Exploring Our Impact: The Fascinating Economics of the VolunteerMatch Network

With the release this summer of the 2012 VolunteerMatch Impact Report, we’re taking a closer look at some of the most important outcomes of our work in 2012. Read the whole series here.

Measuring the economics of the VolunteerMatch network.

What does it mean to be the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network? For the VolunteerMatch team, it means keeping a laser focus on making it easier for everyone to make a difference. Lots of people are surprised that this “big tent” approach goes well beyond volunteers and nonprofits — it also means developing tools to help government programs, well-known brands, campuses and businesses of all kinds to build their volunteer engagement success on top of the VolunteerMatch network.

Over the years VolunteerMatch has developed a rich and diverse set of products and services that go beyond our award-winning site, VolunteerMatch.org.  These include enterprise-level APIs, hosted platforms for employee and consumer volunteer programs from partners, and consulting services for businesses and organizations that are ready to take their programs to the next level but aren’t quite sure how.

What all these efforts have in common is that they provide millions of people, programs and organizations with free or affordable access to the VolunteerMatch network — and they really do work. Not surprisingly, as access has grown, so too has the scale of our impact.

Measuring Our Growing Scale

Every mentor, community gardener, volunteer librarian, or graphic designer who uses VolunteerMatch is woven into the fabric of the network – and more volunteers use VolunteerMatch than any other service in the nation.

In 2011 VolunteerMatch facilitated some 622,000  connections between prospective volunteers and great organizations, the most ever. A year later, thanks to some big improvements to our system and significantly more visitors, we increased our overall connections by more than 20% — to 788,000, or about 1.5 new connections every single minute. (You can see this activity live for yourself here.)

Valuing the Volunteer Experience

Taking into account the likelihood that a new connection will result in an actual volunteer experience, the depth and duration of the experience, and the average value of a volunteer’s time, each of those connections will eventually produce $3,158 worth of support for the organizations that use VolunteerMatch – an increase of $83 compared to last year.

Even experts in volunteering are often blown away when we share this number, but we have lots of reasons for believing it to be true. In an article last year about the comparable value of volunteers recruited from VolunteerMatch we explored in detail the complex economics of volunteer recruitment. I don’t have space here to reproduce it all in detail, but I invite you to check it out for yourself.

But two factors from the equation really stand out.

  1. Volunteers serve five hours each month with nonprofits they find at VolunteerMatch.
  2. The typical commitment lasts 2.5 years.

Of course, these are averages. Some folks help out for a single night at a gala event. Others come in twice a week for whole days at a time. Still others — often times with support from their employers — work diligently on research projects for three or six months at a stretch.

In my own family, my mom has been volunteering at a public school serving Tucson, Arizona’s Native American reservation community for more than eight years now. And if you look around, you’ll start to see many others with longtime commitments to specific causes and favorite organizations. Through this lens, it’s easy to begin to see how VolunteerMatch is able to help generate more than $85,000 in comparable social value for organizations every single hour. 

Stay tuned for more analysis of this year’s VolunteerMatch Impact Report. And in the meantime, how about you? We’d love to hear the value of your volunteering for the causes you love best.