What Is a Volunteer Really Worth?

I have been a full time Volunteer for over 12 years.  When I was a working professional, I was paid well for my time, effort and education, but most of all, my results.  As a Volunteer, I am still paid very well for my time, effort, education and results.  I’m just paid differently.  Instead of currency in my wallet and a balance in my checkbook, I now count other things.  The most important among my accomplishments is the change I have made in the lives of others.  To be sure, I have also gathered skills that I would not have any other way, changed my opinion about rules that I thought were hard and fast and observed the world from a differing point of view.

I work with other Volunteers and wondered what we are all worth in the eyes of the world.  Tangibly, we are currently calculated to be equivalent to a paid individual earning nearly $23.00 per hour.  That’s so far above minimum wage that it really makes a statement.  That number is so well arrived at that it is used to determine budget line items in the personnel/staffing area of federal grant applications.  That’s not all I’m paid.  In the eyes of the world, I’m one of the “good guys”.  To my family, friends and colleagues, I’m a knowledgeable resource.  To those who know more than I do, I am a motivated student.

I’m fortunate; I’ve been in a helping profession all of my adult work life.  The transition to full time Volunteer wasn’t all that difficult, but, if all I had to give was two hours a week, those hours would have been just as valuable in the eyes of the community.  Volunteers make budgets work.  Volunteers have time to think of ways to improve organizations.  We reduce stress simply by reminding paid staff members that what they are doing is important enough for someone else to do it without a monetary reward.

I’ve learned things as a Volunteer that I couldn’t have learned any other way.  In one organization, I was given the opportunity to work with experts who helped me develop hands on knowledge about human resource issues that I will have for the rest of my life.  Another experience gave me the chance to develop a budget that grew to monumental proportions.  Each learning experience was a building block in the tower of skills I now possess and put to use every day in my current Volunteer position.  My skills now qualify me to be part of Management, but I am not worth one cent more than the Entry level Volunteers who give their time and talents just as I do.

At the end of each day, I’m still as tired and sometimes frustrated as I was as a paid professional in my chosen field.  I still fall asleep and wake up thinking about how to conquer any number of challenges.  The only difference (and it is a big one) is that I know that I have chosen this path and that I continue to walk it because it’s worth it.

Beverlee J. Engle, HSD, PhD.
Volunteer Trustee/Executive Director/Whatever Else Needs Doing
The Jasmine Charitable Trust

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