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Net Benefits: Weighing the Challenges and Benefits of Volunteers

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RESEARCH IN BRIEF
26 THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
Mark A. Hager, PhD, is a Senior Research Associate in the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute, a social
policy research organization in Washington, DC. His work on the behavior of nonprofit organizations focuses on volunteer man-
agement, administrative and fundraising cost reporting, and financial stability.
Jeffrey L. Brudney, PhD, is Professor of Public Administration, adjunct Professor of Social Work, a member of the Nonprofit and
Community Service faculty in the College of Business, and co-director of the Georgia Institute for Nonprofit Organizations at
the University of Georgia. He has published extensively in the area of volunteer involvement.
Outcomes measurement and program eval-
uation are making inroads in the nonprofit
sector (Poister, 2003; Wholey, Hatry, &
Newcomer, 2004). Both individuals and
institutional donors, such as foundations and
government, demand that nonprofit organi-
zations document their effectiveness, and
evaluations are a means toward documenting
outcomes. Nonprofit managers and trustees
also stand to gain from program evaluation,
since knowledge of the effectiveness of pro-
grams and practices can help them do their
jobs better. Consequently, more nonprofits
are spending time defining and measuring
their activities.
While individual volunteer duties defy
direct comparison across different organiza-
tions, common elements in volunteer admin-
istration and the benefits that volunteers
bring to nonprofits lend themselves to mea-
surement and comparison. Systematic mea-
surement and comparison are valuable both
for gauging progress over time and for deter-
mining where volunteer programs stand in
relation to peer organizations.
In this article, we introduce a measure that
seeks to account for both the challenges of
volunteer administration and the benefits that
volunteers bring to the organization. We call
this measure the “net benefit” of volunteer
involvement because it takes into account
both the benefits and challenges that volun-
teer programs encounter. Typically, process
evaluations focus only on benefits of volun-
teer involvement, while challenges do not
receive equal consideration. We believe that a
composite measure better reflects both the
needs and progress of volunteer programs.
EVALUATION OF
VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
Despite widespread endorsement of evalua-
tion, few volunteer programs actively evaluate
their progress. In a national (U.S.) sample of
cities that used volunteers in service delivery,
only one in nine programs had conducted an
evaluation (Duncombe, 1985). More recently,
Brudney and Brown (1993) report that only
five percent of Georgia cities and counties
with volunteer programs had conducted an
evaluation. Still more recently, a survey of
county volunteer programs (Lane and Shultz,
1996) reports that evaluation was the least
widely adopted of a listing of eleven adminis-
trative practices. Fewer than one in five pro-
grams had conducted an evaluation, and only
about three in ten had prepared an annual
report summarizing volunteer efforts.
When volunteer programs do conduct
evaluations, they generally fall into one of
two camps: economic evaluations or program
assessments. Economic evaluations are based
on dollar valuation methods that estimate the
financial value of volunteers to organizations
or communities. Anderson and Zimmerer
(2003) present five ways to estimate the dol-
Net Benefits: Weighing the Challenges
and Benefits of Volunteers
Mark A. Hager, Washington, DC
Jeffrey L. Brudney, University of Georgia
THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION 27
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
lar value of volunteer work. Critics contend
that financial estimates are more attuned to
the inputs or supports of a volunteer program
rather than its results. Recent economic eval-
uations include Gaskins (2003) Volunteer
Investment and Value Audit; Quarter, Mook,
and Richmond’s (2003) applications of
social accounting;” and Handy and Srini-
vasan’s (2004) cost-benefit analysis of hospital
volunteers. As valuable as these approaches
may be, they place a premium on careful
collection and analysis of data that is likely
beyond the capacity of most nonprofit
organizations. As a consequence, individual
organizations are unlikely to use economic
valuations for internal evaluation or bench-
marking purposes.
A second method for evaluation of volun-
teer programs, which we call the program
assessment model, consists of assessments of
the common characteristics of volunteer pro-
gram performance, such as degree of success
in delivery of services or the kinds of benefits
that volunteers bring to the organization. Ser-
vices or benefits achieved are taken as indica-
tors of program results (Brudney, 1999b;
Duncombe, 1985). The program assessment
model places fewer demands on data gather-
ing and analysis than do economic evalua-
tions. In this article we advocate a program
assessment measure that is both easily gauged
and compared across organizations.
A SURVEY OF VOLUNTEER
MANAGEMENT CAPACITY
The data to undertake the development of
this measure were generated from a national
survey of U.S. public charities (Urban Insti-
tute, 2004; Hager and Brudney, 2004). We
drew a sample of 2,993 of the 214,995 orga-
nizations that filed Form 990 with the Inter-
nal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2000. Since
charities with less than $25,000 in annual
gross receipts are not required to file with the
IRS, these small organizations are not part of
our sampling frame. We selected our sample
within annual expenditures strata and major
subsector of operation, such as health, social
services, and the arts.
We conducted telephone interviews
with volunteer administrators or executive
managers in sampled charities during the fall
of 2003. We called all organizations to verify
their existence, and to obtain the name of a
volunteer administrator or someone else who
could speak authoritatively about the organi-
zations operations. We mailed an information
letter to the 80 percent of sampled organiza-
tions with which we completed the initial
call. We then called named representatives up
to 30 times to collect study information.
Interviews averaged 20 minutes. Adjusting for
organizations that were defunct or could not
be verified as working organizations in the
initial call, the response rate was 69 percent.
Because of the application of appropriate
weights, the results can be used to describe
overall conditions in the working population
of public charities with at least $25,000 in
gross receipts.
For the purposes of our study, a volunteer
is any person who works on a regular, short-
term, or occasional basis to provide services
to the charities we studied, or to those the
charity serves. Volunteers are not paid as staff
members or consultants. So that the study
would not confuse the activities of board and
non-board volunteers, we asked respondents
to exclude board members when answering
our questions about volunteers and volunteer
management. We also asked respondents not
to count special events participants as volun-
teers unless the participants were organizers
or workers at the events. Study results are
based on those charities that engage volun-
teers, excluding charities that engage no one
who fit our definition of a volunteer.
CHALLENGES OF VOLUNTEER
RECRUITMENT AND MANAGEMENT
Nonprofit organizations with very different
missions can nevertheless compare their rela-
tive success and challenges in recruiting vol-
unteers and engaging them in a well-designed
management program. We asked our survey
respondents about nine common problems in
volunteer administration that had been iden-
tified by prior research and field experts
(Ellis, 1996; Environics Research Group,
2003; McCurly and Lynch, 1996). We asked
whether each issue presented a “big prob-
lem,” a “small problem,” or “not a problem.”
Figure 1 shows the nine issues and the extent
to which charities identified them as a big
problem or a small problem.
Despite recent concerns that efforts to
increase volunteerism might overwhelm the
capacity of the nonprofit sector to accept vol-
unteers (Brudney, 1999a; Grantmaker Forum
on Community and National Service, 2003),
three of the most frequently cited challenges
concern recruitment of volunteers. Men-
tioned most often is the problem of recruiting
a sufficient number of volunteers, followed by
recruiting volunteers with the right skills or
expertise and recruiting volunteers available
during the workday.
The prevalence of recruitment as a prob-
lem for charities strongly suggests that chari-
ties more commonly experience the problem
of having too few volunteers. By way of con-
firmation, when asked directly whether hav-
ing more volunteers than the organization
can accommodate was a challenge, relatively
few charities responded that an over-supply of
volunteers was a problem. The high percent-
ages of charities that report recruiting prob-
lems is consistent with past research and
observation (Ellis, 1994; Brudney, 1999b)
that similarly document the seriousness of
this issue.
Two other frequently cited challenges per-
tain to organizational capacity to accommo-
date volunteers. Of the challenges presented
in the study, the lack of funds to support vol-
unteer administration was a big problem to
the greatest percentage of charities. Lack of
paid staff time to train and supervise volun-
teers is a big problem for a similar proportion
of respondents. Although cited by a smaller
number, absenteeism, unreliability, or poor
work habits of volunteers are also indicative
of a lack of volunteer management capacity.
BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEER
INVOLVEMENT
Challenges represent issues that volunteer
administrators face in their management of
volunteers. A separate dimension of volunteer
involvement is the benefits that volunteers
bring to the organization. Just as specific vol-
unteer management challenges are directly
comparable across different charities, so are
various benefits that volunteers bring to oper-
ations and service delivery. Therefore, we also
asked about the extent to which charities felt
that volunteers are beneficial to their image
and operations. The results are presented in
Figure 2, which documents the extent to
which charities cite benefits from having vol-
unteers to a “great extent” or to a “moderate
extent.” The remaining charities are those
that involve volunteers but say that they expe-
rience these benefits to “no extent.”
Clearly, volunteers are valuable to these
organizations: a majority of charities cited five
of the six items as beneficial to a great extent.
When including those charities that claimed
28 THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
FIGURE 1
Percentage of Charities that Cite Various Challenges as Big or Small Problem
THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION 29
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
benefits at only a moderate level, more than
nine out of ten charities extolled the benefits
of their volunteers in increasing quality of
service, public support, and level of attention
to those served; helping to save on costs; and
providing services that the organization other-
wise could not provide. Fewer charities say
they benefit from specialized skills possessed
by volunteers, such as pro bono legal, finan-
cial, management, or computer expertise.
Nevertheless, one-third feel that specialized
volunteers offer a large benefit, while over
three-quarters feel that specialized volunteers
provide at least a moderate benefit to their
operations.
NET BENEFITS
Looking at challenges and benefits of vol-
unteers separately gives important information
about volunteer management capacity and
the value of volunteers to organizational oper-
ations. Putting both dimensions of volunteer
programs into a single measure helps put each
into better perspective (Kushner, 2004). The
best possible situation for a volunteer-oriented
charity is a minimum of challenges in volun-
teer administration and greatest possible ben-
efits from volunteers. The worst situation is
when a charity experiences a full array of
problems and gets no benefits in return for its
efforts. We expect that most charities fall
somewhere in between, and that their relative
positions on the scale provide a useful point
of comparison.
Therefore, based on the data and questions
described above, we created a new measure of
volunteer program performance called “net
benefits.” Net benefits is the difference
between benefits of volunteers and challenges
in volunteer administration. First we calculat-
ed a sum for eight of the challenges, with a
“big problem” contributing a value of 2 and
a “small problem” contributing a value of 1.
We did not include the challenge of “too
many volunteers” because this is a qualitative-
ly different problem that many charities
would like to have. We calculated a similar
sum for benefits. However, since the survey
contained eight challenges items and only six
benefits items, we multiplied the sum of the
benefits by 11/3so that the benefits would
have as much weight as the challenges in the
net benefits measure. Finally, we subtracted
the challenges sum from the benefits sum,
resulting in a single measure of net benefits of
volunteer involvement that potentially ranges
from values of –16 to +16. Figure 3 is a
worksheet that helps demonstrate how the
net benefits value is calculated.
On the net benefits measure, positive
scores indicate a surplus of benefits over chal-
lenges, and negative scores indicate more
challenges than benefits. Only eight percent
of the charities in the sample have negative
net benefits, with challenges outweighing the
benefits of volunteers. Twenty-six percent
have low positive values falling between 0 and
5. The majority, 42 percent, have moderate
FIGURE 2
Percentage of Charities that Feel Volunteers are Beneficial to Their Operations
positive values between 5 and 10. The
remaining 24 percent have high positive
values between 10 and 16.
THE BENEFITS OF NET BENEFITS
In this article we have introduced a sum-
mary measure of “net benefits” of a volunteer
program, one that gauges multiple dimen-
sions of organizational capacity and perfor-
mance. In contrast to many other measures
of performance, it combines benefits and
challenges into a single barometer of volun-
teer program evaluation. The value of this
measure lies not only in its ascertaining the
balance of benefits over problems, but also in
the ease with which it is calculated and the
potential it offers to compare the effectiveness
of nonprofit organizations and programs with
different characteristics. For example, further
research with the study sample reveals that
net benefits of volunteer programs vary in
predictable ways by organizational size, the
scope or extent of volunteer involvement, the
number of different volunteer assignments,
the adoption of recommended practices in
volunteer management, and the presence of
a volunteer coordinator, especially one who
devotes considerable time to the volunteer
program.
Were managers to consistently calculate
the net benefits of their volunteer programs,
they could monitor their own performance
over time and benchmark their program
against other programs of comparable size,
volunteer involvement, and other similar
characteristics. Such monitoring and bench-
marking offer substantial opportunity for rec-
ognizing and improving volunteer program
performance.
30 THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
FIGURE 3
Net Benefits Worksheet
THE JOURNAL OF VOLUNTEER ADMINISTRATION 31
Volume 23, Number 1, 2005
REFERENCES
Anderson, P.M., & Zimmerer, M.E. (2003).
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Brudney, J.L. (1999a). The perils of practice:
Reaching the summit. Nonprofit Manage-
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Brudney, J.L. (1999b). The effective use of
volunteers: Best practices for the public
sector. Law and Contemporary Problems,
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Brudney, J.L., & Brown, M.M. (1993,
March). Government-based volunteer pro-
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Duncombe, S. (1985). Volunteers in city
government: Advantages, disadvantages
and uses. National Civic Review, 74,
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Ellis, S.J. (1994). The volunteer recruitment
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Ellis, S.J. (1996). From the top down: The
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Environics Research Group. (2003). Survey
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Gaskin, K. (2003). VIVA in Europe: A com-
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Grantmaker Forum on Community and
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Handy, F., & Srinivasan, N. (2004). Valuing
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McCurley, S., & Lynch, R. (1996). Volunteer
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Poister, T.H. (2003). Measuring performance
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Urban Institute. (2004). Volunteer manage-
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AUTHOR NOTE
This research was funded by the Corpora-
tion for National and Community Service
and the UPS Foundation, and supported by
the USA Freedom Corps. This article
includes content from an Urban Institute
brief by Hager and Brudney titled Balancing
Act: The Challenges and Benefits of Volunteers.
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This paper empirically examines first-movership in the newspaper industry. The first hypothesis generated shows the size of a firm, as measured by advertising rates, is a precursor to which firm was a first-mover into e-commerce. The second hypotheses generated shows a surprising result coming from first-mover adoption of e-commerce. The firms that were first-movers actually experienced a decrease in size, as measured by advertising rates. The two hypotheses in conjunction show that the very reason some firms may have adopted e-commerce may have also caused a first-mover disadvantage. This study extends first-mover theory and e-commerce theory in a very understudied industry.
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Guided by resource dependence theory, this mixed-methods study examined organizational characteristics contributing to the perceived sustainability of Villages, a rapidly proliferating grassroots approach for promoting social participation and service access for community-dwelling older adults. Surveys conducted with leaders of 86% of Villages in the United States in 2012 found that higher predicted confidence in their Village’s 10-year survival was associated with greater financial reserves, human resources, number of Village members, formal policies and procedures, and formal collaboration agreements. Respondents’ explanations of their confidence ratings revealed additional themes of organizational leadership and perceived community need. Member resource inputs were not found to be as salient for Village leaders’ perceptions of sustainability as was anticipated given the Village model’s emphasis on consumer involvement. Despite the lack of longitudinal prospective data, study findings suggest potential limitations of consumer-driven organizational models such as Villages, including the need for a more stable resource base.
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This report is the fourth in a series of briefs reporting on findings from a 2003 survey of volunteer management capacity among charities and congregations. The findings are based on conversations with a systematic sample of charities about their practices, challenges, and aspirations for their volunteer programs. The focus of this brief is the creation and use of a single measure of volunteer benefits and management challenges, a score we refer to as “net benefits.” Evaluation is a popular means by which nonprofit organizations, their funders, and their constituents can measure and demonstrate progress and effectiveness. Nonetheless, evaluation is not regularly conducted in most volunteer programs. “Net benefits” is a summary statistic that weighs the benefits of volunteer involvement against the problems that volunteer administrators encounter in recruitment and management. Net benefits is easy to calculate. As an evaluation tool, it lends itself to comparison and benchmarking across a variety of volunteer programs and sponsoring nonprofit organizations. Net benefits scores are highest when charities receive maximum public benefits from volunteers with few challenges in recruitment and management. Conversely, charities that report problems in these areas and few benefits from volunteers score low on the net benefits measure.
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Social accounting focuses on the effects of an organization on its communities of interest. Quarter/Mook/Richmond look at how nonprofits and cooperatives create value and how they can measure their social performance.
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The Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation provides tools for managers and evaluators to address questions about the performance of public and nonprofit programs. Neatly integrating authoritative, high-level information with practicality and readability, this guide gives you the tools and processes you need to analyze your program's operations and outcomes more accurately. This new fourth edition has been thoroughly updated and revised, with new coverage of the latest evaluation methods, including: Culturally responsive evaluation Adopting designs and tools to evaluate multi-service community change programs Using role playing to collect data Using cognitive interviewing to pre-test surveys Coding qualitative data You'll discover robust analysis methods that produce a more accurate picture of program results, and learn how to trace causality back to the source to see how much of the outcome can be directly attributed to the program. Written by award-winning experts at the top of the field, this book also contains contributions from the leading evaluation authorities among academics and practitioners to provide the most comprehensive, up-to-date reference on the topic. Valid and reliable data constitute the bedrock of accurate analysis, and since funding relies more heavily on program analysis than ever before, you cannot afford to rely on weak or outdated methods. This book gives you expert insight and leading edge tools that help you paint a more accurate picture of your program's processes and results, including: Obtaining valid, reliable, and credible performance data Engaging and working with stakeholders to design valuable evaluations and performance monitoring systems Assessing program outcomes and tracing desired outcomes to program activities Providing robust analyses of both quantitative and qualitative data Governmental bodies, foundations, individual donors, and other funding bodies are increasingly demanding information on the use of program funds and program results. The Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation shows you how to collect and present valid and reliable data about programs. © 2015 by Kathryn E. Newcomer and Harry P. Hatry, and Joseph S. Wholey. All rights reserved.
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Brudney posits a relationship between the best practices and the benefits realized from volunteer involvement. A volunteer program in the public sector is sponsored by a government agency and, thus, occurs in an organizational context; remuneration is not provided for volunteers' contributions, but reimbursement for their expenses is permitted; the time is given freely, yet volunteers may certainly benefit as well, and the work fulfills ongoing responsibilities of the host agency.
Conference Paper
The papers are based on a recent book, What Counts: Social Accounting for Nonprofits and Co-operatives (Quarter, Mook, & Richmond, 2003), that defines, describes and provides practical models of social accounting statements as well as presenting a toolkit for implementation. The book argues that financial accounting should expand to include social variables using the example of volunteer contributions as a key aspect of nonprofit resources that should be included in financial statements. The first paper, Introduction to Social Accounting and the Obstacles to its Achievement, sets the stage for the panel by providing a definition of social accounting and a discussion of its key features. The paper also discusses the results of a recent survey that assessed the extent to which nonprofit organizations across Canada accounted for volunteer contributions as an important social resource. The second paper, Social Accounting for Nonprofits: An Integrated Approach, presents three new social accounting statements that integrate financial and social information and show how a wide variety of stakeholders are affected by the organization: the Expanded Value Added Statement, the Socioeconomic Impact Statement and the Socioeconomic Resource Statement. Each of these statements has been applied in North America and adds a new dimension to an understanding of how nonprofit organizations create social capital. The final paper, Social Accounting Methods and Implementation, discusses methodological challenges for social accounting, reports on recent practice among nonprofit organizations, and proposes a guide for implementation. References Henke, E. 1989. Accounting for nonprofit organizations. End ed. Boston: PWS-Kent Publishing. Quarter, J., Richmond, B.J., Sousa, J, & Thompson, S. 2001. An analytic framework for classifying the organizations of the social economy. In The nonprofit sector in Canada, ed. K. Banting, 63- 100. Kingston: Queen/s University School of Policy Studies/McGill-Queen's University Press.
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This book outlines issues of concern to top decision makers in a nonprofit organization that involves volunteers, including the role of the executive staff in supporting the volunteer program. The 12 chapters in the book discuss the following topics: developing a vision for volunteer participation; questions of policy; budgeting and other resource allocation; staffing the program; employee and volunteer relationships; creating teamwork; the role of the board of directors; executive-level volunteers; evaluation of volunteer impact; and the dollar value of volunteers. A chapter on legal issues and risk management contains sections contributed by an attorney, and the chapter on the dollar value of volunteer services contains sections on updated accounting practices written by a Certified Public Accountant. This revised edition also covers changes in the field such as the impact of mergers of nonprofit organizations, new categories of volunteers such as stipended and "mandated" community service participants, and volunteers in a time of budget cutting. Two appendixes provide the following: (1) a volunteer management task outline; and (2) a discussion of volunteerism resources and a list of 18 references. (KC)
Government-based volunteer programs: Toward a more caring society. Paper presented at the Independent Sector Spring Research Forum
  • J L Brudney
  • M M Brown
Brudney, J.L., & Brown, M.M. (1993, March). Government-based volunteer programs: Toward a more caring society. Paper presented at the Independent Sector Spring Research Forum, San Antonio, TX.
The cost of a volunteer: What it takes to provide a quality volunteer experience
Grantmaker Forum on Community and National Service. (2003). The cost of a volunteer: What it takes to provide a quality volunteer experience. Berkeley, CA: Author.