Is It Wrong to Put a Price Tag on Volunteering?

This week VolunteerMatch President Greg Baldwin published a thoughtful piece at Huffington Post about the value of volunteering. Or rather, the piece, “Is Volunteering Worth It: The Economics of Generosity,” was about the value of putting a price tag on volunteering.

The occasion was the release of Independent Sector’s 2011 estimate of an hour of volunteering. Each year since 1980, the number has been produced to help organizations quantify the enormous value volunteers provide.

This year’s estimated value is $21.79. It’s a little more in New Jersey ($25.64) and a little less in Arizona ($19.71), but if you add up all the earnings of U.S. workers who are paid in similar capacities and you divide it by the total number of hours volunteered in 2011, you get a rate that’s about the same as a large pizza.

Greg points out that while the release of the new estimate each year succeeds in generating discussion about the value and impact volunteering in America, it also has its detractors.

Not everyone agrees we should be reducing the hope, inspiration and goodwill of volunteering into dollar and cents, he writes. “Is it really a good thing to try and monetize one of the few areas of our lives that clearly rises above, and stands apart, from our everyday economics?”

Volunteering is not about money. And for many hanging a financial label on it seems inappropriate and distasteful. Is $21.79 an hour really a fair way to measure the value of teaching a child to read or saving a life? Is it fair to put the same value on the enormous diversity of volunteer opportunities?

The important thing is the pursuit of ways to measure and understand the value of giving back. Ultimately, Greg argues, “numbers add clarity and weight to the conversation.”

Click here to read the entire piece in Greg’s column at Huffington Post’s Impact Channel.

(Photo: Doobybrain/Flickr)