The Financial Value of Volunteers

25% of Americans Volunteer – How to increase?

Last night I was sitting in a PTA meeting with at least 25 other adults. We all gave 90 minutes of our life to sit in a meeting to talk about and think about how to improve the school. Even at just $15/hour (and I am sure several of the adults were worth more than that), $562.50 of people time was spent on that meeting.

I have been described as a serial volunteer. My mom worked closely with our school and church so I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t part of volunteer projects. I can remember being 6 and sorting food at Christmas time for food baskets. I remember organizing, painting and doing all kinds of odd jobs as a kid.

My first self-chosen volunteer job was to work at the LandTrust. I have also always been an introvert so I spent many hours walking the local trails so it made sense to volunteer to help clean them up. Which I did, but I spent more time helping in the office with fundraising mailers and calls.

So thinking about last night and then thinking about my experience, I wondered how many people volunteer. I found this article Stats reveal how many Americans volunteer @CNN. Bonus! 25% of survey respondents volunteer which correlates to some serious volunteer hours. Another 2016 article from Huffpost America Does Not Have Enough Volunteers, gives some great statistics on just what this means: 62 million volunteers and $184 billion in service hours.

Sadly, 75% choose not to volunteer. I get it. I have had periods where I volunteered to my heart’s content and others where I could barely give an hour a week. Life happens.

So what do we need to do to attract more volunteers? I believe a key for young professionals is making the tasks relevant to their career path. A key for mid-career is providing opportunities that let them use experience and providing it in bite size portions that can fit into a busy schedule.

Coaching for Odyssey of the Mind

On March 9th, I was very proud to watch as kids from our elementary school participated in the competition Odyssey of the Mind.  It was my first year to attend as a parent and my first year of being a coach.

It is a little bit stressful to coach a team of kids (all under 8 years old) in designing and building a problem answer.  Our problem was to create a museum concept and then build and present three exhibits explaining the theme of the museum.  The problem definition stated it best as the first sentence of the directions was “Children can see the extraordinary in the ordinary.”  This was proved over and over during the course of our work.

Starting in January, we met as a team at least once a week.  Every meeting started with food because hungry kids are distracted kids. Then, we would have our team cheer to build our energy up for the hard work. As part of our cheer, each team member had a chance to do their special move. It was exciting to see what they came up with each week. A simple cartwheel turned into team excitement and cheers.

They worked well together because conflict was ordinary but solution was extraordinary.  The best was when they questioned each other – they did not tiptoe around the subject – they just asked “Why did you make that ugly?” or “Why can’t you keep the theme?” Often the explanation from one kid would get a shrug from the others and an “Okay, if that’s what you think.” After 6 practices we had a 5 minute cheer followed by a race because we changed the theme (after everyone agreed they didn’t want to stay with the original theme) and everyone was super excited by the new theme.

It was difficult to coordinate practice schedules but looking back, it was all worth it. The kids were so proud of themselves after the presentation.  We tried and we did it.