Volunteer Measurement Project (2008-2018)

Note: the ILO has recently released updated standards for measuring volunteer work. These are available from the ILO here.

Existing data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies through our Comparative Nonprofit Sector (CNP) and UN Nonprofit Handbook projects gave a tantalizing taste of the truly enormous impact that volunteers can and do have. For instance, based on 37 countries studied, it is estimated that approximately 140 million people engage in volunteer work in a typical year, which taken together, would comprise the eighth largest country in the world. Put another way, these volunteers represent the equivalent of 20.8 million full-time equivalent jobs (including 44 percent of the nonprofit workforce), and contribute US$400 million to the global economy.
Information on the extent and character of volunteering tends to be small scale, anecdotal in nature, or collected in ways that do not allow comparison across time or localities. More reliable and comparative data on volunteering would:

  • Boost the visibility and credibility of volunteering.
  • Improve support for and the management of volunteering resources.
  • Assess effectiveness of volunteer promotion agencies.
  • Document the enormous impact of volunteer effort.
  • Promote a more enabling policy environment for volunteering.

This realization is what drove the development of the ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work, which offered the first internationally sanctioned, permanent system for gathering official data on the amount, character, and contribution of volunteering. Issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO), it provided national statistical agencies with a common definition and methodology for measuring the amount and character of volunteering through regular labour force or other household surveys.
The ILO Manual was developed by the Center for Civil Society Studies in cooperation with the ILO and an international Technical Experts Group (TEG) composed of labor force statisticians and volunteering experts (a complete record of the communication with the TEG is available here). The ILO Manual was carefully designed to be:

  • Comparable. The ILO Manual provides a common approach to data collection, definitions, key concepts, classification, and variables that will allow comparison between counties and over time.
  • Feasible. The Manual is designed and tested to be workable in the widest possible range of countries, minimally burdensome to implement, and sensitive to cultural traditions and language differences.
  • Cost-effective. The Manual utilizes existing household surveys, thereby reducing costs and taking advantage of existing classification systems and structures.
  • Efficient. The ILO Manual is designed to maximize the information gathered using the minimum number of questions.
  • Reliable. All aspects of the Manual are based on extensive input from an international Technical Experts Group, and careful field testing of key terms and design decisions.

In 2008, the Manual and the Volunteer Measurement Survey Module won a solid vote of confidence at the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians. For more information, please see the press release and the ILO conference report.

In 2013, the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians adopted a resolution identifying volunteering as a form of unpaid “work” that should be measured regularly just as other forms of “work” are measured regularly (such as paid employment and self-employment). Volunteer “work” is defined here as an unpaid activity that produces a good or a service for organizations or persons outside of the household on a non-compulsory basis. The term “work” does not imply that the activity is paid or that it is absent of its voluntary and altruistic nature. Rather, including volunteering as a subset of work means that the tangible and invaluable contributions volunteering makes to individuals and society are being recognized as a force that should be tracked and measured so that it can be better supported and fostered.

SUCCESS: FULL INTEGRATION OF THE STANDARDS BY THE ILO. The ILO has now fully adopted and improved upon the standards initially published in the ILO Manual. The latest information about measurement standards, including recent data derived through labor force surveys, is available from the ILO here.

History: Implementing the ILO Manual Around the World

Lunched during the 10th anniversary of the 2001 UN Year of the Volunteer and the European Year of Volunteering the Volunteer Measurement Project was a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Center for civil Society Studies and several partner organizations to disseminate this Manual and promote its implementation. Statistics offices in Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Italy, and Hungary agreed to implement the Manual during the VMP Project.

A companion European Volunteer Measurement Project (EVMP) was launched during the 2011 European Year of Volunteering with the support of Associazione Di Fondazioni E Di Casse Di Risparmio Spa (ACRI). A collaboration between the European Volunteer Centre (CEV), Centro di Servizio per il Voluntario del Lazio (SPES), and the Center for Civil Society Studies, this Project aimed to disseminate the ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work and to promote its implementation throughout Europe. In addition to several countries deciding to implement the ILO Manual, the Project secured support for improving the measurement of volunteering, and use of the Manual to do so, from numerous governing bodies and policy makers throughout Europe—including the Council of the European Union, the European Commission unit in charge of the European Year of Volunteering, the European Parliamentary Volunteering Interest Group, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions, the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, and the Statistics Department of the International Labour Organization.

In addition to the four primary Project partners, the EVMP secured pledges from more than 20 organizations throughout Europe to provide crucial support to the EVMP during its active dissemination phase. Many of these organizations hosted meetings, prepared documents in support of the implementation of the ILO Manual, and provided a powerful voice for the on-the-ground civil society sector in the effort to encourage the measurement and appreciation of volunteering in Europe.

Thanks to the efforts of our supporters, the EVMP was able to make significant progress and impact during its short lifespan. In addition to the data and implementation resources generated by the initial countries implement the ILO Manual, including Hungary, Italy, Poland, and Portugal, the EVMP was able to host or participate in several meetings throughout EYV 2011 and 2012 that further raised awareness of this crucial resource and the importance of ensuring its measurement.

VMP Project Publications

Download the Manual: English | French | Spanish | Italian | Montenegrin

Please visit the publications database to browse other publications related to the Volunteer Measurement Project. Click here for related blog posts.

VMP Project Contact

For questions about the Volunteer Measurement Project, please contact former Project Manager and ILO Manual co-author Megan Haddock.