Volunteering is not new, but professionally managed volunteering is a recent phenomenon. It’s only in the last 10-15 years there has been a steady growth in organisations that help other non-profit organisations get volunteers. And with that has evolved the concept of measuring volunteering. As a volunteer manager myself, I have reported on numbers like number of volunteers; number of projects; number of volunteering hours, as means of measuring volunteerism. But it always felt incomplete and there were a lot of questions. In a recent conversation with Shalabh Sahai, Co-Founder and Director of iVolunteer – one of the first organisations in India to focus on promoting volunteering; I raised the same questions. Below are excerpts from that conversation.
Do we need to measure volunteering?
Yes, of course. When volunteering occurs as a natural phenomenon with no costs involved then it may not be required to measure it, say for example some event that happened in a society and the members all volunteered for it. But now that volunteering has become systematic, there are organisations that put resources behind promoting volunteering and there are certain costs (be it direct or opportunity costs) involved, it is important to measure. These measures are a way to know how effective the work behind promoting volunteering is.
Volunteering can be measured in both objective and subjective ways. But at times stories are more powerful than numbers. For example: While there can be objective measures of changes in a person’s behavior as a result of volunteering, it might be better to express it in words.
How do we measure volunteering?
There are two types of volunteering. One is when volunteering is undertaken for some social objective. In this scenario there can be an output that can be directly measured. But when volunteering is undertaken to facilitate or promote further volunteering in the community there may not be a direct output or even a beneficiary.
It is thus important to measure both the input and the output to know how good the volunteering movement is.
So what exactly can we measure?
There are three things that one can measure in volunteering:
The volunteer’s input:
The amount of time that a volunteer puts in. This may be measured directly as time or converted into opportunity cost. A CEO’s one hour of volunteering will have a difference opportunity cost to that of a security guard’s one hour of volunteering.
The volunteer’s output:
A volunteer’s output may be measured as the market value of the immediate outcome of a volunteer’s effort. If a volunteer designed a pamphlet for an organisation, the cost of getting that pamphlet designed in the market, will be the value of his output.
Impact of volunteer’s engagement:
Now while measuring volunteer’s inputs and outputs is still easy; it is very difficult to measure the direct impact of the volunteer’s effort. And frankly speaking, I do not have an answer to that. More often than not volunteering is a miniscule thing in the big development picture. It is very difficult to get the direct impact of volunteering. In certain cases it may be possible, say if a volunteer is taking English classes then over a period of time it is possible to measure the level of English in students and thus measure the impact. But it would not be possible to determine much did the pamphlet help the NGO increase its reach; or how did an excel session help an NGO increase its efficiency?
Why is it better to measure volunteering in monetary terms as opposed to real numbers on volunteers etc?
Measuring in monetary terms is important to understand the social returns on the cost of sustaining an organisation. Moreover, in the end the country’s GDP is measured in monetary terms. If we want to bring volunteering in the mainstream, we have to showcase how much worth of volunteering is happening in the country.
-Shalabh Sahai in conversation with Ashima Goyal Siraj