Sunday, August 25, 2013

Documenting volunteer hours

All nonprofits want and need volunteers.  Volunteers are literally the lifeblood of most public charities.  No matter how much money an organization raises, they typically can't afford to hire paid help to do everything.

Volunteer hours have a monetary value as reported by Independent Sector in this report: The generally accepted average overall value is currently $22.14 an hour, and this figure is further broken down by state in the above-referenced report. The state values range from $15.58 in Mississippi to $34.04 in the District of Columbia.

This is important in many areas but from the standpoint of grant applications, it provides both a yardstick for community involvement and a source of those elusive matching funds required for some types of grants. It also conveys a sense of how efficiently the nonprofit is managed.

In late 2012 I was working with a client to obtain funds for one of their programs.  The application required an invitation from the grantor after submission of a one-page letter of introduction/inquiry.  The LOI sailed through, and the client was invited to submit a full application for a maximum award figure of $25,000, with a matching requirement for $10,000.

One of the requirements was:
"Enter the total number of volunteer hours for the most recently completed fiscal year with a breakdown of how they were applied. Documentation may be required at a later date."  followed by a table:

How used

1st quarter
2nd quarter
3rd Quarter
4Th Quarter
Total for FY 2011


Subject Program

Column Totals

Not only did the client not have documentation of the hours, they had not tracked how they were used. It wasn't that they didn't have volunteers, but as one of the principals said:  "We are just happy when people show up to help. We don't count noses or keep track of hours for each one. After all, they aren't employees".

No matter how many times I tried to get even ballpark figures the client simply would not comply with this requirement. In general, they felt that having set attendance requirements, tracking hours and applying them to specific categories "…takes away from the spirit of volunteering" to quote the program director.

 Since they would not and could not produce substantiating documentation for any estimates, I couldn't include even a guesstimate in the table provided. Although we made a general statement to the effect that they held four events a year staffed by volunteers, and the organization had sufficient cash to meet the matching requirement, they didn't get the grant. They just didn't or wouldn't understand the impact that not providing the documentation would have on their application.

It is true that volunteers are not compensated for their time. However, their contributions of time should be tracked as carefully as though you have to pay them $22.14 an hour for every hour they help. They should be entered into a volunteer logbook, and some effort should be made to assign or at least document their contributions.  Volunteer management is, or should be treated as a sort of quasi-human resources function. Each program or task they help with should be traceable to a specific benefit to your organization.

As nearly as I could determine, this organization got about 400 hours a year from their volunteers. Leaving out the management aspects of effective volunteer recruitment and management, why would you not want to track volunteer contributions? 

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