If you were looking closely, you may have noticed a new stat we included in the 2011 Annual Report infographic we published last month. As you can see in the big pink balloon, the predicted “lifetime” value of an average volunteer recruited from the VolunteerMatch network last year was $3,075.
It’s a pretty stunning number. I’d like to take a moment here to talk about what goes into that calculation a bit because it’s so important for how we understand the social impact of the VolunteerMatch network… and how critical a strong volunteer program can be to the health of an organization.
What’s a Volunteer Worth?
At its heart, VolunteerMatch.org is a recruiting service for nonprofits. In fact, our team sometimes uses the phrase “discovery engine” to describe what we’re best at — that is, we help individuals find ways to make a difference and then we facilitate that connection.
This moment of discovery can happen pretty quickly – just a few clicks. Fortunately, this activity is all online so it’s easy to see and track. A visitor finds something by searching, clicks the “I Want to Help” button, and then completes the short form. Move the counter up +1!
But the real story of our work, our real social impact, happens later: The prospect is screened by the organization to confirm a good fit. The role or project is closely defined and shared. The volunteer begins contributing. Over time, many of those relationships grow stronger and deeper.
Measuring this part of our impact is much, much harder. We facilitated 622,000 connections in 2011, plus nearly as many in 2010. Recently, in fact, we celebrated our 6,000,000th connection.
Meanwhile, there are folks volunteering today for organizations they found at VolunteerMatch years and years ago. Is there any way to track THAT? And given the enormous variety in skills and time contributed by volunteers, how could you even estimate the value of an average volunteer recruited by our service?
Putting The Pieces Together
So here’s roughly how we do it, in 5 “easy” steps:
Step 1. Ask the Question, Did You Volunteer?
Over the last decade we’ve conducted three large-scale surveys of our volunteer audience. Working with a third-party research consultant (most recently, Hart Research Associates) we asked thousands of individuals who used our service whether they ended up volunteering with an organization they found at VolunteerMatch and how long they served for.
The most recent average, from 2010: Those who volunteer did so around 28 days each year, putting in roughly 3 hours per day. And the typical commitment lasts 2.5 years!
Step 2. Count Volunteers
In 2011 we had 8.4 million unique Web visitors. The vast majority of these arrived looking for volunteer opportunities. Over the course of the year they used our service to connect with nonprofits roughly 622,000 times. Stripping out visitors who connected on more than one volunteer opportunity leaves a total of 424,263 of who we call “unique connectors” – that is, specific individuals who definitely signed up to volunteer with an organization at least once in 2011.
However, because not all of these connections turn into actual volunteering, we multiply this number by a conversation rate also generated from our surveys. For 2011, that rate was 48%.
Step 3. Ask the Experts What an Hour of Volunteering Is Worth
Fortunately we don’t need to figure this one out. Each year our friends at Independent Sector report on the value of an average hour of volunteering, based on comparable non-farm wage work. In 2011 that comparable value was $21.36.
Step 4: Build a Fancy Spreadsheet
I was an English major at the University of Arizona. When I should have been taking statistics I was reading Bukoski. From my vantage, words cannot really express how scary our “SROI 2012.xls” spreadsheet appears. But it’s fancy.
Step 5. Share the result.
You can see the infographic here. What do you think of our calculation? Have we adequately captured the value a committed volunteer has for an organization?