Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Calculating The Value of Serial Volunteers

I sometimes tease a friend of mine, a micro business owner and a fellow-motorcycle enthusiast in Durham, North Carolina, about being a serial volunteer.

He is one of more than 1-in-4 American adults over the age of 25 who volunteer.  According to an article in the journal Democracy, my friend and other volunteers across the nation “provide the equivalent of nine million full-time workers, or 6 percent of the U.S. labor force.”

This does not mean 9 million new jobs would be created if volunteering was outlawed.  Volunteers such as my friend are providing services found unaffordable by the marketplace or abandoned by local governments.

Overall, including other age groups, 49% of Americans volunteer to charitable causes, with 94% of that proportion doing so on behalf of their religion.  This is up from 43% previously when we fell just behind Sri Lanka in volunteerism across the globe.

Utah is one of the highest states for the percentage of people who volunteer.  I wonder if that is due in part to active or returned Mormon missionaries (who undertake two-year volunteer assignments,) but that wouldn’t explain why Minnesotans are in second place.

North Carolina, where I live, is fifth from the bottom at 36%, but much higher where I live because of “whatever it is we do in Durham.

Dr. Clive Belfield, a professor of economics and researcher at Queens College, recently took a stab at quantifying both the costs and benefits associated with volunteer programs at the national level.

You may know him as the North Carolina project leader for research into employment and earnings outcomes from community college education.

First, the cost of national volunteer programs is estimated at $1.4 billion in direct public funding with another $600 million of in-kind resources and other sources of funding for a total of $2 billion annually.

In monetary terms, the volunteers generate $7.9 billion in benefit to society, a net gain or return on investment each year of $5.9 billion.  That’s a return of 4 to 1.

For any fiscal conservatives reading, that is a return of $4 for every tax dollar spent on national service.

Not everyone gives sweat and blood.  Overall, philanthropic giving in American comes to more than $300 billion each year.  Professor Belfield finds the idea of an expanded national service program appealing.

There are 40 million Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 in America, and judging from their experience since since the church’s inception in the 1830s his argument is bolstered by the superior life skills the experience has given over a million Mormon Missionaries.

Wherever I’ve lived, some very impressive friends have been former members of the Peace Corps, each one a contributor to community, state and country.

At a budget of only $379 million annually, no group is more cost effective.

Americans operate under the misimpression that they work too hard, but as a country we’re working less than we did even in the 1960s and 1980s.  Read the report at this link from The Atlantic, especially the chart over forty years of the hours of leisure time by gender and age.

Working moms, especially single working moms, may have reason to feel they are working more, even with modern conveniences, but even there the amount on housework and other chores had dropped 35%.

Men—especially married men—are hardly working compared to a few decades ago.

Maybe It just feels different to many because they haven’t updated the term leisure to mean more than just not being at work.

Volunteers understand that in the words of Ken Matos who handles research for the Families and Work Institute, leisure is “time you can actually do the things you want.”

Maybe the key to not feeling overwhelmed is to learn to shed the 75% of distractions at work that are self-interruptions unrelated to work, and to learn to redirect when we aren’t at work.

The six or seven hours I spend each day on these essays is pure leisure to me.  Sitting in occasional meetings of groups with which I am involved and where many people seem disengaged, however, can be pure hell!

Any organization which has been through a thorough workplace diagnostic as part of the selection process for the Sloan Awards for Business Excellence will recall that “autonomy” is one of the six secrets to engaged employees.

Many employees throw this term out when really they are trying to resist working and networking as a team or resist following protocols or object to accountability.  But those things aren’t what workplace autonomy means.

In fact, workplaces such as Google understand that it doesn’t require much time at all to fuel a sense of workplace autonomy.

There it involves only a few hours on occasion to work through a innovation a worker has been noodling or to reflect and think through strategy or…a couple of hours to volunteer for a mission-related cause they are passionate about.

True volunteers fuel their sense of engagement and autonomy by volunteering during their leisure time.

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