Economics of Volunteering
I had an ideas meeting with some higher-ups at my job today to talk out the future of a project I’m pitching. This project isn’t something that is a part of my job – far from, as it involves criminal diversion for juveniles – but it’s something I’m passionate about and has the ability to chang
e a few lives for the better. I currently work in law enforcement so affecting lives in a positive manner has a huge ripple effect through the community. This meeting got me thinking though. I’ve put in a lot of work doing online research and writing a preliminary proposal; that excludes all of the meetings I’ve had with people to gather information and the countless e-mails I’ve crafted to schedule appointments or seek guidance. At this point I’ve invested quite a few hours and, after today, have a lot more to go. This is in conjunction with my family, my job, my blog and the community service I already do. So why do people go through the hassle? What spurs people to do community service?
Economics of Volunteering
While I do believe that volunteering is just a natural addition to furthering your career, it’s also just an awesome thing to do and provides a huge benefit. This benefit isn’t limited to your local community, but the overall economy as well. Every year the Independent Sector (which is a lobbying group for the collective that is nonprofits) publishes the “Value of a Volunteer”. Using BLS data they estimate the ‘hourly wage’ of a volunteer – in 2015 it’s estimated that a volunteer is worth $23.56/hr. A quick look at where they get their numbers makes it obvious that the number is going to be overstated, and that’s before they add in a 12% increase for fringe benefits; however, it’s still an interesting graphic to look at. When you consider that in 2015 7.9 BILLION man hours were volunteered, even a $10 ‘wage’ is still a sizeable boost to the economy.
What doesn’t get factored into the GDP calculations of volunteering is the actual impact in your community. I live in an area where there are a plethora of art shows and holiday events to choose from, most of which have no entry fee. Those events are only possible with the help of volunteers assuming my community wants them to stay free. That’s the economics of volunteering. It’s putting forth your time for the enjoyment of another. It’s community building at its finest.
How to Benefit from Being a Volunteer
Personally, I volunteer my time with the local juvenile courthouse serving as a mediator for kids going through pre-trial diversion (can you tell I like helping kids who commit crimes?). I’ve worked with this program in some form or another for nearly ten years, but it’s only been in the last five, mostly when I had lots of free time during college, that I became as active as I am now. During this time, I have expanded my professional network. Because it’s involved in legal services, I’ve met numerous attorneys and a few judges. I’ve also met quite a few members of law enforcement. In fact, the job I have now is a direct result of the networking I’ve done through my volunteering!
Career building aside though, the main thing you gain through volunteering are the experiences you take home. I’ve had a girl track me down to tell me she had gotten into college on a scholarship namely because the words and wisdom I shared with her, when she was at a troubled point in her life, inspired her to stop and evaluate who she was becoming. I’ll also never forget the two sisters who wrote me a thank you letter. They were part of a peer jury (part of the mediation process) for another case I had. I had not met them beforehand or paid them any attention until the very end when they came to say they appreciated the care and effort I went through to sanction this defendant. Imagine my surprise when I received that thank you letter stating that the words that were intended for someone else had positively affected them – this letter came nearly three months after our one and only encounter. I only spend an hour to an hour and a half with these kids. Sometimes though, an hour is all it takes to permanently change someone’s life. The economics of volunteering is both financial and personal.
When you consider the economics of volunteering, it’s a social good. It benefits the volunteer through personal experiences and potential professional ones as well, but it mainly benefits the community as a whole. Imagine an America without the Boston Marathon or the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball dropping. These events are only possible, at their current size and scale, with the help of volunteers. It goes to show that sometimes your community involvement can have a national reach.
Volunteers also provide a fiscal benefit to the economy. From the ability to put on massive government or non-profit events to the services we don’t think about, like volunteers at no-kill animal shelter which saves a city money on animal housing and extermination drugs, there is a positive economic impact.
Ultimately, people should volunteer for things they’re passionate about when they get the chance. The experiences you gain, even negative ones, will help shape you into a better and more understanding person.
Readers, what sort of volunteer work do you do in your free time and do you regret the time you spent volunteering knowing that you could have instead spent the time on yourself? Talk about your experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to ‘like’ my Facebook Page and share the article if you enjoyed it.