Measurement of Volunteer Work

Measurement of Volunteer Work

Why measure?

Every day and in every country in the world, millions of volunteers work with communities, organizations, companies, and on their own, to take action on the issues that affect them.

But how many people volunteer, and what do they do? How is volunteering linked to improved development outcomes? And how can we maximise the contributions of volunteers in the Decade of Action to 2030? The answers require data and evidence to measure the status, effectiveness, and impact of volunteering.

The measurement of volunteering is relevant to a range of stakeholders: 

  • Volunteers themselves, who want to understand the difference that their work is making
  • Organizations working with volunteers, who need to manage their resources effectively
  • Policymakers, as the basis for planning and investments around volunteering
What is the status of measurement globally?

In the decade since the publication of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work and the first State of the World’s Volunteerism Report in 2011, progress on measurement has been steady, but limited.  Over 95 countries have now measured volunteer work at least once.


Global standards on volunteer work measurement adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 2013 provide the basis for comparable data across countries, but as the map shows, implementation varies by region.  To be able to determine trends and patterns requires more countries in the global South to implement the new survey model on volunteering developed by UNV and ILO in 2020, and more consistently over time.

Beyond national statistics, perhaps the areas of measurement that are most prevalent in the sector are corporate or organizational-level systems and processes that capture the work carried out by volunteers.  These tend to be institutionally specific, and based on project or programme theories of change. Efforts to aggregate across organizations and sectors to build a comprehensive picture of volunteer contributions “from the ground up” have not yet been realised. 

What are some of the challenges in volunteering measurement?

Research and consultations with Plan of Action stakeholders from government, private sector and civil society highlight several key challenges under the measurement agenda:

  • Wide range of volunteering practices: Volunteering is universal, but practices are diverse across cultures and are becoming increasingly complex in the 21st Century.  When volunteering has been measured, the focus has largely been on organization-based volunteering, rather than volunteering performed spontaneously and directly between people which comprises 70 per cent of volunteer work globally. 
  • Coverage, definitions and identification: Many measurement activities rely on self-reporting by volunteers. Yet many people who fit the definition may not see themselves as volunteers, but rather good citizens, activists and campaigners, or they may not report volunteering work for personal or religious reasons.
  • Logistics of data collection: Since volunteering does not involve significant monetary transactions, it is seldom tracked in administrative records. Even organizations that systematically engage volunteers often find it difficult to record accurately the exact amount and type of work performed by volunteers, although new technologies can help capture this data more effectively and in real-time. Meanwhile, the types of household surveys that can capture all types of volunteering activities are carried out infrequently in many countries, taking months or years to design and implement.

Despite these barriers, improvements over the last decade now make it possible to generate reliable data on the amount of organization-based and direct volunteering in countries that account for over 60 per cent of the world’s population.


What is UNV doing?

ILO project on measurement of volunteer work

Between 2017 and 2022, UNV has been working with ILO to strengthen tools and systems to generate official statistics. In 2018, ILO has conducted a global review of national practices in measuring volunteer work. In addition, it has developed, tested and provided advice on new survey tools in several countries including for population censuses and labour force surveys. ILO has also started to explore ways to use this statistical data, looking at the relationship between volunteer work and labour market prospects for youth. A joint UNV-ILO paper, entitled ‘On the design of volunteer programmes to facilitate the entry and re-entry of young people into work’ was published in 2022.  

Challenge fund on the measurement of volunteer work

Under the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering in the 2030 Agenda, UNV launched an Innovation Challenge Fund to seek ideas and models on how to apply existing data and research on volunteering to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and to help better understand:

  • Analytical approaches: What are some potential qualitative and quantitative analytical frameworks or models that could help understand the contributions of volunteers at community, district, municipal or national level to the Sustainable Development Goals?
  • Alternative data sources: What are some freely available data sources that can be combined to provide insights or analysis on volunteerism and how would this be done?
  • Measures: Which supplementary indicators or targets could better integrate an understanding of citizen contributions under specific SDG goals, targets or indicators?
  • Models of development: can analytical models incorporating volunteering tell us more about the nature and quality of human development?

Seven organizations and individuals developed papers to share their thinking on the topics above. These papers are compiled in the publication, "Measuring the Economic and Social Contributions of Volunteering: Anthology of papers from the Plan of Action Innovation Challenge". 

Challenge fund

Toolbox on measuring the contribution of volunteering to the 2030 Agenda

Under the Plan of Action, UNV also worked with partners to develop a toolbox to existing and emerging tools and practices on measurement.  The document brings these together under a simple contribution framework to demonstrate ways in which volunteering can contribute to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.  This first edition draws on a range of sources, but will also be updated based on new evidence submitted to this Portal.

State of the World's Volunteerism Report (SWVR) 2025

The SWVR 2025 is currently in the preparatory stage. The main theme of the SWVR will be the measurement of volunteering with the overall objective to develop the first-ever global Volunteer Index. Specific thematic components will include an updated methodology for calculating global estimates on volunteer work, measurement of the impact of volunteering on the individual volunteer as well as on communities, measurement of the impact of volunteering on ‘national public goods’ (e.g. relating to planet, peace, health, education), and measurement of the economic value of volunteering (e.g. in terms of labour replacement costs, contribution to national GDP, etc). The tentative launch date of the SWVR is September 2025.

What are some of the tools and approaches that have been developed?

A toolbox on measuring volunteering has been developed under the Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering. It covers four broad domains for measurement:

Scale and scope of volunteering

Qualitative and quantitative tools can provide a picture of the overall nature of volunteering. Tools to measure the scope and scale of volunteering include nationally representative or organizational surveys. As well as measuring participation rates, this type of research might look at predictors for participation (e.g. gender and socio-economic variables); trends and patterns; and analyse sectors or types of volunteer work.

Intrinsic value of volunteering

Intrinsic value refers to the social goods associated with volunteering that are valued for their own sake, as well as contributing to development outcomes. Measurement tools such as organizational surveys or stand-alone surveys conducted by civil society or private sector often measure the capacities strengthened through volunteering, for the individual volunteer or the organizations and communities they volunteer with. For example, qualitative research can reflect the ways in which volunteers contribute to trust and resilience—factors difficult to sum up in a single number.

The instrumental value of volunteering

Instrumental value refers to how volunteering helps to achieve specific goals and targets, for example by contributing to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. New models, frameworks, and approaches are emerging to demonstrate some of these pathways to provide insights into how to strengthen the contribution volunteering makes to the Global Goals.

Intervention research

To look at the changes catalysed by specific interventions such as projects or campaigns, the measures above are likely to be combined with other factors, for example around efficiency and effectiveness. Furthermore, intervention research may use a number of quasi-experimental approaches to better understand and isolate the impact beyond patterns and correlations.


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