I was having a bit of an email chat with the Resources Subgroup a couple of months ago.  We had seen a document where someone had put a financial value on the volunteering at Warley Woods.  We were quite surprised to see it in the document as we don’t put a financial value on volunteering and there are quite a few reasons why that is.  

What do others do?

Many organisations like to give a financial value to volunteer time.  It is a bit of a convention in our sector.  Heritage Lottery pretty much insists on it if you want a grant from them.  When we have had a grant and volunteers have been involved with that project then we have to count hours and say if it is just general help, professional or expert level – each of which has its own hourly financial value we can assign to it and add up.  So we can say that volunteers have contributed “this much”.  Other organisations follow this model to prove the value of volunteers to the organisation’s mission.  It’s very normal.  I’m often asked for a number but I generally refuse to give one.

What do we do?

That is not what we do at Warley Woods because it’s not what matters.  We don’t count hours.  We count people.  How many people have helped?  How many lovely people have given their own precious time to do something lovely for someone else?  How many people have we managed to interest in helping out?  This is what is of value. 

We are truly community managed and it doesn’t matter if a volunteer gives an hour or does the equivalent of a full time job (well it does of course, because every hour does help without doubt), but our measure of success is involvement.  If just four volunteers worked full time doing everything that wouldn't be community involvement and it wouldn't be sustainable either.  A few hardworkers might get some serious work done, but it wouldn’t be what we really want as our measure of success.

We want to give people an opportunity to be part of what is going on and we want them to want to get involved.  We don’t want people to feel obliged or trapped by a volunteering commitment either.  We hope, of course, that if people don’t feel obliged they might actually do more; safe in the knowledge that if they do it once, it doesn’t mean they have to do it every time.  It is called volunteering not obligation!

Volunteers are not unpaid staff

The other thing that is wrong with that financial metric with an hourly rate, is that it gives the idea that volunteers are unpaid surrogate staff, doing a job that would otherwise need to be paid for. As if having volunteers involved is primarily about saving money or just providing “staff” that the organisation can’t afford.  At Warley Woods some of the work done by volunteers is of course work that might be done by a paid member of staff, but, in the majority, what volunteers do brings added value.  They make something happen that would not happen if they did not do it.  Every time they help, they make our space better and when you add up what everyone does together it makes an enormous deal.  Total fabulousness.

Separately to assessing value, I’d also like to point out that volunteering is absolutely core to our model and in fact to our reason for existing at all. The Trust was created because people wanted to help and contribute.  In many ways the staff are incidental to this.  They are just the way the Community decided was probably best to manage things day to day and ensured there was money to do it.  It is staff that assist the volunteers rather than the other way around.

What would the Trust be if there was no volunteers involved?

Just to demonstrate how fundamental volunteering is, for a moment try and imagine that there were no volunteers at Warley Woods.  We will say we have the staff we have, like a council park.  What would we have, could we do, or would we be if we only had staff and no volunteers?

We could probably manage a golf course and park that was mowed.  After that, what could we offer?  There would be no events; not one.  Even events like star gazing, or bat walks or history talks which take only a small amount of staff organisation still needs a volunteer to lead them.  Not one single event would happen. Perhaps just the odd talk.   But when you see what I say next what would that member of staff talk about?

Years ago we cancelled our litter picker contract to see if volunteers could manage to cover the role.   Without volunteers, Warley Woods would be knee deep in litter or something else on the site would look bad because staff would spend so much time dealing with litter.

We could probably manage to update the noticeboards, but what would those notices be about – there would be nothing on – no events, no Stride walks, no Warley Woods Pacers.  Members would get an email newsletter with some corporate updates, but there would be no articles, no one to design a newsletter – what would be the point – there would be little news and while I know Kathy and I could get it into envelopes ourselves, we would spend a fortune posting it out, as there would be no one doing hand deliveries.  It would cost £4,000 a year to post it out – although actually I suspect it wouldn’t cost that much, as we wouldn’t have as many members as we do now, because people wouldn’t be interested or engaged in an organisation that was just kept ticking over by staff.  Why would they want to hear from an organisation just mowed the grass?

Fundamentally important volunteer roles

I have absolutely no concept of what the Trust would look like without its Board of Trustees which it has to have to be a charity.  We’d need a completely new legal structure.  We wouldn’t be eligible to apply for many grants or accept public donations.  Most importantly though, we wouldn’t have the input from the community – a real view of what people would like to happen, and an accountability to their neighbours.  We’d also lose all that expertise and connections to advise.  Your Trust Manager has some skills and connections but the Board gives you a Trust Manager multiplied by 12-15.

I could go on about the subgroups and other volunteer roles, but I think I have made my point.

So what is the "value" of Volunteers?

So what would Warley Woods Community Trust be without volunteers?  Well it wouldn’t be anything.  It wouldn’t exist.  It couldn’t.  That would make Warley Woods a far poorer place and the community would be served with just the bare minimum probably provided by council staff stretched across multiple sites.  Instead there is beauty, engagement, entertainment, pride and the potential to go even further because the more volunteers we can involve, the more that can be done.

Thank you to all of our volunteers.  Whether what they (or you) did was organisationally essential or extra it has value and is valued, not in financial terms, but by the rest of your community.  As I often say – if that volunteer hadn’t done what they had done, then in all likelihood it wouldn’t have got done at all.  Every contribution has made a difference.  We can be so collectively proud of that.  Thank you from me, from the Trust and from the local community.

If you would like to know more about what volunteers do at and for Warley Woods and how you might get involved - have a look this page and please get in touch.  Practically everything that happens at Warley Woods has started because a volunteer had an idea and suggested it.  What might be your contribution?