Edited by Bruce A. Seaman and Dennis R. Young
Chapter 16: The Valuation of Volunteer Labor
Laura Leete Introduction Volunteer labor is a significant input to nonprofit organizations and a defining characteristic of the nonprofit sector. Its valuation, however, remains problematic for those who research or work in the nonprofit sector. While the value of monetary gifts is often proudly reported by donors and recipients alike, and tracked for the purposes of claiming tax deductions, the value produced by volunteers for nonprofit organizations can be virtually invisible. According to Merriam-Webster, ‘valuation’ has three primary meanings: ‘the act or process of valuing’; the ‘estimated or determined market value of a thing’; and ‘the judgment or appreciation of worth or character’. Understanding the nature of what is produced by volunteer labor can be complex along all three lines; there is no clear consensus regarding the process by which we value volunteer work, how to determine its market value nor how to judge its overall worth or character in a broader context. These difficulties in part stem from the fact that, by definition, volunteer labor has a market price of zero; thus economists’ usual methods of inferring value from market prices are not applicable here. This is further complicated by the fact that nonprofit organizations themselves are often engaged in producing goods or services that are not traded in the market. Furthermore, the definition of volunteerism is both contested and multidimensioned, and the uses of volunteer labor are at least as diverse as the nonprofit sector itself. Finally, researchers have recently come to recognize that the nature of the...
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