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Volunteer Power!
Volunteer Power News - Number 102
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

2011 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers-those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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In This Issue
  1. Featured Article: Selling the Value of Volunteers-Raw Data or Huggy-Feely Stories? By Thomas McKee
Featured Article: Selling the Value of Volunteers-Raw Data or Huggy-Feely Stories? By Thomas McKee
"You are saving this hospital $6,664,320 a year because of the services that our volunteers provide." Last month a Director of Volunteer Services in a large hospital told me he delivered that message to the CEO of their hospital. I teased him, "Even when you subtract your $1 million salary, you are still saving the hospital millions each year." "Right!" he mocked. But then he added this important comment, "My CEO responds to raw data like this. He doesn't want huggy-feely stories."

Is that how you sell or talk about the worth of your volunteers? Whether you are the director of volunteers for a city, a church, a national organization or a hospital, do you use the raw data to promote what volunteers save an organization? Do you use this information to sell the idea of using volunteers instead of hiring staff? Is it right (or even legal) to use volunteers in place of paid staff? These questions are fresh in my mind because in the past few months I have conducted education days for three regional Directors of Volunteer Services (a DVS recruits and leads volunteers in hospitals) in Southern California, Northern California and Kentucky. The questions are especially important in hospitals because the new breed of volunteers want to use their professional skills. They don't want to deliver flowers. And the problem is even more complex because volunteers want to work in areas that paid staff often fill. Most hospitals are reluctant to allow volunteers to fill such roles, and a Director of Volunteer services often resorts to the raw data of the financial savings to the hospital in order to get them to approve such an appointment.

With that being said, I want to raise a more important question. Why do we want volunteers in the first place? In order to answer that question, let's look at the real value of the volunteer to an organization, and I want to frame the answer with three value questions.


What, why and how do we use this information to sell the value of the volunteer?


You might be wondering how the DVS came up with a $6 million figure. Glad you asked. According to the Independent Sector the estimated dollar value of volunteer time in 2010 was $21.36 per hour. The value was based on the average hourly earnings of all production and nonsupervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls (as determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Independent Sector takes this figure and increases it by 12% to estimate for fringe benefits. For a complete report state by state, see http://www.independentsector.org/volunteer_time

The DVS from the hospital came up with the $6 million figure because he has 1200 volunteers who were averaging five hours a week, for a total of 6000 volunteer hours a week. The 312,000 hours a year at $21.36 an hour totaled a dollar value of $6,664,320.

Those raw figures are the what. But Why?


This is the hard question. Why would we want to use those figures to sell the value of volunteers? A few weeks ago one DVS shared her concern with me. She said that she needed 80 people a week to fill her information desk at her hospital, but the people who traditionally filled those roles were all dying off. Then she looked straight at me and said, "Your generation (retiring boomers) won't work at an information desk-they want to be involved with patients. Our administration doesn't want to let volunteers use their professional skills." Then she added, "And HR is afraid of law suits when volunteers fill roles that are normally filled by paid staff."

The discussions in our education days were energized and interesting. Some shared how their administrators are beginning to see the value of using professional skills of volunteers. One DVS shared how they had developed a docent program giving tours of the hospital, and it was successful. When I told this story to my wife, a retired college professor, she said to me, "I'd love being a docent, but I wouldn't want to work at an information desk." A representative from The California Hospital Association-Volunteer services (CAHHS) was at one of the meetings I was leading, and she pointed out that many hospital administrators are looking for volunteers to fill in the gap because of the economic crisis. Several of the Directors of Volunteer Services in Kentucky told me that they were also experiencing this change in the view of administration. I am seeing some small changes in hospitals and the door is beginning to open just a crack for volunteers to use their professional skills. Some suggested that hospitals ought to hire receptionists to serve the information desk and use volunteers for other knowledge worker positions.

So why? Two reasons:

  • The New Breed of volunteer wants to use their professional skills. The old traditional volunteer is dying off.
  • The bottom line. It can save an organization money.

Now the third question-How do we use this information?

Very carefully.

I never publish how much money volunteers are saving an organization. It can be misunderstood and seen as a threat to employees. In a board presentation, I might show the raw data in a PowerPoint slide, but I never hand this information as a printout.

I don't talk about this with the public. Employees see their hourly wage, not the cost of an employee to an organization. CEO's, CFO's and board members typically look at what it costs an organization for an employee. They don't think salary; they think of the total cost which includes the over 7% for social security, health care cost, workers comp, retirement, and other benefit costs, which is way more than the 12% used above by the Independent Sector. As an employer, my employee tax and benefit costs are 30% above salary. If you publish what it costs an organization for an employee, the average employee will respond, "I'm not getting paid that much"-even though they are. They never figure the 30% that the employer pays.

So what? What does this mean to us? In conclusion

As leaders we walk a fine line. Leadership has never been easy and our role in this issue is not an easy one. The raw data of how much a volunteer contributes to an organization is an explosive mine-field if used in the wrong hands or the wrong way. I am going to tackle this subject with three important priorities in framing our presentation.

First, we are not trying to replace paid-staff with non-paid staff. One DVS reported that she had just gotten a text message from her boss stating that on the next Monday (we were meeting on a Thursday) they were laying off 32 employees and she needed to find volunteers to do that work. The participants immediately responded that she couldn't do that-it `s not legal. But even if it were legal, we need to honor the role of the paid staff and not let ourselves be put in the position of taking away jobs. This information can be very threatening as some people will interpret it as a case to eliminate jobs. With unemployment so high, people are sensitive about the need for jobs. Volunteerism has always been interpreted (wrongly) by some people as a way to reduce the bottom line of an organization by using volunteers instead of creating jobs for the unemployed. And although this is not the purpose for volunteers, the dissenters do have a point. A major objective of business (i.e. hospitals) is not just to make money and/or solve a problem, but one goal of any business is to create jobs. Too many times business forgets the important objective of providing jobs. The purpose of the volunteers is not to take away jobs from people.

Second, I am reminded of my freshman speech class. One of the most important principles of public speaking that my teacher pounded into us was, "Know your audience." At the end of every speech she would ask, "Who was your audience? Did you speak their language?" When speaking to a board member or CEO, I would probably make a raw data presentation. But I would always follow it up with the third suggestion, which will probably include a few huggy-feely stories.

Third, we need to answer the question, "why volunteers?" The main reason we have volunteers is not money. Don't forget the soft dollars, or non-financial benefits. They are significant, and the following benefits are what I emphasize to employees, our volunteers, the public and even the CEO, CFO and board members. When you get down to it, what volunteers bring to a hospital or an organization is far more than $6 million. Think of these benefits:

  • A volunteer serving the community makes a greater impact to the recipient.
  • Every volunteer extends your sphere of influence to at least six to 12 people. Think what that influence is if you have 1200 volunteers.
  • Volunteers are seen by donors, clients, and the public as more objective.
  • A volunteer is considered a community representative.
  • Volunteers can make powerful presentations to the media.
  • Volunteers are less stressed out because they are not dependent on organization for livelihood.
  • Volunteers are often more honest in feedback because they are not afraid of losing their jobs. (if you really want candid feedback-ask a volunteer)
  • Volunteers give 10% more to a non-profit than non-volunteers.
I hope you find this information helpful. I just sort of vented some of my observations and thoughts after spending some time with leaders like you who are living in the trenches of leadership. Let me know what you think at Tom@volunteerpower.com

Thanks for listening.

Volunteer Power Key-Notes, Workshops, Or An Education Day
The New Breed of Volunteer
A Volunteer Power Workshop
Recruiting and leading the 21st Century volunteers who want to do it their way

Workshop Content

The questions: Volunteerism is hot. From American Idol, Disneyland, Glee, Lady Gaga, President Obama to Wells Fargo, Intel and Wal-Mart, giving back is the rage.

  • How do we take advantage of this trend in our organization?
  • How do we mobilize the passion and power of volunteers in a culture that sometimes stifles passion and professionalism because management only allows volunteers to stuff envelops?
The answer: A 21st Century leadership strategy. We need to know how to impact our volunteer culture so that we can recruit and empower a whole new breed of volunteers.

The 21st century volunteer culture is very different because of tectonic shifts that have changed volunteer leadership. These shifts have impacted the volunteer organization; therefore, how we recruit and lead the New Breed of volunteer is a whole new game. The tectonic shifts include the following:

  • Twitch Speed - The core characteristic of Lady Gaga is speed. She is doing in 10 minutes what it took Madonna ten years to achieve. How nimble is your organization in responding to today's volunteers?
  • Generations - Gen Y and retiring boomers-the new frontier of volunteers
  • Technology - The addition of social networks as a leadership tool
  • Empowerment - The knowledge worker demands to be led - not managed
  • Slacktivism - Getting involved with the click of a mouse
  • Episodic Volunteering - Sign up for only short-term projects or only when unemployed
A LEADER OF VOLUNTEERS STRATEGY: In this workshop you will learn ...
  • How to manage change: How to interpret a changing culture
  • How to empower the volunteer without dropping the ball
  • How to coach your volunteers instead of manage them: The four stages of coaching
  • How to frame your recruiting message in order to transition slactivists and episodic volunteers into valuable non-paid staff
Contact us to book a workshop or key-note.

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