to hear superlatives like immeasurable or invaluable.  We frequently hear volunteers described as the ‘backbone or the lifeblood of our society’.

These words come easily because the truth is that volunteers make real and lasting difference to our essential services and to the quality of life that we enjoy here in Australia.  But in an era where numbers and dollars count it is becoming more important to unpack our industry and quantify its worth.

We’ve seen some attempts to quantify volunteering in previous studies. But most have fallen short at valuing the true cost of volunteering – they have (to put it simply) taken the number of volunteers, the hours they contribute and multiplied it by the minimum wage.

We know inherently that the cost of replacing volunteers would be much higher than just a minimum wage figure.

This year Volunteering Tasmania has worked with Paul Muller and the Institute of Project Management on a framework for measuring and locating the value of volunteering.

The model adopts the best-practice principles of cost and benefit analysis to estimate the value of the unique cluster of activities that go into volunteering.

It is the first time a full cost benefit analysis of volunteering has occurred in a defined region; and the first time that an accurate reflection of the social, cultural and economic value of volunteering has been achieved.

The results have been both staggering and affirming. Astounding results

An example of a result which surprised us was the figure around how many Tasmanians have volunteered in the last 12 months. We found that 78.8 per cent of Tasmanians – or 4 out of 5 – volunteer.

This figure was significantly higher than previous measurements.

Typically, volunteer surveys – like in the Australian Bureau of Statistics Census or General Social Survey– ask people if they do unpaid work for a Not for Profit organisation.  

We know that this form of volunteering is just the tip of the iceberg and fails to capture much of the informal volunteering that happens right across our community in sporting clubs and amateur theatre groups, in community events and through corporate volunteering programs not to mention the volunteering that occurs in Government agencies.

The question that we posed to 700 Tasmanians reflects contemporary volunteering in all its guises.  We asked whether people gave or donated their time, unpaid, to anyone outside their family.

Our research breaks some of the previously held myths around volunteering.

We found that contrary to popular belief, young people are volunteering.  In fact, volunteering rates are similar across the age range with the exception of people aged between 65 – 74. This ‘retirees’ age group is volunteering on average 10 hours more per month than other cohorts.

What does this information mean for the economy?

In Tasmania alone, where the population is a little over 500,000; the total social, economic, and cultural value of volunteering is a staggering $4.9 billion.

More significantly, volunteering offers a great return on investment.  We found that for every dollar invested in volunteering, $4 in benefits are returned to the community. To put that in perspective, Treasury consider an investment of a 3 -1 ratio a sound investment.

With these numbers, it can be assumed that Tasmania’s volunteering sector is managing itself well. However, our research shows that we can achieve a more economically efficient outcome just by a marginal increase in the rate of volunteering.

If we could work across sectors to motivate people to volunteer or to increase their hours – by as little as one percent – Tasmanian’s would see an additional $706.1 million in benefits over ten years.

Volunteering influences economic activity across almost the entire spectrum of government and commercial interests. On a labour cost replacement basis, volunteering is Tasmania’s largest industry.

If you consider the wider context that’s really significant. In Tasmania we point to Forestry, Mining, Agriculture, and Tourism as our biggest industries but volunteering ‘trumps’ all of these.

Despite volunteering being larger than our other significant industries, we have never invested in it as a sector or industry in its own right.

Imagine what could happen if we did?

Volunteering is not just an opportunity for people to ‘give back’ and contribute to their communities it is also a sound economic investment. How many other industries would offer a guaranteed return on investment at a ratio of 4:1?

Where to next?

The 2014 State of Volunteering Report is a must read for all Australians.

It’s also a significant piece of evidence that should receive attention from other sectors, as it highlights some astounding findings.

These findings show not just what volunteering currently contributes to Tasmania, but the potential for us to do more.

A copy of the executive summary and the full report will be available from 9:00am this Friday 5 December here:

Please download and share this information widely – it’s the evidence we have been waiting for!


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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