Quantifying volunteer activities: BLS occupational wage data

Like the Independent Sector, True Impact’s Volunteerism ROI Tracker uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics mean wage data to value and benchmark volunteer activities across companies evaluating their employee volunteer programs.


There are three primary benefits of using BLS mean wages to value volunteer activities:

1. Comprehensive national data

This year’s occupational wage data includes more than 800 occupations.  Volunteer programs can find an occupational category that most closely fits their activities and most accurately value volunteer impact.

Using BLS data, an organization can differentiate between volunteers helping a nonprofit use their new software system (Computer Support Specialists, $24.91 per hour) and those designing the client database (Software Developers, Applications, $44.27 per hour).  Software developers are twice the value of computer support specialists, and both exceed the Independent Sector rate of $21.79.

2. Detailed regional data

BLS data includes state breakdowns of all occupational data, so organizations can calculate rates in one state or compare volunteer value across regions.  For example, a consulting company investing in a national pro bono initiative can accurately estimate the value provided by volunteers applying accounting skills in New Mexico ($29.72 per hour) compared to volunteer accountants in California ($36.02 per hour).

3. Updated annually

The BLS updates its wage estimates every May, providing an Excel file of all occupations and mean wages for download.  This makes it easy to update internal calculations with the most accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date wage rates for volunteer activity.



However, volunteerism is not a job, and an hourly rate for an employee does not reflect several unique realities of volunteerism:

1. BLS mean wages are not market rate

The BLS data reflect what an employer pays an employee.  It would cost more for a nonprofit organization to, for example, hire a temp worker to sort and distribute food, a landscaping firm to maintain a park, or a consulting firm to design a custom social media campaign.  Replacing volunteers with commercial services is more expensive than the mean wages represented in the BLS data set.

The Taproot Foundation and CECP have developed useful standards for defining and valuing pro bono service that support the market value approach.  However, they lack the comprehensiveness of occupational categories contained within the BLS data set.

2. Finding the right fit

Digging through the BLS database can be daunting, and occupational titles don’t always describe the position.   For example, consider the most frequently cited volunteer activity reported, fundraising.  Instead of seeking out the term “fundraising,” which occurs once in the database for high-level Public Relations and Fundraising Managers, break volunteer activities into sales-related components.  The product volunteers are “selling” is the organizational mission of the nonprofit –the cookies are a bonus.

The following positions might be a better fit for volunteer fundraising initiatives:

    • Public Relations and Fundraising Managers      
    • Sales Representatives
    • Door-to-Door Sales Workers
    • Advertising Sales Agents

3. Comparable activities

Some volunteer activities do not have a clear occupational corollary.  For example, holiday gift giving initiatives and blood drives are difficult to evaluate without a comparable occupation.  The Volunteerism ROI Tracker uses a company average market value for volunteer activities that do not fit into one of our Volunteer ROI Tracker activity categories. This calculation enables companies to value and compare all volunteerism within their CSR portfolio:

Volunteer Tracker wages

To measure your volunteer impact using individualized volunteer activities from the BLS data set, try HandsOn Network’s Volunteer Calculator. For more information about how we track social and business impacts of employee volunteerism, download an FAQ here. 

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