Kahl, Sue Carter (2019, May). Making the invisible visible: Capturing the multidimensional value of volunteerism in nonprofits. Doctoral dissertation (Leadership Studies), University of San Diego, San Diego, CA (USA). (Access: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342425407_MAKING_THE_INVISIBLE_VISIBLE_CAPTURING_THE_MULTIDIMENSIONAL_VALUE_OF_VOLUNTEERISM_IN_NONPROFITS/references)

Abstract: Volunteers represent an important part of the nonprofit labor pool, and their contributions are diverse and significant. Yet, the assessment of the value that they bring to nonprofit organizations often is reduced to a few numbers and understood to be an economic decision based on their absence of wages. This value is traditionally reported as volunteer numbers, hours, and an hourly financial value assigned to volunteer time. These data are important tools for articulating volunteer contributions. However, the emphasis on numbers and economic value sometimes obscures important dimensions of service. Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to reveal more dimensions of volunteer value by assessing perceptions of the traditional metrics and introducing new lenses for interpreting volunteer value. It was written using the three-paper format. The first paper used Q methodology to study the perceptions of funders, nonprofit executives, and volunteer administrators. Thirty participants ranked their preferences for 41 diverse indicators of volunteer value in a Q sort and discussed how they made meaning of their sorts. Factor and qualitative analyses of the data revealed that participants gave the traditional volunteer numbers, hours, and financial value metrics mixed reviews. Their preferences did not align by stakeholder group. However, all participants demonstrated a more nuanced understanding of service than is found in traditional volunteer value measures. The second paper introduced the gift economy as a companion framework for the economic model that undergirds the common measures of volunteer value. It named and integrated additional dimensions of service (e.g., spiritual, social, meaning making) with notions of economic value. The third paper combined the Q data with interview data from 10 experts on volunteer value. The analysis showed two value propositions of volunteers: volunteers as cost savings or as mission support/value add. The paper concluded with adaptive leadership principles that can support nonprofit leaders in blending both value propositions. Collectively, the papers demonstrate dimensions of volunteer service that are important but overlooked by those who rely on traditional volunteer metrics. Identifying and studying these dimensions can contribute to a holistic understanding of volunteerism that supports more strategic volunteer practices and more robust explanations of volunteer value.

Sue Carter Kahl <suecarterkahl@sandiego.edu> is in the Department of Leadership Studies, School of Leadership and Education Sciences, University of San Diego, San Diego, CA (USA).

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