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28 Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Q. 3 (1999)

handle is hein.journals/npvolsq28 and id is 1 raw text is: 


Assessing the Value of Volunteer Activity

Eleanor   Brown
Pomona College

   One standard way to convert estimates of time volunteered into estimates of the dollar
   value of volunteered time is to multiply estimated hours by the average hourly compensa-
   tion rate for paid labor. Economic theory suggests an alternative valuation strategy that
   acknowledges the importance of taxes, the provision of volunteer-assisted services at less-
   than-market prices, and the value of volunteer experiences captured by volunteers them-
   selves. One conclusion is that the standard estimate overstates the value of volunteering
   to the recipients of volunteer-assisted services but understates the overall value of volun-
   teering when the gains accruing to volunteers themselves are included.

Volunteer  labor deserves  a special place in discussions of philanthropy and
civic renewal. Alexis de  Toqueville (1988), in his classic study of American
democracy,   saw  voluntary  association as the means  by  which  a society of
equals gathers  the power  to effect social goals. Aristocrats, with their enor-
mous  personal  power,  were gone  from the scene, and what  political power
could ever carry on the vast multitude  of lesser undertakings which  associa-
tions daily enable American   citizens to control? (p. 515). Volunteering is a
form  of civic engagement  through  which  individuals  can make  meaningful
contributions to their own visions of societal well-being.
   The significance of the American  tradition of voluntary action is not easily
quantified, but it is substantial: Toqueville (1988) saw not only commercial
and industrial associations in which all take part, but others of a thousand dif-
ferent types (p. 513), and there are estimates suggesting that its dollar value
today is at least on par with personal gifts of money and financial assets. Policy

Note: This article is a revision of one presented at the 26th annual conference of the Associa-
tion for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action, Indianapolis, Indiana,
December 4-6, 1997. I gratefully acknowledge research support from the National Commis-
sion on Philanthropy and Civic Renewal. I would like to thank Matthew Hamilton, Paul Scher-
vish, and, especially, John Havens for helping me to understand the Independent Sector
data. I alone am responsible for all shortcomings of the views and analysis presented herein.
Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 1, March 1999 3-17
©  1999 Sage Publications, Inc.

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