Zero Is Not Equal to Free, Reframing Volunteering from Negative to Positive Return on Co-investment

We do not value volunteering.  We ask for it.  We badger for it.  We thank people for it.  But, we do not value it.  We do not put a value on volunteering.  We think it is free.

Volunteering is free, in that it is the free act of giving one’s will.  That meaning of “free” does not mean of no value.  By looking at volunteering, the free giving of one’s will, as of no value, we end  up quickly in “doing good” philanthropy, which does not scale.  The impact remains small, and the resilience of the impact remains low.

By not valuing volunteering, we are valuing the person’s co-investment at zero.  And with zero value in co-investment, we don’t value the return on that co-investment, so there is no return on the co-investment.  Since the volunteer actually assumed the opportunity costs of the volunteering, when they receive nothing back, the return on the co-investment is actually negative.  It costs me to play, with no return–a net-negative investment.

Yet, we volunteer, because it makes us feel good.  We see the impact of our efforts in cleanliness of the schoolyard after a family work day, the paying of the bills because of our work with the accounting group, people fed because we served in a soup kitchen.

If we value the will one gives, then we can honor the value of the co-investment.  Even with a basic assumption of the value of an hour, estimated by some as US$24/hour in the USA in 2017, we are asking the question of what is the co-investment the volunteer is making.  We can then ask, what is the return on the co-investment?  What did your co-investment lead to, what is the value of the “return” for your co-investment?  The reason we cannot usually answer this question is because we do not ask it.

Lots of people are innovating deeply in this space.  One such massive set of innovations is in complementary currencies.  Measuring the current of what is flowing, what is flowing through you in your interaction, your co-investment, and what flows in the community because of your co-investment of currency.  From valuing volunteer time and banking hours to valuing social and natural capital, there are many ways to value the will one puts forward freely.

What is free is the choice to give one’s will.  It has a value.  It is a co-investment.  When we ask the question of the value of the co-investment, we can also begin to ask the question of what is the return on the co-investment.  The value of a clean schoolyard, of bills paid, of mouths fed.  That provides a positive return on co-investment. A return that is possibly orders of magnitude greater when we ask these questions of co-investment of one’s will, of volunteering, than when we don’t ask these questions.  Now that could support its own scaling of impact resilience.

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