THE BLOG
04/08/2014 11:06 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014

Valuing Volunteers

This being National Volunteer Week, let's ask, "what's the value of volunteering?"

Nearly 65 million US residents volunteer each year.  This is an extraordinary resource helping in myriad ways to improve life in the United States.

According to Independent Sector, the value of a volunteer hour in the United States is $22.14. Using that estimate, the value of volunteering exceeds $175 billion a year.

This is an average based on average earnings of non-management, non-farm workers. It's probably far too low as an estimate of the value of volunteers who offer their specialized skills in their volunteer work. For example, lawyers who do pro bono work representing low income clients, orthodontists who provide free treatment for children, social workers supporting veterans and their families, or experienced business professionals who put their skills to use through programs like RSVP.

The estimate is also of limited use when it comes to specialized and intensive forms of volunteering, such as advocating for children who have been abused or neglected.

You can also put a dollar value on the way volunteers avoid bad outcomes for the people they help. For example, the dollar value of saving a 14-year-old from a life of crime is reliably estimate at between $2.6 and $5.3 million.

But the truth is this: the value of volunteering is not a dollar figure. It is impact. As a colleague recently said "volunteers can do anything!" I recently spoke with a CASA volunteer who has stuck with her assigned sibling group for six years. Through the years she has consistently stood by them, helped them through all kinds of life challenges. The value of a consistent, trusted and appropriate adult relationship for children who have never experienced that before is priceless.

And the impact goes two ways. Whenever we talk with volunteers, one experience always shines through: "I think the kids did more for me than I did for them."

The reward for volunteering is not measured in dollars. It is measured in lives lifted up. The lives of both those who are helped and those who volunteer.

So for me, the best measurement of a volunteer's value is this: the light of hope that shines in an abused child's eyes who learns that the most consistent adult presence in her life is not being paid.

As 16-year old Selina reflected in a thank you letter to her CASA volunteer:

"I just wanted to let you know that I greatly appreciate everything you've done for my family and me. You have been there since the very beginning, and I know you were one of the few who really cared."

The value of volunteering is you. To volunteer to help an abused or neglected child, go to CASAforChildren.org. Or join our friends at the National Cares Mentoring Movement who have a vision of supporting a positive future for African American Youth. Or find many other ways to put your skills to use as a volunteer at the Points of Light Foundation website.