Volunteer Engagement Defined and Measured

Volunteerism is flourishing globally, even while volunteers sit untapped and underutilized. Volunteer engagement defined and measured opens the door to standard benchmarks across the profession, at least locally. Apples and oranges make a nice visual for comparative data, but how about volunteers and headcounts? If there is a common language and shared understanding of metrics, then comparative metrics are not out of the possibility.

Defining Volunteerism

The prevailing definition of “volunteer” in the United States, comes from the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) at the U.S. Department of Labor.

Volunteer: An individual who performs hours of service for a public agency for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons, without promise, expectation, or receipt of compensation for services rendered, is considered to be a volunteer during such hours.

“To understand how the economy is functioning and changing over time requires measuring and valuing all productive unpriced labor time.” (Abraham and Mackie) The International Conference of Labour Statisticians recently codified a similar sentiment about the importance of volunteerism and the need to include their work in the labor force.

VEPs have long valued volunteers for more than their time and talent. Volunteers in a perfect volunteer role fit, with the proper training, and in a welcoming environment, can make magic happen. Real results. Properly laying the groundwork by entering data correctly enables proper reporting down the road.

Corporate Volunteerism

If an employee is being paid for work, either skilled or unskilled, it is not considered volunteerism. Therefore, corporate volunteer programs are not eligible to include any volunteer hours that are paid by an employer. To account for that time as a VEP, Corporate Service work is a good alternative.

Service work: An individual who receives benefits for “volunteering.” Individuals that are counted as service workers include, AmeriCorps (those that are enrolled in AmeriCorps, VISTA, NCCC, AmeriCorpsSeniors™️), and Federal Work Study.

Registered Active Volunteers

How many volunteers do your organizations have? In a room of 300 VEPs, there would be 300 answers. That is because there is no set standard. Well, not exactly. Several national organizations, tied to Human Resources Standards do have an answer. So we are going to start to craft one.

Registered active volunteer: a volunteer that has completed the volunteer intake process through orientation, but may yet be on probation.

Unregistered volunteers: a volunteer that has completed a volunteer sign-up process* (if required). These are often event volunteers.

Credit Seeking Volunteers

We pose an ethical question for consideration? “without promise, expectation or receipt of compensation for services rendered”

  • For academic credit?
  • For court?
  • For awards?
  • For grants?

How many volunteers does your organization have?

Volunteer Resources headcount Report Annual (baker’s dozen 13 months)

  • Registered active volunteers- those completing intake.
  • Registered active service workers.
    • Federal Work Study
    • AmeriCorps, VISTA, AmeriCorpsSeniors™️, National CCCC
    • Credit seeking (court order and academic credit)
  • Unregistered active volunteers


If you ran an unduplicated headcount over 13 month period with an end-date on your fiscal year end, is it different than the number on your last report on www.guidestar.org?

If this caught your eye, the blog just could not capture all of our program. Check back.

References and Notes

Katherine G Abraham and Christopher Mackie, eds., Beyond the Market: Designing Nonmarket Accounts for the United States (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005), p. 148, https://doi.org/10.17226/11181

*sign-up process can be a an online SignUp form, an in-person form, or a sign in sheet that has a liability release for day of activity work. Volunteer applications are not requested for this type of volunteer activity.