Expert view: It's time we put a value of volunteers

A quiet August has given me the opportunity to welcome more volunteers into my team.

We have a committed volunteer here every week, who we take for granted but would struggle to replace. In addition, we have had three people with different skills helping with specific tasks. Each has made a net contribution to Jewish Care's work. 

How ridiculous it is that in 2007 we are still unable to value volunteers in our statutory accounts. I have been on this hobby horse since the dawn of the millennium.

About four years ago, a senior Charity Commission figure whom I won't name, told me that the intellectual argument for including volunteer valuation in the Statement of Financial Activities was right, but that the committees that would need to support it weren't up for such a big change. Time is moving on, and I fear the sector's reporting is stuck in the mud.

I have heard all the arguments against valuing volunteers and the only one that has ever held water with me is that unless we have decent guidance it will be too subjective and too difficult. What I don't accept is that it is wrong in principle. If current accounting promotes the inclusion of donated employee time as an incoming and outgoing matched resource for individuals seconded from private companies and for used gifts in kind, how can skilled gifts of time be excluded?

There are countless examples of professionals donating skills outside their employment that can easily be costed according to their usual daily charge-out rate or to the rate charities would usually pay for such services. It's a valuable donation, and yet is nowhere to be seen.

I've volunteered for many years. So have my partner, family and friends. One of the arguments against change that I hear from volunteer organisations is that volunteers might be de-motivated by being valued at a certain rate - especially if a minimum wage were used. The reality is that 99.99 per cent of volunteers couldn't give a hoot about the statutory accounts of the organisations they volunteer for.

It's a case of material gifts being measured in a fair and reasonable way. For example, x volunteering in x roles for an average of x hours a week = pounds x a year. If that's material to your organisation, add it in; if not, don't. We are not listing individuals by name and making personal comments. No one will write: "That Helen Verney, she's a help with the books, but she eats enough for three people when she's here. Let's call it £2.50 an hour for one day a year."

So let's sort it out before the next millennium.

- Helen Verney is finance director at Jewish Care 

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