Volunteering is a crucial renewable resource for social and environmental problem-solving the world over, but its effective management requires solid information and an enabling policy environment. The Johns Hopkins Volunteer Measurement Project seeks to boost our understanding of the true size and scope of volunteer activity around the world by improving its measurement in official economic statistics through the implementation of the International Labour Organization’s Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work. We cannot do this alone. We need the help of volunteer promotion agencies, policy makers, and civil society organizations to bring this Manual to the attention of statistical authorities, to encourage them to implement it, to monitor the implementation process, and to help disseminate the resulting information.
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Existing data compiled by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies through our Comparative Nonprofit Sector (CNP) and UN Nonprofit Handbook projects give a tantalizing taste of the truly enormous impact that volunteers can and do have. For instance, based on the 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.
In all but a handful of countries, however, existing information on the extent and character of volunteering is anecdotal in nature or has been collected in ways that does not allow comparison across time or localities. As a result, volunteering remains under-valued and its potentials under-realized. Better 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 offers 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 provides 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 has been 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 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.
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.
The ILO Manual is also an important complement to the UN Satellite Account on Nonprofit and Related Institutions and Volunteer Work, which provides guidance for national statistical agencies seeking to develop and publish regular data on the nonprofit sector and related institutions, and which calls on governments to include data on the amount and value of volunteering harnessed by the nonprofit sector.
Launched 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 of Argentina, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, South Africa, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Italy, and Hungary have agreed to implement it. However, implementation in other countries is not guaranteed.
We need the help of volunteer promotion agencies, policy makers, and civil society organizations to bring this Manual to the attention of statistical authorities, to encourage them to implement it, to monitor the implementation process, and to help disseminate the resulting information. Here’s how you can help.
Join. As a next step, we are asking those of who are ready to throw their weight behind this effort to contact us and let us know about your organization and about what you are able to do to help get the Manual implemented in your country and across your region.
Communicate. Bring this new tool to the attention of your network and to the statistical agency in your country through newsletters, blog entries, emails, and personal visits to the labour force survey personnel in your country’s statistical office.
Mobilize allies. Get friends, contacts, and colleagues involved. Convene meetings of key stakeholders and engage key foundation leaders, senior government leaders or legislators, nonprofit association leaders, and others who can attract the key officials within the labour statistics department. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to communicate with the project partners and to learn about opportunities for collaborating with out project supporters.
Contact statistical officials. Begin a conversation with labour force statisticians and with people in charge of the statistics department. Initiate a letter-writing campaign.
Partner with your governments. Work in partnership with labour statistics officials; statistics offices are often short on staff and funds — offer your statistics office expertise and technical assistance from the Center.
Disseminate the results. Once the data are available, it is important to disseminate them widely so that they can be used — the more feedback they receive, the more likely it is that statistical agencies will update the data in future years.
Improving the measurement of volunteering, and use of the ILO Manual to do so, has the support of numerous governing bodies and policy makers, 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 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians the 18th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, and the Statistics Department of the International Labour Organization.
If you would like to learn more about how your organization can help to move these projects forward in your country, please contact us.