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Measuring the Economic Value of Volunteer Work Globally: Concepts, Estimates, and a Roadmap to the Future

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This article explores alternative approaches for measuring the economic value of volunteer work, develops a methodology for producing global estimates of this value using existing data sources, and identifies a new data source that promises to yield significantly improved data on which to base such estimates in the future at both the global and national levels. Both volunteering through organizations and directly for individuals are considered. Different approaches to valuation, including the replacement cost, opportunity cost, and social benefits approaches and both observed and reported market proxies, are examined. Based on a number of criteria, the replacement cost method using observed market wages is recommended. Using this method, the article estimates that ‘volunteerland,’ if it were its own country, would have the second largest adult population of any country in the world, and would be the world's seventh largest economy. The article concludes by discussing a new International Labour Organization Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work that adopts the basic method for defining and valuing volunteer work outlined here and promises to generate a much more robust and coherent body of data on volunteer work than has ever been available both globally and nationally.
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Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 82:3 2011 pp. 217–252
MEASURING THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF VOLUNTEER
WORK GLOBALLY: CONCEPTS, ESTIMATES, AND A
ROADMAP TO THE FUTURE
by
Lester M. SALAMON, S. Wojciech SOKOLOWSKI
and Megan A. HADDOCK
Johns Hopkins University, USA
ABSTRACT: This article explores alternative approaches for measuring the
economic value of volunteer work, develops a methodology for producing global
estimates of this value using existing data sources, and identifies a new data source
that promises to yield significantly improved data on which to base such estimates
in the future at both the global and national levels. Both volunteering through
organizations and directly for individuals are considered. Different approaches to
valuation, including the replacement cost, opportunity cost, and social benefits
approaches and both observed and reported market proxies, are examined. Based on
a number of criteria, the replacement cost method using observed market wages is
recommended. Using this method, the article estimates that ‘volunteerland,’ if it were
its own country, would have the second largest adult population of any country in
the world, and would be the world’s seventh largest economy. The article concludes
by discussing a new International Labour Organization Manual on the Measurement
of Volunteer Work that adopts the basic method for defining and valuing volunteer
work outlined here and promises to generate a much more robust and coherent body
of data on volunteer work than has ever been available both globally and nationally.
Medida del valor econ ´
omico del voluntariado: conceptos, estimaciones
yhojaderutaparaelfuturo
El articulo examina enfoques alternativos para medir el valor econ´omico del trabajo
voluntario, desarrolla una metodologia para elaborar estimaciones globales de este
valor utilizando las bases de datos existentes, e identifica una nueva fuente de
informaci´on que promete proporcionar datos significativamente mejores sobre los que
basar en el futuro las estimaciones, simult´aneamente en los niveles global y nacional.
Se consideran los dos tipos de voluntarios existentes, los que act´uan a trav´es de las
organizaciones y los que lo hacen directamente. Se examinan diferentes enfoques de
evaluaci´on, comprendidos los costes de sustituci´on y de oportunidad, como tambi´en se
observan y describen las aproximaciones por los beneficios sociales y las predicciones
del mercado. Basado en un cierto n´umero de criterios, el m´etodo del coste de sustituci´on
Email: lsalamon@jhu.edu
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218 LESTER M. SALAMON, S. WOJCIECH SOKOLOWSKI AND MEGAN A. HADDOCK
utilizando salarios de mercado observados es el m ´as recomendable. Utilizando este
etodo, el articulo estima que “el pais del voluntariado” si es que debiera ser un pais,
tendria la segunda poblaci´on adulta m ´as importante de todos los paises del mundo y
seria la s´eptima mayor economia mundial. El articulo concluye con una presentaci´on
del Manual de medida del trabajo voluntario de la Organizaci´on Internacional
del Trabajo (OIT), que adopta el m´etodo de definici´on y de estimaci ´on del trabajo
voluntario descrito en el presente articulo, comprometi´endose a generar un conjunto de
datos m ´as s´olidos y coherentes sobre el voluntariado a nivel nacional y mundial.
Messung des ¨
okonomischen Wertes von ehrenamtlicher Arbeit: Konzepte,
Einsch ¨
atzungen und eine Roadmap f ¨
ur die Zukunft
In diesem Beitrag werden alternative Ans ¨atze zur Messung des ¨okonomischen Wertes
von ehrenamtlicher Arbeit untersucht; es wird unter Verwendung vorhandener Daten-
quellen eine Methodologie zur Erlangung globaler Einsch¨atzungen dieses Wertes
entwickelt; und es wird eine neue Datenquelle identifiziert, die die Gewinnung
signifikant verbesserter Daten verspricht, auf die solche Einsch¨atzungen in der
Zukunft auf der globalen wie auf der nationalen Ebene gest ¨utzt werden k¨onnen.
Ber ¨ucksichtigt wird sowohl ehrenamtliche T¨atigkeit durch Organisationen als auch
direkt f ¨ur einzelne Personen. Verschiedene Bewertungsans¨atze, einschließlich des
Wiederbeschaffungskosten- des Opportunit ¨atskosten- und des Social Benefits-Ansatzes
sowie beobachtete wie Berichten entnommene Markt-Proxies werden untersucht. Auf
der Basis einer Anzahl von Kriterien wird die Wiederbeschaffungskostenmethode
vorgeschlagen, die auf empirisch festgestellte markt ¨ubliche L¨ohne zur ¨uckgreift. Bei
Anwendung dieser Methode kommen die Autoren zu dem Ergebnis, dass “Ehrenamts-
land“, wenn es ein eigener Staat w ¨are, die zweitgr¨oßte Bev¨olkerung aller Staaten auf
derErdeh¨atte und der Welt siebtgr¨oßte Volkswirtschaft w ¨are. Der Beitrag schließt
mit einer Diskussion eines neuen Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work
(Anleitung f ¨ur die Bewertung ehrenamtlicher Arbeit) der Internationalen Arbeitsor-
ganisation (ILO). Diese Anleitung w ¨urde die hier dargelegte grundlegende Methode
zur Definition und Bewertung von ehrenamtlicher Arbeit anwenden, was die Schaf-
fung eines wesentlich robusteren und koh¨arenteren Datenbestands ¨uber ehrenamtliche
Arbeit, als er jemals global oder national verf ¨ugbar gewesen war, verspr ¨ache.
Mesure de la valeur ´
economique du travail b ´
en ´
evole : Concepts, estimations
et carte routi `
ere pour le futur
L’article examine des approches alternatives pour mesurer la valeur ´economique du
travail b´en´evole, d´eveloppe une m ´ethodologie pour ´elaborer des estimations globales
de cette valeur en utilisant des sources de donn´ees existantes et identifie une nouvelle
source d’information qui promet de fournir des donn´ees significativement meilleures
sur lesquelles baser dans le futur de telles estimations `a la fois aux niveaux global
et national. Les deux types de volontariat, via les organisations et directement, pour
les individus sont consid´er´es. Diff´erentes approches d’´evaluation sont examin´ees, en ce
compris le co ˆut de remplacement, le co ˆut d’opportunit´e, les approches par les b´en´efices
sociaux ainsi que les pr´edictions du marce`a la fois observ´ees et relat´ees. Bas´ee
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MEASURING THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF VOLUNTEER WORK GLOBALLY 219
sur un certain nombre de crit`eres, la ethode du co ˆut de remplacement utilisant
des salaires du march´e observ ´es est recommand ´ee. Utilisant cette m´ethode, l’article
estime que «le pays du volontariat »si cela devait ˆetre un pays, aurait la deuxi`eme
plus importante population adulte de tous les pays du monde et serait la septi`eme
plus grande ´economie du monde. L’article conclut par une pr´esentation du Manuel de
mesure du travail b´en´evole de l’Organisation internationale du travail qui adopte la
ethode fondamentale de d´efinition et d’estimation du travail b´en´evole d´ecrite dans le
pr´esent article et s’engage `ag´en´erer un ensemble de donn´ees plus solides et coh´erentes
sur le travail b´en´evole au plan mondial ou national.
1 Introduction
Nearly 1 billion people throughout the world volunteer their time through
public, nonprofit, or for-profit organizations, or directly for friends or neighbors, in
a typical year, making ‘Volunteerland,’ if it were a country, the second most populous
country in the world, behind only China.1
This is the conclusion that flows from this first-ever empirically grounded,
though still preliminary, estimate of the global scale and economic value of volunteer
work throughout the world.
This volunteer effort produces a wide array of impacts – on the volunteers
themselves, on the beneficiaries of their activities, on the organizations through which
at least some of the activity is organized, and on the quality of life more generally in
the societies in which the volunteers operate. Unfortunately, however, few of these
impacts are now captured in any systematic form. With the exception of a few
industrialized countries, volunteering is not covered in official statistics.2As will be
detailed more fully below, most of what limited data exist on the scale or impact
of volunteering come from privately sponsored surveys that use relatively small
samples, diverse, often-incomparable, methodologies, widely differing definitions, and
varied numbers of questions (Howlett 2011, Rochester et al. 2009, Lyons et al.
1998). As a consequence, even such basic questions as the share of the population
engaged in volunteering in a country is unknown in most places, or worse, is
reported by various studies to be at wildly different levels in the same country
due to differences in definitions or research methodologies. Residents of the United
Kingdom were thus found to be volunteering through organizations at rates that
varied from 48 percent of the population in 1997, down to 2 percent in 2009, and
then part-way back to 29 percent in 2010. With ‘direct’ volunteering (i.e. volunteering
directly for individuals) included, the volunteering rate in the UK was found to
be 74 percent in 1997, 31 percent in 2007, 10 percent in 2009, and 52 percent
1 For detail on this estimate of the total number of volunteers worldwide, see Section V of
this paper below.
2 Regular surveys of volunteering are currently conducted by the statistical offices of
Australia, Canada, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, and the United States. A new Manual on
the Measurement of Volunteer Work developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society
Studies with support from United Nations Volunteers has been adopted by the International
Labour Organization and is available for adoption by countries (ccss.jhu.edu). A discussion of
this new Manual is presented in the final section of this paper.
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in 2010. While it is possible that British citizens underwent this dizzying array
of gyrations in their attachments to volunteering, a more plausible explanation is
that the gyrations occurred in the methodologies and definitions applied by different
researchers. Indeed, the early estimate resulted from a survey that used 39 different
prompts to elicit the extent of ‘formal’ or ‘informal’ volunteering British citizens might
have done over an entire year. The low estimates resulted from the Harmonized
European Time Use Survey of 2009, which asked respondents to record time spent in
either ‘organizational work’ or ‘informal help to others’ during a highly constrained
one-week reference period. The European Quality of Life Survey of 2007, which
yielded a combined organization-based and direct volunteering rate of only 31 percent
asked respondents about ‘volunteering and charitable activities,’ an amalgam that
could include everything from working in a soup kitchen to making a charitable
contribution. And the UK is a country where the measurement of volunteering has
been fairly extensive. Elsewhere the divergence of estimates is less pronounced, but
only because the available data are far less extensive.
This lack of systematic comparative data on volunteering is not simply an
academic matter. It has numerous practical consequences:
It limits the visibility, and therefore the credence, of volunteer work. ‘Out of
sight/out of mind’ captures well the neglect that lack of visibility can create for a
social phenomenon, and this seems generally to have happened with volunteering.
The economic value of volunteering in particular has been obscured. This in turn
has made it difficult to generate support for policies that could bolster volunteer
effort;
It makes effective management of volunteer work far more difficult. Management
improvement depends critically on measuring the consequences of management
change. What cannot be measured therefore cannot be effectively managed. And
volunteering has not been effectively measured in most places;
It robs societies of the ability to make the most effective use of precious human
resources and denies volunteers a full appreciation of their contributions; and
It discourages volunteering by failing to acknowledge its scale and contributions
and therefore undervalues its impact.
This article seeks to take some useful steps toward closing the gaps that
have long kept volunteer work from being accurately quantified and portrayed cross-
nationally. In particular, after first identifying some of the major conceptual and
methodological challenges in measuring volunteer work it systematically explores
several alternative approaches for overcoming these challenges. It then identifies a
set of criteria for choosing among these approaches and applies these criteria through
an actual demonstration of the feasibility of generating an initial global estimate of
the scale and economic value of volunteer work using existing sources of data. Finally,
it identifies a new data source that promises to yield significantly improved data on
which to base such estimates in the future.
In pursuing this topic, we are keenly aware that economic impact is but one of
a number of facets and impacts of volunteering that could, and should, be measured
more fully and systematically. But we are also aware that in a world that puts
enormous emphasis on economic realities, providing a better picture of the economic
scale of volunteering can provide the key that opens the door to interest in other
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facets of this phenomenon. What is more, economic weight may constitute one of the
easier facets of volunteering’s impact to measure. If not the endpoint in measuring
the contribution of volunteering, therefore, economic impact is certainly a convenient
and useful starting point.
Even when we narrow our focus in this way, however, the challenges of devising
a suitable approach remain numerous. Economic impacts can take a variety of
forms and accrue to a variety of stakeholders. What is more, the appropriate basis
for assigning valuation, even something as narrow as economic valuation, is far
from settled (Anderson and Zimmerer 2003, Handy and Srinivasan 2004, Mook and
Quarter 2003). This is so in important part because volunteer work is part of a
broader class of so-called non-market goods and services, i.e., goods and services
that are not exchanged for money. As a consequence, the price system of the market
economy is not available to provide the short-cut that market prices offer for gauging
the economic value of market goods and services.
The discussion here therefore proceeds in four steps. First, we examine the pe-
culiar challenges that confront any effort to estimate the economic value of volunteer
effort. Second, we identify three more or less distinct approaches for addressing these
challenges – the replacement cost, opportunity cost, and social benefits approaches.
Third, we identify the basis for choosing among these approaches and develop initial
estimates of volunteer participation and the economic value of volunteer work using
the most defensible and feasible of these approaches and existing sources of data.
Finally, we outline the improvements in available data for measuring the amount
and value of volunteer work that are anticipated from the implementation of a
new Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work that the International Labour
Organization (ILO) has just approved for use in countries around the world.
What emerges most clearly from this discussion are three central conclusions:
first, it is possible to make reasonable estimates of the economic value of volunteer
work; second, those estimates, even preliminarily and conservatively done, suggest
that this value is huge; and third, the limitations of available data create the
need for a more comprehensive and systematic data collection approach to generate
reliable, cross-national data on volunteer work, and such an approach is now finally
in prospect.
2 Measuring volunteer work: key conceptual and methodological challenges
Volunteering is a complex phenomenon that has often defied definition, let alone
measurement. Undertaken in leisure time, it is nevertheless a form of work. Pursued
for no monetary compensation, it nevertheless produces both tangible and intangible
benefits not only for its beneficiaries, but also for the volunteers. Supposed to be
undertaken as a matter of free will, it is often motivated by a sense of personal,
cultural, religious, or other obligation.
A number of significant conceptual and methodological challenges thus con-
front any effort to measure the extent and economic value of volunteer work.
In this section we identify four such challenges that particularly deserve our
attention.
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2.1 The definitional challenge
In the first place, even the definition of volunteering is unsettled, in part
because the very term carries different meanings, and different connotations, in
different cultures and settings, and some of these are unflattering or problematic.
No definition of the concept can rest on the use of the term alone, therefore. For
some purposes, volunteering is conceived as a set of activities done only for or
through organizations. In other uses, it includes as well activities done directly for
individuals. But this immediately raises the question of which individuals are valid
objects of an activity that meets the definition of volunteering – one’s children? Other
family members? Only persons outside one’s ‘family’? If so, how broad a definition
of ‘family’ should be used? What is more, although volunteering is typically thought
to be activity undertaken without pay, is no compensation possible? What about
reimbursement for expenses?
2.2 The focus of measurement: inputs vs. outputs
Even if the main contours of a definition of volunteering can be clarified, a
second complication in measuring volunteer work arises in deciding what the focus
of the measurement should be. In standard economic analysis, two broad options
are available here. One of them involves determining the economic value of a good
or service by measuring the inputs to it. Since the major input in the case of
volunteering is labor time, some form of assessment of the value of volunteer time
is the key to assessing the economic value of volunteering through this route.
The other option for measuring the economic value of a good or service is to
measure the output that flows from it. In the case of volunteering, a wide assortment
of outputs might result, some of them accruing to the volunteer and some of them
accruing to society more generally.
2.3 The valuation method
A third complication in measuring the economic value of volunteering concerns
the valuation method to apply to the inputs or outputs. For market goods and services,
this problem is solved automatically by the price system, which tells us, through wage
payments, how much employers and employees agree to value certain kinds of work;
and similarly, through prices, how much consumers and producers agree to value
certain outputs. To be sure, this method of valuation has its limitations, as recent
discussions of alternatives to the gross domestic product as a measure of a society’s
‘well-being’ attest (Stiglitz et al. 2009). But at least it provides an objective baseline
measure reflecting actual consumer and worker behavior and has therefore been the
touchstone for measuring the production of economies since the invention of national
income accounting.
But there is no market-determined price that can stand automatically as a
proxy for the value of volunteer work. On the input side, this is due to the fact
that volunteers are not paid so there is no market-determined indication of the value
that is placed on their work either by them or by those who enlist their talents.
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On the output side, this is due to the difficulty of sorting out the volunteer share
of the output and to the fact that many of the outputs produced by volunteers are
also non-market: they take the form of mentoring or promoting a cause or building
a sense of community or providing goods or services to populations unable to pay for
them.
In view of this complication, proxies have to be found to represent the value of
volunteer work. The literature on valuation of non-market goods or services identifies
two broadly defined types of proxies that can be used for this purpose. One type,
which we can term ‘observed market proxies,’ essentially identifies an analogous
market service or good that can be considered a close substitute for the non-market
good or service. In the case of volunteer work, the most straightforward form of this
approach can involve finding the wage of a paid worker doing roughly the same job
as a volunteer. This is generally known as the ‘replacement cost’ approach since it
measures the value of the volunteer contribution by reference to what it would cost to
hire someone to do the work the volunteer does for free. Another variant of this same
approach, as noted below, is to determine the value of the time that the volunteer
could spend in his or her regular job if he or she were not volunteering. This is
generally known as the ‘opportunity cost’ approach since it measures the value of
the volunteer’s contribution by reference to the value of the alternative opportunity
the volunteer is passing up in order to volunteer.
The second type of proxy utilizes ‘declared market proxies’ to estimate the
value of non-market goods or services. More specifically, this approach, sometimes
referred to as ‘contingent valuation,’ relies on the stated amount that those making
use of a non-market good or service indicate they would be willing to pay for that
good or service if it were suddenly not available to them for free. This approach is
widely used in legal circles to estimate losses from environmental or other damages.
Applied to volunteering, this approach can be used to estimate what the volunteer
effort is worth to the person making use of it (i.e., an output measure) or what its
value is to the volunteer (an input measure). In both cases, some type of survey
process must be used to elicit the declared value. Though highly subjective, some
prominent economists believe that, with proper design, this approach can yield
reliable indicators of value (Adamowics et al. 1998, Carson et al. 2001, Foster et al.
1997, Goldschmidt 1993, Hausman 1993, Portney 1994, Arrow et al. 1993, Quarter
et al. 2003, Mook et al. 2005).
2.4 The unit of analysis
Finally, as with any measurement exercise, care must be taken in measuring
the economic value of volunteering to adjust the measurement technique to the unit
of analysis that is of interest because some techniques are more useful, or more
feasible, at one level of analysis than another. In the case of volunteering, it is
possible to distinguish three different such units, or levels, of analysis: first, the in-
dividual level; second, the organizational level; and third, the macro or economy-wide
level.
Individual level. Measures of the economic value of volunteering at the micro,
or individual, level can take two different forms depending on whether the focus is on
the volunteer or on the beneficiary of the volunteer’s efforts. From the point of view
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of the beneficiary, the value is the impact that the volunteer’s work has had on the
beneficiaries of his or her action. From the point of view of the volunteer, the value
can include such intangible pay-offs as the psychic satisfactions of volunteering as
well as the more tangible benefits such as job skills, interpersonal skills, connections,
experience, and reputational capital. Balanced against these contributions or benefits
of volunteering are the costs to the volunteer reflected in lost time for either work or
leisure. Put somewhat differently, from the point of view of the volunteer, the value
of volunteering can be seen in the value of what the volunteer is willing to give up in
order to volunteer.
Organizational level. Measures of the economic value of volunteering at the
organizational level involve estimates of the value of the added activities that the
organization was able to undertake as a result of the volunteer contribution (the
output measure) or the value of the work that the volunteer put into the organization
(the input measure). Included on the output side in addition to the tangible benefits
of higher outputs of particular services can be a variety of intangible benefits such
as higher staff morale, improved engagement with the community, participation in
advocacy campaigns, connections with important stakeholders, and access to new
streams of funding. At the same time, these benefits need to be set beside the costs
that the organization might incur in order to reap these benefits, including costs of
recruitment and management of volunteers, legal liability, distraction of paid staff,
and potential staff-volunteer tensions.
Macro-economic level. Finally, a third level at which the value of volunteering
can be measured is the aggregate economy level, either on a local, country-wide,
region-wide, or global level. This is the level of most interest to policy-makers, the
media, and perhaps to the volunteer community more generally since it provides
an indication of the contribution of volunteer work to a society. But it is also the
most demanding in terms of data availability. Techniques that might be sufficient for
individual level measurement may therefore be entirely inappropriate, or infeasible,
at the macro level, and vice versa. Thus, although in principle the aggregate economic
value of volunteering can be measured either in terms of the inputs or the outputs
of volunteering, the former is likely to be more feasible given the diffuseness of the
outputs.
3 Confronting the complexities: definitions and valuation methods
3.1 Operational definition of volunteering
To confront the ambiguities of the concept of volunteering, our approach relies
on an operational definition that specifies empirical criteria identifying activities
that are in scope. Such a definition has been adopted in the ILO Manual on the
Measurement of Volunteering Work, which we prepared in cooperation with the
International Labour Organization and an international Technical Experts Group
comprised of volunteer experts and statistical officials from around the world. This
Manual defines volunteering as:
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Unpaid non-compulsory work; that is, time individuals give without pay to
activities performed either through an organization or directly for others outside
their own household.
This definition sets ups operational criteria that objectively differentiate
volunteering from other human activities, such as paid work or pure leisure. It
differentiates volunteering from leisure activities by stipulating that volunteering
must generate some product or service that has value to people other than the
volunteers themselves. It also differentiates volunteering from paid work activities
by emphasizing that it is unpaid and performed without any legally sanctioned
compulsion.
These operational criteria can be applied independently of any specific socio-
cultural context, which makes them particularly useful for a cross-national study
of volunteering. They also identify a broad range of volunteering activities that can
take place in different socio-economic settings – e.g., through institutions, such as
non-profit or social economy establishments or even for-profit companies, as well as
directly to other individuals, so long as the individuals are not part of the volunteer’s
household.3
3.2 Valuation approaches
To deal with the challenges in valuing volunteer work, three broad strategies
are available, as already hinted. Each of these, in turn, can be implemented using
either ‘observed’ market proxies or ‘declared’ market proxies to assign value. These
three strategies are known as: (a) the replacement cost approach; (b) the opportunity
cost approach; and (c) what we will here term the ‘societal benefits’ approach. Two
of these approaches focus on the inputs to volunteer work and one focuses on the
outputs. While all of these approaches can be applied to any of the three possible units
of analysis identified above, some are more feasible in some contexts than others. Let
us look at each of these approaches and the valuation methods they can employ.
3.2.1 The replacement cost approach
Perhaps the most commonly used approach for estimating the economic value
of volunteer work is known as the ‘replacement cost’ method. This method estimates
the value of volunteering by focusing on the value of the labor inputs to volunteering.
More specifically, this approach focuses on the value of the work that the volunteer
performs.
As noted above and in Table 1 below, this value can be estimated in either of
two ways: (a) by finding what it would cost to replace the volunteer with a paid
worker, what we have termed the ‘observed market proxy’ approach; or (b) by inviting
those who make use of the volunteer work to indicate what they think it is worth,
which we term the ‘declared market proxy’ approach.
3 For further detail, see: International Labour Organization, Manual on the Measurement
of Volunteer Work, available at: www.ccss.jhu.edu.
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Table 1 – Approaches to measuring the economic value of volunteering
Basis of valuation
Valuation strategy Focus of valuation 1. Observed 2. Declared
A. Replacement cost Inputs Replacement wage Supervisor judgment
B. Opportunity cost Inputs Alternative-employment wage Volunteer judgment
C. Societal benefits Outputs Cost of counterpart goods or services Beneficiary judgment
The second of these two ways of finding the replacement cost of volunteer work
is conceptually less complex, but likely more burdensome. It involves questioning
those who supervise volunteers (in the case of organization-based volunteering), or
those who benefit from them (in the case of direct volunteering) about what they
would be willing to pay for the volunteer work if they could not get it for free.
The observed market proxy approach is a bit more complex because of the
range of options that might be available for observation. The optimum approach is
to identify the occupation that comes closest to the type of work that each volunteer
performs and use the wage associated with that occupation to value the volunteer
work. But this so-called ‘specialist’ approach requires information not only on the
number of volunteers and the hours that they work, but also on the jobs that each
one does. In addition, it requires fairly detailed information on the occupational
structure of the workforce generally and the average wages associated with the
various occupations. Since such data are rarely available on the work of volunteers, a
fall back ‘generalist wage’ can be used, typically the average wage in the economy
as a whole or in the field in which the volunteer is working, or some cruder
estimate of a wage that might be considered a reasonable proxy for the work of
volunteers.
Even where the actual occupations of volunteers and data on the wages
associated with typical volunteer occupations are known, some analysts recommend
adjustments to this wage to account for the possibility that volunteers’ skills or
experience may differ from those of specially recruited paid workers performing the
same jobs. Thus, for example, Abraham and Mackie (2005, 32) recommend computing
a ‘quality adjusted replacement cost’ to take account of such differences in skill and
effort between market and non-market providers, though the exact scale of any such
adjustment has not been established.
3.2.2 The opportunity cost approach
Where the replacement cost approach measures the value of volunteering in
terms of what it would cost to replace the volunteer with a paid worker, a second
input-focused approach, the ‘opportunity cost’ approach, measures the value of these
inputs in terms of the cost to the volunteer of foregoing some other activity that may
have generated income or otherwise had value for the volunteer. It thus measures
the monetary value of volunteering to the volunteer him- or herself (Brown 1999,
Abraham and Mackie 2005).
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Differences of opinion exist, however, over what to consider the appropriate al-
ternative activity to volunteering. Many economists have traditionally viewed leisure
as the true alternative activity to volunteering. Since leisure is unpaid, however, this
has provided a rationale for treating the opportunity cost of volunteering as zero, and
therefore questioning whether volunteering really has economic value (United Nations
et al., 2008, paras. 6.38, 9.54, 19.39, and 29.146–29.151).
An alternative conceptualization that rescues the opportunity cost approach
from this reductionist line of thinking views the true alternative activity for volun-
teers to be their regular paid job. Under this conceptualization, an ‘observed market
proxy’ for the value of volunteer time is available in the wage for the volunteer’s
paid-work occupation. But this approach, too, encounters a problem because it values
the time of a lawyer ladling soup at a homeless shelter radically differently from the
time of a homemaker doing the same volunteer task because the homemaker has no
alternative paid job and therefore has an opportunity wage of zero.
A third option for valuing the ‘opportunity cost’ of volunteering is therefore to
use the contingent valuation, or ‘declared market proxy,’ method – i.e., to ask the
volunteers what they think their volunteer time is worth. This is consistent with
recent research on the value of leisure time, which has challenged the notion that
leisure activities have no economic value and used contingent valuation methods
involving surveys to measure the value of what people are willing to give up to
preserve their leisure activities (Larson 1993, Larson and Shaikh 2004, Larson,
Shaikh, and Layton 2004, Lee, Kwangsuck and In-Moo 2005, Kokoski 1987, Jara-Diaz
et al. 2008, Alvarez-Farizo et al. 2001).
3.2.3 The societal benefits approach
Whereas the replacement and opportunity cost approaches focus on the mea-
surement and valuation of inputs, a third broad strategy for estimating the economic
value of volunteering is to focus on the outputs of this work: the societal benefits that
volunteer work produces. This, too, can be done in two different ways. In the first
place, for those volunteer activities associated with outputs that have a reasonable
market counterpart, an ‘observed market proxy’ can be found in the price paid for
units of that output. Assuming that the extra amount of that output resulting from
the volunteer activity can be determined, this can be considered a reasonable estimate
of the economic value of the volunteer work.
Alternatively, for any portion of the output of volunteer work for which no
reasonable market counterpart can be identified, or for those who consider the market
counterparts inappropriate or indeterminate, a ‘declared market proxy’ can be used by
asking the managers of volunteers, or the beneficiaries of volunteer effort (in the case
of direct volunteering) to indicate what they would be willing to pay for the goods or
services that the volunteers produced.4
4 For examples of the use of contingent valuation methods in similar circumstances, see:
Shaw (1992); Alvarez-Farizo et al. (2001); Larson et al.(2004); and Jara-Diez et al. (2008).
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4 Measuring the economic value of volunteer work globally: a first estimate
Against the backdrop of this review of available approaches, we turn now to an
effort to project the economic value of volunteer work at the global level using the
most suitable of these aproaches. To do so, we proceed in four steps:
First, we identify the approach that seems most likely to yield meaningful results
given the objective we have in view and the data currently available;
Second, we identify the data sources available to drive our estimates;
Third, we describe the methodology we propose to use to estimate the economic
value of volunteering for as many of the world’s 182 countries as feasible using
the recommended approach and the available data; and
Finally, we present the results of the estimates we have developed.
4.1 Choosing the appropriate measurement approach
Given the competing options for measuring the value of volunteer work, choices
have to be made to keep the estimating effort manageable. Based on the conceptual
discussion above, we believe five criteria should guide this choice.
1Suitability. First and foremost, the recommended approach must be suitable to
the task at hand. As we have seen, given the complexities of volunteer work
various approaches are more or less workable depending on the unit of analysis
and the focus of measurement. For our purposes here, the primary focus is the
generation of data at the macro economic level, i.e., at the global and country
level. While it will be useful to design an approach that can be used at other
levels of aggregation as well, it is the macro level that is our principal focus of
attention;
2Breadth. Given the macro-economic focus of our desired estimates, it is important
to choose an approach, and a definition, that can encompass the broadest array
of countries. Since different forms of volunteering can be evident in different
countries and cultures, it is important to choose an approach that covers all types
of volunteer work, including such work done through organizations as well as
such work done directly for individuals;
3Conceptual clarity. The recommended approach should be understandable to
the broadest array of stakeholders. Too abstract or unclear a concept will lack
credence and therefore not prove effective;
4Objectivity. The recommended approach, to be believable, should utilize objective
measures grounded in empirical observations wherever possible; and
5Feasibility. Finally, the recommended approach needs to be feasible given reason-
able expectations of data and resource availability. What is more, to ensure some
reasonable prospect of sustaining the estimating capability over time, feasibility
also embodies consistency with usage in existing statistical systems. What is
needed to establish a reliable system of measurement of volunteer work is not
the design of a one-off research project, but the design of a capability to measure
volunteer work that can be institutionalized through official statistical systems.
Approaches that require data sources beyond the foreseeable capabilities of large
numbers of countries, or particular classes of countries (e.g., non-OECD countries)
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cannot reasonably be recommended regardless of their theoretical merits. What is
more, approaches that call for data not likely to be captured in prevailing data
assembly systems will be harder to sustain than ones that can potentially, at
least, be integrated easily into these data assembly systems.
For our present purposes, these criteria have implications both for the definition
of volunteer work we adopt and for the estimating approach we utilize.
Sofarasthedefinition is concerned, what is needed is a broad definition, one
that covers both volunteering for or through organizations and directly for other
persons; and one that defines volunteer work without using the word volunteer or
volunteering in view of the diverse meanings of these terms in different national
setting. For this reason, the definition of volunteer work embodied in the recent ILO
Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work seems most appropriate. As noted
earlier, that definition conceives of volunteering as a form of work despite being
done without pay and during leisure time, as embracing such work that is done both
directly for individuals as well as that done through organizations, and that includes
as eligible beneficiaries anyone living outside a person’s own household even if in
some cultures such individuals are considered part of one’s extended family. Such
a definition meets the criteria of sufficient breadth, suitability for the cross-national
analysis that is the focus of our efforts here, and objectivity by using objective criteria
rather than vague terms that have multiple meanings in different national settings.5
With regard to the estimating approach, the one that seems to fit all five
criteria the best is the replacement cost approach using observed market wages (Type
A.1 in Table 1 above). In the first place, this approach is especially suitable to
the macro-economic estimations we are undertaking. This is so because it relies on
observed market values that are likely to be available in most settings. Although,
as noted earlier, some analysts question the use of market wages for similar work
to represent the value of volunteer work on grounds of possible differences in skills
and efficiency between a volunteer and a paid employee doing essentially the same
job in a similar institutional setting, this objection overlooks the possibility that
while some volunteers may have lower skill levels than a typical paid worker, others
may possess higher or unique skills that offer a premium over paid workers (e.g.,
mentors, specialists, or professional advisors). While possible skill differences may
require special adjustments at the individual or organizational levels, therefore, they
are of far less concern at the macro-economic level at which we are proposing to
operate because any individual skill/quality differences are likely to be averaged out
at these higher levels of aggregation.
The Type A.1 replacement cost approach also fulfills the need for an approach
with sufficient breadth. Both organization-based and direct volunteering can be
5 In labor force statistics, a ‘household’ is defined as a common living area. The members
of one’s household are therefore the persons who live together with one in a dwelling unit.
While there are cultural differences in such living arrangements these are far less extreme
than those embodied in the definition of a ‘family.’ This definition follows SNA usage, which
defines a ‘household’ as ‘a group of persons who share the same living accommodation, who
pool some, or all, of their income and wealth and who consume certain types of goods and
services collectively, mainly housing and food.’ (United Nations 2008, para. 4.149).
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evaluated through this approach and the approach is consistent with the view
that volunteering is a form of work for which a market wage can be determined.
Furthermore, the range of occupations and institutional settings across which such
wage data are typically available is also quite broad, making it possible to cover a
wide array of volunteer episodes. Even if detailed information on individual industries
or occupations is not available (as is the case in some low income countries), economy-
wide average wages are usually still available and can be used to produce aggregate
estimates. While it is true, as some argue, that market wages may not reflect the full
range of tangible benefits of volunteering to society, such as the value of occupational
skill development, work-life experience, the contribution to civic engagement and
community solidarity, disaster relief, or the protection of civil and human rights, this
shortcoming is shared by all input-based measures of individuals’ contributions to the
economy so it does not put the replacement cost/observed market wages method at a
disadvantage vis-`
a-vis valuations of paid work.
In addition to its considerable breadth, this preferred approach also meets our
clarity criterion because it relies on the concept of employee compensation, which is
easily understood by most people. For the same reason, the approach is also objective,
as employee compensation is a well-defined statistical measure about which data
are regularly collected by well-regarded statistical authorities. Finally, this approach
is highly feasible because it utilizes already existing data systems. Most countries,
including many low-income ones, conduct labor force surveys that provide data on
wages economy-wide as well as in specific industries and occupations. These wage
data can easily be applied to estimate the replacement cost of volunteer inputs.
Several of the other approaches have benefits for other analytical tasks, such
as estimating the value of volunteer work at the individual level, but fall short in
terms of one or the other criteria for the macro-economic estimating task of interest
to us here. Thus, for example, the replacement cost approach based on declared market
proxies (Type A.2 from Table 1 above) fails to meet the feasibility criterion because
it requires specialized national surveys of the users of volunteer work, which are
simply not conducted in any country.6In addition, such declared market proxies are
inherently subjective and therefore subject to multiple interpretations.
Likewise, the social benefits (Type C) approach also fails to meet the feasibility
criterion. This approach has enormous demands for additional data beyond that
collected in existing surveys. Detailed information is needed on the actual output
associated with the work of volunteers. Even when such data are available on the
output of organizations it is often difficult to determine what share is attributable to
volunteers as opposed to paid staff. These problems are obviously compounded at the
macro-level due to the range of volunteer activities involved. While this approach has
obvious appeal in terms of the breadth of types of contributions of volunteer work it
can capture, it is likely to be feasible only for pilot inquiries at the organizational
level, though such inquiries can make important contributions.
6 One experimental effort to generate such data by comparing observed market wages
with declared estimates of the value of volunteer work is underway under the supervision of
Professor Jack Quarter in Canada but has not reached the point as of this writing of generating
estimates that can be used here, and at any rate will not be in a position to assess whether the
reported relationships in Canada are similar to those likely to be reported in other countries.
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Finally, the opportunity cost approaches (Type B in Table 1) fall short on
several of the specified criteria. For one thing, the approach falls short along the
conceptual clarity criterion. While the concept of ‘opportunity cost’ may be clear to
theoretical economists, it is somewhat murky to practitioners in the field as well
as the general public because it often yields counterintuitive results, such as a zero
value for work performed by persons without a job even though that work produces
tangible economic benefits, or vastly different values for the same work performed by
two different persons who happen to have different paid-work occupations.
While some of these difficulties can be overcome by using the ‘declared market
value’ of the volunteer work as reported by the volunteer (Type B.2 in Table 1), this
runs afoul of the objectivity criterion even though some meaningful progress has been
made in generating estimates of the subjective value of non-employment time (Shaw
1992, Goldschmidt-Clermont 1993, Alvarez-Farizio et al. 2001, Jara-Diaz et al. 2008).
Organization managers and national accounts statisticians want to know the actual
market value of labor input, not the sum of subjective values this work has to the
workers.7
In sum, the replacement cost approach through observed market proxies seems
to be the optimal method for estimating the aggregate value of volunteering at the
national level on a global scale at the present time. Contingent valuation approaches
are not feasible due to the lack of required data. The opportunity cost method using
market proxies grossly underestimates the value of the volunteering contributed by
unemployed volunteers or those not in the labor force unless costly additional surveys
are undertaken. The version of this approach that relies on declared estimates of the
value of volunteer work fail to meet the objectivity and feasibility criteria and are
therefore not suitable for a macro-economic level of analysis.
4.2 Data availability
To say that the replacement cost approach with observed market proxies is the
most feasible and suitable basis for estimating the economic value of volunteer work
7 From a macro-economic point of view, volunteering is a transfer from individuals (the
household sector) to organizations that facilitate volunteering (typically the nonprofit sector).
Inasmuch as this transfer subsidizes the economic output of these receiving institutional units,
it adds value to the national economy. That added value can be estimated either on the
production side (as a share of the aggregate output of the nonprofit institutions) or on the
income side (as the imputed value of volunteer input). However, the opportunity cost approach
focuses on the value of the activity to the volunteer him or herself and disregards the value
of volunteering as a transfer to the receiving units. This is equivalent to treating volunteering
as if it were production for ‘own use’ (i.e., leisure) rather than a contribution to the national
economy. Consequently, this approach does not estimate the value added by volunteering to the
national economy, but rather estimates the subjective assessment of the value of what amounts
to a leisure activity. Although that subjective perception may be expressed in monetary units,
its economic value (i.e., contribution to national economy) is zero, since leisure by definition
is excluded from the production boundary of the economy. For this reason, the opportunity
cost methodology may be conceptually incompatible with the macro-economic level of analysis,
regardless of what particular approach to estimating the monetary value of volunteering is
being used. It is for this reason, in all likelihood, that statistical agencies have almost uniformly
used a replacement cost approach in assessing the value of volunteering to the economy.
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is not to say that applying such an approach will be easy. One crucial reason for this is
that existing data sources, while more suitable for this approach than others, are far
from plentiful. The minimum data requirements for driving an estimate using this
approach are: (a) the total number of hours volunteered either directly or through
organizations nation-wide during a reference period for the maximum number of
countries world-wide; and (b) the wage that can be used to estimate the value of
these hours. What is more, data must be available using common approaches and
definitions for a wide enough array of countries to sustain meaningful comparisons.
Unfortunately, data sources meeting these qualifications are painfully scarce.
Broadly speaking, there are three types of such data sources: first, general opinion
surveys that also cover volunteer work; second, surveys specifically designed to
measure volunteer work; and third, Time Use Surveys.
The existing general opinion surveys – such as the survey of ten European
countries conducted in the 1990s by the UK Volunteer Centre (Smith 1996: 180–189),
successive waves of the World Values Survey (World Values Survey 2009), the recent
Gallup Worldview Survey (English 2011), and country-specific general social surveys –
tend to be based on relatively small samples (typically 1–2 thousand people), fit ques-
tions about participation in volunteer activities into surveys addressing a wide range
of other topics, and generally fail to provide data on the amount of volunteer time. For
example, the World Values Survey, which, at least up through 2001, generated data
on 96 countries and asked about the number of people who have volunteered, focused
only on organization-based volunteering, used a long, one-year reference period, and
failed to collect data on the amount of time the volunteers devote.8The recent cross-
national survey touching on volunteering carried out by the Gallup organization
covered 153 countries and gathered information on both organization-based and
direct volunteering (English 2011). However, the information on volunteering in this
survey is limited to the number of people involved (the volunteering rate) with no
indication of how much time these volunteers devoted. In addition, the survey relied
on relatively small samples (similar in size to those used by WVS) and utilized quite
general questions that could be interpreted differently by different respondents.9As a
consequence, this survey has produced results that are of dubious accuracy. For exam-
ple, this survey reports US rates to be 39 to 43 percent for organizational volunteering
and 65 to 73 percent for direct volunteering. In contrast, the Current Population
Survey carried out by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on a much
larger sample of about 60,000 respondents found the organizational volunteering rate
to be about 26 percent (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010). Similar
discrepancies exist in other countries’ results (e.g., Canada, Australia, and South
Africa). Furthermore, the cross-national reliability of the Gallup data also raises
8 Following 2001, the questions about membership and volunteer work in voluntary
organizations were replaced with one about active and inactive membership in voluntary
organizations.
9 For example, the question asking whether respondents helped a stranger or someone
they didn’t know who needed help could be interpreted by respondents as entailing anything
from providing hours of assistance to incidental acts, such as giving someone directions on the
street. Likewise, questions about whether respondents volunteered time to an organization may
entail compulsory community service required as a condition of graduation or mere attendance
at events (such as religious services).
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questions. The rate of organizational volunteering reported for Russia, for example,
at 26 percent, is significantly higher than that reported for Sweden (13 percent),
Denmark (20 percent), and France (22 percent), which is inconsistent with every other
known survey of volunteering in these countries (Salamon et al. 2004).
Similar problems exist with the recently released European Quality of Life
Survey (EQLS), which covers all 27 EU member states (McCloughan et al. 2011).
Although this survey collected information about the number of hours spent on un-
paid work, its primary focus was on perceptions of well-being rather than measuring
volunteer work. Consequently it asked only a generic question about ‘volunteering and
charitable activities,’ which bundled volunteering with a number of potential other
‘charitable activities’ that are out of scope of volunteering as defined earlier in this
paper (e.g., making charitable contributions and taking part in charity balls or other
events). Furthermore, it is not clear whether these activities were performed through
organizations or directly to individuals, a distinction that is of crucial importance for
interpreting volunteer work in different settings. Finally, the data source is available
only for the European region and no comparable data using a similarly vague concept
of ‘volunteering and charitable activities’ are available on countries outside of the
European region.
The second type of data source for estimating the value of volunteer work con-
sists of surveys specifically designed to measure volunteer work. Most of these focus
on individual countries and use widely different definitions, sampling frames, and
reference periods (Lyons et al. 1998, Bailie 2007). One of the few efforts to assemble
comparative data on volunteer work in a sizable cross-section of countries was that
carried out as part of the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project
(Salamon et al. 1999, 2004, Salamon 2010). These surveys collected information
about the number of volunteers, the hours volunteered, and the industry of volunteer
activity. Most of these data were collected through specially commissioned inserts to
omnibus population surveys in which information about the number of volunteers,
duration of their work, and field of activity was collected. However, in some countries
special organizational surveys were used instead. In the global South countries
where comprehensive registers of nonprofit organizations generally do not exist,
hyper-network sampling was used to identify unregistered organizations operating in
targeted geographical areas and these organizations were then surveyed and asked
about both paid and volunteer workers. Much of this data has been published in
books and articles, with results from 43 countries representing all income categories
as defined by the World Bank (Salamon et al. 1999, 2004, Salamon 2010).
Organizational surveys can be superior to household surveys in recording
the time of volunteer activity compared if organizations maintain written records
of volunteer inputs. However, these surveys capture only organization-based
volunteering and not direct volunteering. Furthermore, the number of individuals
participating in volunteer activities reported by organizations may be overstated
because some individuals may volunteer for more than one organization. To cope
with this problem, however, Johns Hopkins researchers have made adjustments to
take account of such multiple counts (Salamon 2004, Tbl A2).
The third type of data source for estimating the value of volunteer work are
Time Use Surveys (TUSs). These surveys collect information on the amount of time
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people allocate to their everyday life activities. Volunteer work, both direct and
organization-based, is typically included among these activities.10 TUSs use a very
rigorous methodology to record the exact duration of a wide range of well-defined
activities and reconcile these reports with the 24-hour time frame, which provides
a powerful ‘reality check’ guarding against over-reporting activities that may put
the respondents in a favorable light (such as helping others or volunteering). TUSs
typically generate three types of data: (a) population-wide estimates of the average
time spent on a standard list of activities, including both organization-based and
direct volunteering; (b) estimates of the average time spent by participants in those
activities; and (c) participation rates, that is shares of the population reporting these
activities. These figures are computed from episodes recorded by respondents over a
reference period (typically a week) and are properly weighted. The information on
episodes is typically collected through diaries in which respondents record their daily
activities in a fixed time-table schedule. The definitions and classification of activities
are standardized and typically are similar to those in the International Classification
of Activities for Time Use (ICATUS), which has 15 major groups, each having 2–5 sub-
groups. However some TUSs may report only highly aggregated activities (e.g., work,
housework and leisure). Different breakdowns by socio-demographic characteristics or
employment status are often provided, but mostly for activities that take substantial
chunks of time (e.g., housework or leisure). The total time spent on the activities must
fit within the 24-hour time frame.
Thanks to these features, the accuracy of TUSs in recording time individuals
spend on various daily activities is far superior to that of ordinary opinion surveys.
Information about both organization-based and direct volunteering is not only
recorded and collected, but also reconciled with the respondent time schedule.
However, this data source does not provide much information about the institutional
settings in which activities of interest take place, such as the type of organization
for which respondents volunteer, the types of jobs they performed, or the types of
households that respondents helped (e.g., whether it was a household of a family
member or someone unrelated to the respondent). Furthermore, activities that are
infrequent or take relatively short time periods are often not reported separately, but
aggregated with other activities. In addition, the relatively short, one-week reference
period used for TUSs makes it possible that the count of people who engage in
infrequent activities, such is volunteering, may undercount the actual amount when
projected to an entire year because some people who report no volunteering during
the reference period may volunteer at a later period, though it is possible to correct
for this, as will be discussed in greater detail below. Perhaps most seriously, TUSs are
available for only 26 countries, though, as will be discussed below, there is enough
breadth in the coverage of types of countries to make some reasonable imputations
possible.
10 For details about the methodological approaches and range of activities measured by
TUSs see http://unstats.un.org/unsd/methods/timeuse/tusresource.htm.
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4.3 Methodology11
In short, serious limitations characterize the available data on volunteering
around the world. First, there are no reliable data sources that cover all activities
in scope, that is, both direct volunteering and volunteering through organizations, for
a sizable number of countries. Most existing surveys focus on volunteering through
organizations. This is problematic because it potentially gives a northern ‘bias’ to
the picture of global volunteering since countries in the North are more likely to
channel their volunteer activities through organizations than are countries in the
South, where existing nonprofit and social economy institutions are more limited. In
addition, widely divergent definitions and limited sample sizes have produced widely
disparate estimates that are hard to square with each other. Finally, few of the limited
surveys that exist go beyond head-counts to generate useable information on the time
spent in volunteering. This makes it especially difficult to estimate the economic value
attributable to this volunteer effort.
Given these data limitations, to generate a first approximation of the scope
and economic value of volunteering at the global level, we therefore had to tap a
variety of data sources and develop methodologies for making imputations for those
countries and regions where no volunteering data have been assembled. Wherever
possible, we have used the most conservative estimates available to avoid inflating
the results. We therefore consider these to be de minimus estimates. Even so, they
are also preliminary estimates pending the adoption of the new statistical apparatus
that has now been put in place, as detailed in the final section of this article.
More specifically, because different data sources were needed, separate esti-
mates had to be developed for organization-based and direct volunteering and then
combined to provide an overall picture both with respect to the number of volunteers
and the value of volunteering. Generally speaking, as noted above, we relied on the
replacement cost approach using direct market proxies (Approach A.1 in Table 1) to
estimate the monetary value of both organization-based and direct volunteering. As
a partial check on these results, however, we also developed a series of alternative
estimates, though these are not presented fully here.12
In particular, our methodology to estimate the economic value of volunteering
entailed two steps, as outlined more fully in Appendix A. First, we developed global
estimates of the number of hours volunteered in each of the 182 countries covered
by this inquiry. For the organization-based volunteering, we did this by projecting
the results obtained from the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project
surveys for 43 countries to the remaining 139 countries using a regression equation
obtained from the 43-country sample. For the direct volunteering, we relied on the
Time Use Surveys (TUS) available for 26 countries. Of these 26 countries, 16 are EU
countries, and four are high income English speaking countries (Australia, Canada,
New Zealand and the US). However, the remaining five – Chile, Japan, Korea, Mexico
and South Africa – provide at least reference points for their respective regions
(Latin America, Asia, and Africa). Using these reference countries, it was possible
11 For further detail on the methodology used here, see Appendix A.
12 More information about these alternative estimates is available upon request. Please
send request to volunteers@jhu.edu.
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to generate at least rough approximations of the aggregate time given to direct
volunteering in the remaining countries.
In the second step, we assigned a monetary value to the estimated number
of hours based on wage data available from the International Labour Organization
(ILO). Such data were available for 111 countries. For the remaining 71 countries, we
made average-based estimates drawing on the data available on similar countries.
To estimate the number of volunteers, we relied on the same data sources
as were used for the economic value estimates. The estimate of organization-based
volunteers used the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project data on
43 countries adjusted for possible multiple counting of individuals volunteering for
more than one organization. These figures were then blown up to the remaining
countries using separate average rates for high and low income countries based
on the CNP results. Estimation of the number of direct volunteers used Time Use
Surveys to estimate the number of volunteers in countries with such surveys, and
blew these up to other countries by applying the rate in relevant reference countries.
To take account of the possibility that some proportion of the surveyed population
that reported no direct volunteering during the short, one-week reference period may
volunteer at some other point in the year, an additional adjustment was introduced
using a standard formula used to estimate probabilities for picking respondents from
a declining pool of eligibles.
Given the nature of these imputation calculations, we have more confidence
in these estimates at the level of regions and the world as a whole than we do
at the level of individual countries, where cultural or historical peculiarities may
exist that are difficult to capture in the kinds of imputation techniques on which
we had to rely given the limited data on most countries. For this reason we report
the results for country groupings as these are more robust than those for individual
countries. We look forward to improving these estimates as better quality data
become available through adoption of the new internationally sanctioned methodology
discussed below.
4.4 Findings
Several crucial findings emerge from this estimation process. In particular:
1An immense global presence. Volunteers represent an enormous global presence.
Using our preferred, but still somewhat conservative, approach, we estimate that
approximately 971 million people volunteer in a typical year across the globe
either through organizations or directly to persons outside their household. As
shown in Figure 1, this means that if we gathered all the world’s volunteers on a
single land mass, it would have the second largest adult population in the world,
behind only China.13
13 Using an alternative estimate which imputes the average direct volunteer rate of
countries with Time Use Surveys to all countries without Time Use Surveys instead of using
the ‘reference country’ rate, the estimated global number of volunteers would stand at 1.083
billion. Since most of the countries with Time Use Surveys are upper income countries, and
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Figure 1 – The global volunteer workforce vs. the adult population of the world’s largest
countries
Of these volunteers, approximately 36 percent volunteer through organizations
and the remaining 64 percent volunteer directly for individuals, but individuals
living in households other than their own. This underlines the importance of such
direct volunteering in the overall picture of global volunteering.
2A widely dispersed volunteer work-force. Lower income countries account for a
larger proportion of the world’s volunteers than do the higher income ones.
This may be understandable given that these countries also account for the
preponderance of the world’s population. Thus, as shown in Table 2, an estimated
62 percent of all volunteers are in the low or lower-middle income countries, as
defined by the World Bank, compared to 38 percent in the upper-middle and
high income countries, roughly equivalent to the 69 to 31 percent distribution
of total population between these two groups of countries. This disparity is even
sharper when it comes to direct volunteering as opposed to organization-based
volunteering. In particular, the low and lower-middle income countries account
for 66 percent of the direct volunteers and the upper income countries only
34 percent. This emphasizes the special importance of direct volunteering in
the less well-off countries. Indeed, only 32 percent of all volunteers in these
countries are volunteering through organizations compared to 68 percent who
volunteer directly for other people. By comparison, among better-off countries,
43 percent of all volunteers do their volunteering through organizations. This
the estimated rate of direct volunteering is higher in these countries than in the lower income
countries for which we have Time Use Survey results, we have rejected this estimate and report
the estimate based on using similar reference countries to project the rate in countries lacking
Time Use Surveys.
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Table 2 – Distribution of global volunteer workforce
Volunteers Population
Region Number (mns) % of total % of total
By income level
Low 297.130.6% 32.1%
Lower middle 304.231.3% 37.3%
Upper middle 114.511.8% 12.9%
High (nonOECD) 13.21.4% 1.0%
High (OECD) 242.124.9% 16.7%
Total 971.0 100% 100%
By geographic region
North America 107.011.0% 7.3%
South America 55.95.8% 6.7%
Western Europe 98.810.2% 7.2%
Eastern Europe & Russia 71.87.4% 7.1%
Middle East 63.76.6% 6.1%
Africa 75.57.8% 9.2%
Far East 204.221.0% 26.0%
South Asia & Indonesia 285.429.4% 30.0%
Australia & New Zealand 8.70.9% 0.4%
Total 971.0 100% 100%
suggests the powerful indigenous impulses to volunteer in these poorer countries
as a mechanism for coping with life’s challenges.
However, volunteering rates (shares of adult population that volunteer) are
considerably higher in high income countries. In OECD countries an estimated
31 percent of the adult population volunteers, either directly or through organi-
zations, compared to less that 20 percent in middle and low income countries.
Since the ratio of volunteering through organizations to direct volunteering in
higher income countries is twice that in lower and middle income countries, these
differences in volunteer rates suggest that organizations are far more effective in
mobilizing volunteer participation than spontaneous impulses to volunteer.
In terms of geographic region, over half (51 percent) of the estimated volunteers
turn out to be located in Asia, which also accounts for the largest share of
the world’s population (56 percent). North America and Western Europe come
next in proportions of the world’s volunteers, with 11.0 percent and 10.2 percent
respectively. Africa is next in line with 7.8 percent of the estimated global
volunteers, followed by Eastern Europe (7.4 percent), South America (5.8 percent),
and the Middle East (6.6 percent).
3An enormous economic force. Not only is the volunteer workforce numerous, but
also it represents an enormous economic force. Using our preferred replacement
cost approach applied to both organization-based and direct volunteering, we
estimate the total economic value of the world’s volunteer workforce as of 2005
to be US$1.348 trillion.14 To put that into perspective, this means that if it were
14 Using the alternative ‘opportunity cost approach’ (Type B in Table 1) yields an estimate
of the economic value of volunteering globally of US$621 billion assuming that the share of
persons not working in the volunteer workforce is the same as that in the general population.
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Figure 2 – The global volunteer economy vs. the GDP largest national economies
(circa 2005)
its own country, the ‘Volunteerland’ economy would be the seventh largest in the
world, behind the US, Japan, Germany, China, the UK, and France, but ahead of
Canada, Spain, Italy, and all other countries, as shown in Figure 2.
Stated somewhat differently, the global volunteer workforce has an economic
value that is the equivalent of 2.4 percent of the entire global economy, and
17.5 percent of world-wide government final consumption expenditures. The
economic value of the world’s volunteer workforce also holds its own in comparison
to a number of major global industries. Indeed, if volunteering were to disappear
tomorrow, it would be equivalent to the disappearance of 40 percent of the world’s
construction industry or close to 30 percent of the world’s entire transportation
industry.
4A presence in numerous markets. The nonprofit workforce produces economic value
in a wide set of markets. At the same time, due to differences in wage levels, the
distribution of the value of volunteer work differs markedly from the distribution
of volunteers. Thus, as shown in Table 3, lower income countries account for just
under 8 percent of the estimated value of volunteer work. Still, this represents
over US$100 billion. What is more, volunteer work in these countries accounts for
a somewhat larger share of GDP and government final consumption expenditures
than is the case in the richer countries (2.5 and 19.5 percent, respectively, vs. 2.4
and 14.9 percent). Indeed, in these countries, the value added of volunteer work is
If we take account of the higher proportion of persons not working in the volunteer labor force,
as found in the US, this lower-bound estimate comes to US$475 billion. By contrast, if we use
the variant of our replacement cost estimate of direct volunteering that applies the average rate
of direct volunteering discovered through time use surveys to countries without such surveys,
we get an estimate of the economic value of volunteering globally of US$1.489 trillion, well
above the estimate reported in the text.
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Table 3 – The global volunteer economy, by income level and region of country
Economic value of volunteers
Region Amount (US$ billion) % of total % of GDP total
By income level of country
Low and lower middle 103.37.7% 13.1%
Upper middle to high 1,244.992.3% 86.9%
Tot a l 1 ,348.1 100.0%100.0%
By geographic region
North America 516.838.3% 33.2%
Western Europe 471.635.0% 26.6%
Far East 117.18.7% 17.5%
South Asia & Indonesia 65.94.9% 5.5%
Africa 48.83.6% 3.6%
Eastern Europe & Russia 42.93.2% 4.4%
Australia & New Zealand 36.42.7% 2.1%
Middle East 24.51.8% 3.4%
South America 24.21.8% 3.7%
Tot a l 1 ,348.1 100% 100%
the equivalent of 20 percent of the value added by manufacturing and 42 percent
of the value added by construction.
The geography of the volunteer economy mirrors closely, but by no means exactly,
the geographic distribution of global GDP. Thus, North America and Western
Europe account for roughly 73 percent of the value of volunteer work – somewhat
more than their 60 percent share of global GDP, as shown in Table 3. One reason
for this appears to be the disproportionately high share of organization-based
volunteer work in Western Europe, which accounts for approximately 45 percent
of the value of organization-based volunteering but only 29 percent of global GDP.
By contrast the Far East’s share of the global value of volunteer work is markedly
lower than its share of global GDP, under 9 percent vs. its 17.5 percent share
of global GDP. This reflects the somewhat less fully developed traditions of
volunteering in this part of the world, but also, in all likelihood, the difficulty
of gauging volunteer work in the world’s most populous country, China. Likewise,
both South America and the Middle East claim less than 2 percent of the value of
volunteer work each, in both cases well below their shares of global GDP. Finally,
Africa’s share of the value of all volunteer work is equal to its share of global
GDP, but its share of the value of direct volunteer work is higher.
To gain a full appreciation of the role that volunteer work plays in the provision
of public goods, it is useful to relate it to those produced by government.
Thus, Figure 3 compares the economic value of volunteering as estimated here
to government final consumption expenditures, which measures the extent of
government purchases in an economy.15 As this Figure shows, although Africa
accounts for only 3.6 percent of the global value of volunteering, the economic
value of volunteer work in Africa is actually equivalent to a larger share of
15 ‘Government final consumption expenditure consists of expenditure, including imputed
expenditure, incurred by general government on both individual consumption goods and
services and collective consumption services.’ (OECD 2001).
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Figure 3 – Value of volunteer work compared to government spending
government consumption expenditures than in any other region – 23 percent in
all. By comparison, in Western Europe volunteering represents the equivalent of
17.6 percent of government consumption expenditures, and in the Far East it is
around 8 percent. While this may be due in part to the relatively low level of
government expenditures in Africa compared to Western Europe, it nevertheless
still provides an important indication of the special importance of volunteer work
in the Africa region.
5 Roadmap to the future
What the previous section has demonstrated is that it is possible to generate
meaningful estimates of the economic contribution of volunteer work to the global
economy. While we believe these are the most reliable and thoughtful estimates that
can be generated at the present time, it is important to emphasize that they rest
on very limited empirical foundations due to the sketchiness of reliable empirical
data on key variables needed to drive such estimates in most of the countries of the
world.
Fortunately, however, this situation may be on the verge of changing thanks to
the recent official acceptance by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of a new
Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, prepared by the Johns Hopkins Cen-
ter for Civil Society Studies in cooperation with a Technical Experts Group composed
of statistical officials and volunteering experts from around the world. This Manual
establishes an officially sanctioned international standard for defining volunteer work
and for measuring it in a comparable way throughout the world.16 Once adopted
by national statistical agencies, this new Manual thus promises to revolutionize the
16 The ILO Manual can be downloaded at ccss.jhu.edu.
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data available on volunteer work throughout the world, and to resolve many of the
measurement issues that have long impeded the type of systematic, cross-national
measurement of the scale and economic value of volunteering undertaken in the
previous sections of this paper. What is more, the International Labour Organization
has agreed in principle to host a location on its web site where consensus standards
for measuring other dimensions of volunteer work (e.g., the motivations to volunteer,
the impacts of volunteering on the volunteers themselves, and the impact of various
volunteer recruitment and management practices) can be posted; and a process has
been put in place through the European Volunteer Measurement Project to begin
formulating such standards.
A number of the key features embodied in this new Manual are of special
relevance to the measurement task addressed here:
Use of official labor force or equivalent household surveys.
The new ILO Manual recommends the use of official labor force or other household
surveys as the platform for measuring volunteer work. This approach guarantees
that the measurement of volunteer work can be institutionalized in existing
economic data statistical systems rather than being left to periodic and uneven
private data-collection efforts. The use of labor force surveys have particular
advantages for the kind of estimates outlined above, moreover:
A They are among the most frequent and regular of all official data-collection
programs;
B They utilize huge samples, ensuring adequate coverage of all population
groups;
C They are household-based, making it possible to reach all individuals and to
cover direct as well as organization-based volunteering;
D They are conducted by employment specialists, which facilitates their use in
translating volunteer activities into standard occupational classifications, and
thus to identify the replacement wages associated with the volunteer work in
an efficient way;
E They are less prone to the self-selection bias that plagues many smaller private
surveys because participation in labor force surveys is often mandatory, and
even where not, highly encouraged; and
F They gather important demographic data on respondents, which makes it
feasible to identify the demographic profile of the volunteer population and also
to gauge the ‘opportunity wage’ of volunteers for those wanting to utilize that
valuation approach.
Broad, operational definition of volunteer work.
As noted earlier, the ILO Manual defines volunteering as: ‘Unpaid non-compulsory
work; that is, time individuals give without pay to activities performed either
through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.’ Several
key features of this definition are particularly helpful to the measurement task of
interest to us here:
A It defines volunteering without using the word volunteering. This makes it eas-
ier to apply to the broadest set of countries due to the divergent connotations
that this word conveys;
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B It makes clear that volunteering involves ‘work,’ i.e., that it produces goods or
services that are of value to its recipients or beneficiaries and not just to the
volunteers;
C It objectively differentiates volunteer work from other work activities by
emphasizing that it is unpaid and willingly entered into, sidestepping the
difficult-to-ascertain objectives or motivations for the activity;
D It makes clear that volunteer work lies within the production boundary of the
economy by specifying that work done without pay for persons within one’s own
household does not qualify as volunteer work.
Activity focus
The survey module recommended in the ILO Manual is structured around
individual volunteer activities (rather than beneficiaries). That is, respondents
are asked to identify any activity in which they have engaged over a specified
reference period that fits the definition of volunteer work. This makes it possible
to differentiate among volunteer assignments based on the actual work that the
volunteers do, and thus to associate the assignment with an occupation and
ultimately with a wage, thus facilitating the calculation of the economic value.
Other key variables
In addition to the activity or occupation represented by each instance of volun-
teering, and hence the ‘replacement wage’ associated with it, the survey module
proposed in the ILO Manual for inclusion in regular labor force surveys will yield
data on four other aspects of volunteering that will be crucial to measure its scale
and economic impact. These include:
A The number and demographic characteristics of volunteers;
B The number of hours volunteered;
C The organizational context in which the activity takes place (nonprofit, govern-
ment, for-profit, cooperative, or direct to other households); and
D The industry in which the activity took place (health, education, etc.).
Coding tools
Because occupational and industry classification experts may not be familiar with
typical volunteer activities or industries, the ILO Manual contains a number of
cross-walks between such activities and industries and the standard international
classifications of industries, occupations, and economic sectors used in regular
economic statistical systems. This will make it possible to relate volunteer work to
other types of work using existing classification structures and thus to put volun-
teer work into context and demonstrate its economic value much more powerfully
and clearly. This will also facilitate the integration of volunteer contributions into
the satellite accounts for both nonprofit institutions and the social economy, as
proposed by the United Nations Statistical Division (United Nations 2003) and the
European Union (Barea 2006).
A number of other methodological features promise to enhance the usefulness
and precision of the proposed module. These include the use of a four-week reference
period instead of the shorter one-week period commonly used in labor force surveys or
the year-long reference period often used in existing private surveys; the inclusion of
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prompts to reduce recall error; and the provision of screening questions to ensure that
respondent answers to questions about volunteer work do not violate the definitional
requirements identified for such work.
The methodology recommended in the new ILO Manual, once implemented,
will thus eliminate many of the gaps in data and ambiguities in definitions that
have necessitated the kind of heroic imputations reported here to generate even
preliminary estimates of the scope and economic contribution of volunteer work.
Already, five countries, Brazil, the United States, South Africa, Bangladesh and
Poland, have successfully utilized this basic methodology.
As data from more countries come on line, we will have the opportunity to im-
prove these estimates significantly with more reliable and comprehensive information
on the number of volunteers, the work they are performing, the type of institution for
which they are volunteering, and the replacement wage associated with their activity.
This will significantly boost the visibility and credibility of volunteer work, validate
and thereby encourage volunteer effort, offer a sound empirical base for judging the
effectiveness of various volunteer recruitment and management practices, and create
a more favorable policy and social environment for volunteer effort.
6Conclusion
This article developed a methodology for measuring the macro-economic value of
volunteer work and producing tentative global estimates of this value using existing
data sources. Both volunteering through organizations and directly for individuals
were considered. Different approaches to valuation, including the replacement cost,
opportunity cost, and social benefits approaches and both ‘observed’ and ‘reported
market’ proxies, were examined, but the replacement cost method was determined
to be the most suitable approach to the task at hand. This method conceptualizes
the value of volunteer work as the cost to the employer of hiring someone to perform
similar work. Because information about the type of volunteer work and its institu-
tional settings is not yet available for most countries, that cost was operationalized as
the economy-wide average wage in individual countries. The volume of volunteering
through organizations was estimated from organizational volunteering surveys where
available, and projected from predictors for other countries. The volume of direct
volunteering was derived from Time Use Surveys where available, and projected for
all other countries where not available.
Using this method, the article estimated both the number of natural persons
engaged in volunteer work in a typical year, as well as the economic value of that
work, both for the world as a whole and for each of the major regions. These
tentative findings demonstrate that, even conservatively estimated, volunteering is an
enormous economic force in the world today. The number of volunteers world-wide is
larger than the adult population of all but one country, China, whereas the economic
value of their volunteer work is greater than the GDP of all but the six wealthiest
countries.
At the same time, it seems clear that the measurement of this economic force
remains in its infancy. Most countries do not have any data on volunteering, and in
those countries where such data are collected, systematic comparisons are impossible
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due to variations in definitions, methodologies, and scope of coverage. This has
serious consequences for our ability to gain the maximum benefit from this important
renewable resource for social, economic, and environmental problem-solving. It also
limits our understanding of the enormous value of volunteering and our ability to
give credence and respect to the contributions that volunteers make.
Fortunately, the recent adoption by the International Labour Organization of
aManual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work offers an opportunity to solve
this problem. To seize this opportunity, however, it will be necessary for advocates
of volunteering and those in the research community with an interest in this
topic to press international statistical authorities and national statistical offices
to implement this Manual in their own data systems. Given the evidence of the
enormous scale of volunteer work presented here, such a mobilization seems well
worth the effort.
Appendix A – Methodology
This Appendix provides further detail on the methodologies used to estimate the
two key variables at the heart of this paper’s objective: the number of volunteers and
the economic value of volunteering, for each of the world’s major regions and globally.
Because of the lack of data from which to make these estimates for most of the
world’s countries, imputations had to be developed on the basis of the cross-national
data available. Because the available data on direct volunteering differed from the
available data on organization-based volunteer work, moreover, separate estimates
had to be made for each of these types of volunteering and then combined to provide
a total picture. The discussion below outlines, first, the approach to measuring the
economic value of volunteer work; and then the approach to measuring the global
head-count of volunteers.
I. Estimating the economic value of volunteer work
As noted above, the economic value of volunteer work at the aggregate,
global level was undertaken separately for direct volunteering and organization-based
volunteering due to differences in data availability. In each case, however, the basic
estimation procedure involved two major steps:
First, estimating the number of hours of volunteer work of each type in each
country; and
Second, estimating the economic value to assign to these hours. As outlined in
Section 4 of this article, a replacement cost approach using an observed market
proxy was identified as the most appropriate for carrying out this estimation task.
However, two variants of the observed proxy were ultimately utilized. In addition,
however, as a check on this replacement cost estimate, an opportunity cost
estimate was also utilized for both organization-based and direct volunteering.
Organization-based volunteering
To estimate the economic value of organization-based volunteering, we pro-
ceeded as follows:
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Step 1: Estimating volunteer hours. To estimate the total hours of organization-
based volunteering, we began with the data generated on 43 countries through the
Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector (CNP) Project, which we found to be
the most reliable source of systematic, cross-national data on the number of hours of
organization-based volunteering in a reasonable cross-section of countries scattered
broadly across the world (see Appendix B for a list of the countries covered by this
data base). These 43 countries collectively account for about 46 percent of the global
economically active population.
To go from the 43 countries on which estimates of volunteer hours are available
from this source to all countries in the world, we proceeded as follows:
A regression equation was estimated that could best account for the observed
variation in the number of full time equivalent (FTE) workers (paid and volun-
teer) as a share of the economically active population (EAP) in the 43 countries
covered by the CNP data. The equation is:
y=0.0196 +0.0027x,
where: y is the nonprofit workforce share of the Economically Active Population,
and
x is the per capita GDP (in USD).
The adjusted R square for this equation is 0.609 (or 61% of explained variance).
Only predictor variables available for all, or nearly all, of the 192 countries in
the world were considered for inclusion in this equation. The total NPI workforce
rather than the FTE volunteers was used as the dependent variable because it
produced a better fit.
The variables specified in the equation were then assembled on 139 countries
on which the requisite data were available. The parameters determined by the
equation were then applied to estimate first the total nonprofit workforce and
then the number of FTE paid workers and FTE volunteers in each country,
assuming the average volunteer share of the nonprofit workforce determined from
the CNP data. This produced the number of FTE volunteers in circa 2005 for
182 countries, of which 43 were observed in the CNP project data and 139 were
estimated.
Finally, since post-Communist and South-Asian countries included in the
43-country data set had significantly lower average levels of nonprofit institution
staff (both paid and volunteer) than the regression results would have suggested,
downward adjustments were made in the regression estimates for similar, non-
CNP countries to avoid possible over-estimation.
Step 2: Estimating the replacement wage. The next step in this estimation
process was to identify a suitable wage to use in estimating the replacement cost
for these hours.
Due to limitations of available data on the work performed by volunteers, we
utilized a generalist wage for this step in the process. For the most part, this
was the average wage in the economy as reported by the International Labour
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Organization based on country publications available to the ILO.17 Altogether,
such wage data were available on 110 countries, including the 43 CNP countries
plus 67 additional countries, giving us a basis for computing the economic value
of volunteering using a replacement wage for a total of 110 countries. The ILO
wage information was provided for different time intervals, which we converted
to annual FTE wages assuming a 40-hour work-week and 52 weeks in a year
(which includes paid vacations).
As a partial check on these results, we ran our analysis also utilizing something
closer to a specialist wage that was available for the 43 CNP countries, i.e., the
average wage paid by nonprofit organizations in these countries, broken down,
in most countries, by field. Because we found that the average wage of nonprofit
workers in the 43 CNP countries generally exceeded the economy-wide average
wage in these countries, we used the economy-wide average for the 43 CNP
countries as well in order to be conservative in our estimates.
These wages were then applied to the estimate of volunteer hours for each coun-
try generated in Step 1 to yield our estimate of the total value of organization-
based volunteer work in each country. These values were then expressed as
shares of the GDP. This allowed conversion to US dollars by applying these
shares to GDP figures in US dollars.18
Step 3. To go from the 110 countries on which we had sufficient data to drive
this estimating procedure to the 182 countries on which we had at least GDP data,
we first calculated the average volunteer shares of GDP for countries in each income
group, and then applied these averages to the remaining 72 countries not covered by
the initial estimation.
Direct volunteering
As noted above, the only reliable source available to estimate the scale of
direct volunteering in at least a limited cross-section of countries are Time Use
Surveys (TUSs). These surveys provide information on both participation rates for
such volunteering and the average duration of the activity, and they offer superior
accuracy and reliability. We were able to collect TUS data on 26 countries, including
Canada, the US, Mexico, Chile, 16 EU countries, Korea, Japan, Thailand, Australia,
New Zealand, and South Africa. We used the data from the TUS activity category
called ‘help provided to other households’ and proceeded to estimate the total value of
direct volunteering through the following three steps:
Step 1: Estimating the total hours of direct volunteering. In order to estimate
the total hours of direct volunteering globally, we began with the average minutes
per day spent on ‘help provided to other households’ per person as provided in the
available TUS data.
17 The data set utilized was accessed at: http://laborsta.ilo.org/. Some countries (e.g.,
Germany) do not report an economy-wide average wage. In such cases, the next-best substitute
was applied. This was usually the average wage of non-agricultural workers, or the average
wage of community-service workers.
18 The GDP figures (national currency and USD) were obtained from the UNSD website
http://unstats.un.org/unsd/snaama/selbasicFast.asp.
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For countries for which TUS data were not available, we then developed two
sets of estimates:
First, we assigned to each country the number of minutes associated with a
country that is culturally similar and for which TUS data are available. We
referred to this as the ‘reference-country based approach’; and
Second, we assigned to each such country the average number of minutes for the
26 countries on which TUS data are available. We referred to this as the ‘TUS
average approach.’
Step 2: From average minutes to total hours. We then computed the total
number of hours spent on ‘help provided to other households’ by multiplying the daily
estimates by 365 and then by the population 15 years of age or older. This procedure
resulted in two sets of estimates of the total hours of direct volunteering, one based
on the assumed similarity to countries for which TUS data were available, and the
other based on the average calculated from all available TUS data.
Step 3: Assigning a replacement wage. We then calculated the value of the
resulting time estimates by applying the same replacement cost wages used in the
organization-based volunteer estimates.
II. Estimating the number of volunteers
In addition to estimating the economic value of volunteer work, we also sought
to estimate the number of people who volunteer either through organizations or
directly to other households at the global level. This task proved challenging because
the existing sources tend to provide over-inflated counts of individuals, due either
to multiple counting (organizational surveys) or vague questions allowing diverse
interpretations by respondents. Our work here therefore proceeded in three steps:
Step 1: Estimating the number of organization-based volunteers. We use d the
volunteering rates for high and low income countries generated as part of the
Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project and reported in the book,
Global Civil Society, Volume 2 (Salamon et al. 2004, Table A2) to estimate the
number of organization-based volunteers. These estimates were derived mostly from
organizational surveys and adjusted for possible multiple counting of individuals
volunteering for more than one organization.
To go from the CNP countries to the full 182-country data set used for the other
estimates, we applied the rates available from the CNP project on countries with
different income levels to the respective classes of countries not covered by the CNP.
Step 2: Estimating the number of direct volunteers. We used the rates from
the available TUSs and applied these rates to countries not covered by TUSs, using
appropriate reference countries as the basis. These rates were then applied to the
population 15 years or older in each country to estimate the count of individuals.
Step 3: Adjusting the estimated number of direct volunteers to overcome possible
undercount resulting from the short TUS reference period. Since volunteering is an
irregular activity, the short, one-week reference period used by TUSs likely led to
some undercounting of direct volunteers. This is so because TUSs likely recorded
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MEASURING THE ECONOMIC VALUE OF VOLUNTEER WORK GLOBALLY 249
some portion of the volunteer population as non-volunteers because they were only
asked about activities undertaken during a week-long reference period, whereas
they may have engaged in volunteer activities at some other time. To take account
of this, we added to the proportion of people indicating that they volunteered
during the reference period a comparable proportion of the remaining population
who may have volunteered outside the reference period, as reflected in the formula
below:
V=rN +r(NrN)
Where V is the total number of volunteers, r is the volunteer rate, and N is the
population size.
This procedure allowed us to generate an estimate of the number of direct
volunteers for 182 countries.
Appendix B – List of CNP Countries
Argentina India Poland
Australia Ireland Portugal
Austria Israel Portugal
Belgium Italy Romania
Brazil Japan Russian Federation
Canada Kenya Slovakia
Chile Korea, Republic of South Africa
Colombia Mexico Spain
Czech Republic Morocco Sweden
Denmark Netherlands Switzerland
Egypt New Zealand Tanzania
Finland Norway Uganda
France Pakistan United Kingdom
Germany Peru United States
Hungary Philippines
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