The UK’s 15 million or so volunteers could be giving up to 4.4 billion hours per year, the equivalent of nearly 10% of the paid hours worked in the UK, according to the Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane.
Speaking this week at a lecture organised by Pro Bono Economics and the Society of Business Economists, Haldane discussed the social value of volunteering. He asked: “in giving, how much do we receive?”
He concluded that societal gains from volunteering are potentially very big, but that they are also largely under-appreciated. The 15 million figure he quoted are only those who volunteer through formal groups or organisations in the UK. There will be more who volunteer on an informal basis.
How to measure the value of volunteering?
Haldane, a member of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, suggested different ways to measure the value generated from volunteering.
1. Economic value
The economic value of goods and services created by volunteers could be worth around £50 billion per year.
2. Private value
The private or personal value of volunteering activities, especially the benefits felt by volunteers themselves, are in his view “probably worth more than £40 billion per year”.
3. Social value
The wider social value of volunteering activities is likely to be the biggest, at between two and ten times that of the economic and private benefits.
Not surprisingly, whether one looks at the economic or social contribution of volunteering to UK society, it is in his view “one of the most important sectors in society”.
How can this value be enhanced?
He concluded his lecture by considering policy “nudges” that could enhance the value already being created by volunteers. These included:
- increasing visibility through public education;
- improving skills and time matching between volunteers and charities using technology;
- harnessing employer incentives;
- shifting social norms, for example by building on the success of the National Citizen Service or by providing financial incentives to volunteer.