Volunteer Measurement Information For Statistical Officials

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The ILO Manual has been developed with statistical agencies in mind. The survey module is designed to get the most out of a small investment of time and resources, while capturing vital data on a sizable segment of labor force. We have put together some information specifically designed to answer questions that our friends in national statistical agencies may have about the ILO Manual and implementation.


A significant component of unpaid work
In 2013, the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians recognized volunteering as an official form of work and called for its regular measurement alongside employment and other forms of work. This brings the definition of work into alignment with the 2008 System of National Accounts, which recognizes the contribution of volunteering to the economy.

Yet most countries lack reliable systems to measure volunteer work, and what data do exist are not comparable. As a result, volunteer work remains under-valued and its potentials under-realized, leaving volunteers, volunteer managers, policy-makers, government officials, and business leaders without the crucial information they need to effectively support this crucial renewable resource for societal problem solving.
The ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work
A unique opportunity now exists to establish a permanent system for the collection of data on volunteer work. This opportunity arises resolution adopted in 2013 by the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians which identifies volunteering as a form of unpaid “work” that should be measured regularly. Volunteer work here is identified 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 resolution identifies this type of activity as distinct from “own-use production work” (defined as goods and services people produce for their own final use); “employment work” (defined as work performed for others in exchange for pay or profit); “unpaid trainee work” (defined as work, such as apprenticeships, which is performed for others without pay to acquire workplace experience or skills); and “other work activities” (not defined in this resolution).
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.
Approach and variables
The ILO Manual advises countries to add a short survey module to their existing labour force or other household surveys to collect data that will allow us to answer questions such as these:

    • How many people volunteer? What are the demographic characteristics of the volunteers?
    • What type of work do volunteers perform?
    • How much time do volunteers contribute?
    • What portion of this time is provided directly to individuals and what portion is provided through organizations (e.g., nonprofits, business, government)?
    • In what fields is volunteer effort focused (e.g., health, education, social services, environmental causes, legal services)?
    • How does volunteering in your country compare to that in other countries along all these dimensions?

Next steps
Several countries have already agreed to adopt this Manual and others are considering doing so. We hope your country will agree to take this step.The Volunteer Measurement Project has been formed to promote and support such implementation and to compile comparative reports that will put the data to use. Contact volunteermeasurement@jhu.edu to learn how you can help bring this project to your country.


Volunteering is very inspiring and is important for community development, but is it really relevant to statistical data-gathering?
In 2013, the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians recognized volunteer work as an official form of work and called for its regular measurement alongside employment and other forms of work. This brings the definition of work into alignment with the 2008 System of National Accounts, which places most volunteer work within the production boundary of the economy.
While a significant amount of data has been gathered on volunteer work in some countries, there has been no common definition, methodology or approach. As a result, findings are inconsistent, no systematic comparisons are possible either across countries or over time, and opportunities to assess approaches to volunteer management are being lost. Current labour force statistics are overlooking an enormous amount of unpaid work being done. It is crucial to make your labour statistics complete.

Volunteering in our country is unique. How can it be measured the same way it is measured elsewhere?
The ILO Manual was developed in cooperation with an international Technical Experts Group and specifically designed to be workable in the widest possible range of countries.
Countries as diverse as Brazil, Norway, South Africa, Portugal, Italy, Bangladesh, and Poland have already agreed to adopt it.

We can’t afford to add more surveys to the workload of our statistical agency at this time.
The ILO Manual does not require a new survey.
It utilizes your existing labour force or other household surveys and existing classification systems, and is fully harmonized with ILO and SNA standards for measurement.

Even if we wanted to measure volunteering, we couldn’t include all of the questions the Manual recommends.
The ILO Manual is very efficient.
It maximizes the information gathered with the minimum number of questions. Field tests suggest that most respondents will cite only one or two volunteer activities, reducing the time required for the ILO Manual‘s implementation.

What kind of technical assistance is available?
The authors of the ILO Manual are committed to helping answer questions you may have. Additionally, local volunteering groups and other nonprofit organizations can partner to translate materials, test the survey module, classify data, prepare draft reports, and disseminate the findings.