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John McMillin: National Volunteer Week honors a much-needed resource

John McMillin • Updated Apr 25, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Did you know this is National Volunteer Week? To be totally above board, I didn’t know until last week. However, National Volunteer Week is officially April 23-29 this year. 

In short, it is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals.

Currently 63 million Americans volunteer about 8 billion hours of their time, talent and effort to improve people’s lives and the world. With the new value of volunteer time, these Americans are contributing about $193 billion to our nation.

With that being said, volunteer time is important to us. Financially, it has real value. In fact, in Tennessee volunteer time is worth $22.16 per hour, which is a 5.9 percent increase from last year, according to the Independent Sector. 

To come up with this value, hourly earnings of all production and non-supervisory workers on private, non-farm payrolls average for the national average. After some tweaking to account for state values and fringe benefits, the final figure is used by charitable organizations like us, United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland, to account for volunteer time for recognition events or to show the amount of community support an organization receives from its volunteers.

Just next week, for example, we will begin our allocation process that utilizes the skills of about 40 local people to decide where undesignated funds should be directed to help local programs help local people. How much is that worth? Well, we figure about $5,500. To be clear, as a nonprofit, we depend on volunteer time for many things.

Truth be told, it is difficult to put a dollar value on volunteer time. Volunteers provide many intangibles that cannot be easily quantified. For example, volunteers demonstrate the amount of support an organization has within a community, provide work for short periods of time and provide support on a wide range of projects. 

There are also complications in simply assigning a one-size-fits-all value to volunteers. The value of volunteer time presented here is the average wage of non-management, non-agricultural workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does have hourly wages by occupation that can be used to determine the value of a specialized skill. People who lend their accounting skills to our allocation panels, for example, lend their particular skill and so may be valued at a higher rate.

As we approach the warmer months, more people will look to volunteer with projects best done in the summer. While we will be able to utilize several volunteers locally, it is important to note that we have a limited number of projects for own initiatives because projects still take money and volunteers generally need a leader, a foreman, special insurance and even safety training to tackle even the smallest tasks.

Maybe there is something you’d like to volunteer to do to help United Way or one of our partner programs. We suggest visiting givetouwwc.org or calling our office at 615-443-1871 for more information.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at john@givetouwwc.org.

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