Written in June 2016
by Vincent Liew
Although every volunteer organization has its own unique demands on resources, I came out with a very simple yet insightful analogy on volunteer time and it’s potential impact on the success of an organization largely managed by volunteers. This is a topic that, through observation, most organisations tend to avoid. For my analogy to work, I took into assumption that there are no shortage of talented volunteers or capability. I also think it is logical to assume that the management team has been designated area(s) of responsibility. With this understanding in mind, let us now take a closer look at how much time is actually contributed by a typical volunteer.
According to Time Bank UK a person who participates in formal volunteering typically spend an average of 12.6 hours per month for volunteer work. Then in a year he/she would have spent an estimated number of X hours or days per year:
X = 12.6 x 12 months (per year)
= 151.2 hours per year
= 6.3 days per year
The larger group of volunteers will engage in informal volunteerism. This group tend to spend an average of 7.7 hours per month on volunteer work. So in a year these individuals would have spent Y hours or days in a year:
Y = 7.7 x 12 months (per year)
= 92.4 hours per year
= 3.85 days per year
If your organization behaves like a going concern and has monthly financial obligations to meet, basing on the above and using a very simple analogy, if the majority of volunteers including the management committee in your organisation are Y Volunteers, then you are in for some serious challenges. Unless you have employed or procured good technology, the more complex your organisation is, the more volunteer-hours are needed for the organisation to be successful or at least maintain as an ongoing entity. Therefore the next step will be to decide how many accumulated/combined hours are needed to successfully manage each activity/operation of the organisation. In other words, are there sufficient volunteer-time contributed to support the business of the organisation?
Another major issue is with how organisations recognise contributions of volunteers. Most organisations follow the simple rule of using ‘years of service’. The longer the number of years you serve, the higher the recognition. This is deeply flawed. It discourages active volunteerism. Most people will rather take-up easy roles than to take up a difficult role. There are little incentives to undertake more difficult or time-consuming positions since everyone is recognised based on the same standard. In other words, a person whom had contributed 3.85 days per year would have been given equal recognition as one whom had given 6.3 days per year. Again, this system does not promote active voluntarism.
I think it is important for organisations managed by volunteers to seriously think whether there are enough volunteer-time put into managing the organisation. If each of the management committee members contribute 6.3 or more days a year in managing the organisation, what do you think will be the outcome? Correct, it will be maintenance level at most and will either lead to stagnation or regression. And the level of future challenges are relative to the size or complexity of the organisation.
Quite often, I’m being asked how much time should be put into the running of an organisation managed by volunteers. I would say the management team should put in at least 4 hours per week in order to produce anything effective. As for the rest, it largely depend on their portfolio. As for myself, at the time of writing this article, I put about 2 hours per day into my volunteer work for the local and international photography community. But for those who know me closely, you’ll know that the actual number of hours I put in are way much more. ?