Estimating the Scale of Global Volunteering

As of this writing, only some 10 countries, mostly in the global North, have implemented the ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work in whole or in part. This makes the availability of comparable data on volunteer activity extremely limited. Accordingly, to generate at least a preliminary picture of the scope of volunteering globally, it is necessary to use estimating techniques that rely on extrapolations from reasonably known values and relationships. This section reports on one such set of estimates. To do so, it first identifies the data sets that provide the foundation for the estimates; then outlines the extrapolation methodologies used to build up the estimates of these different forms of volunteering from partial samples of countries to the global level; and, finally, presents the results.

Available Data Sets

Currently, only two types of comparable and reliable data exist for estimating the volume of volunteer work cross-nationally: the comparative data on nonprofit institutions in over 40 countries assembled by the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (Salamon, 2010; Salamon et al., 2004; Salamon, Anheier, List et al., 1999), and time use surveys (TUS) conducted by statistical offices around the world to measure how individuals use their time in an average day.

CNP Data. The Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project (CNP) collected information about the workforce, both paid and volunteer, engaged by nonprofit institutions in 43 countries, representing virtually all regions, religious traditions, and income categories as defined by the World Bank. Most of these data were derived from official economic statistics and supplemented by specially commissioned surveys in which information was collected about the number of volunteers, the duration of their work, and their field of activity. In the global South and transition countries, where comprehensive registers of nonprofit organizations generally do not exist, hyper-network sampling was used to identify unregistered organizations operating in targeted geographical areas and these organizations were then surveyed and asked about both paid and volunteer workers. The resulting hours of volunteer time were then converted into full-time equivalent (FTE) workers and computed as a share of the economically active population (EAP) in a country in order to put all countries on the same relational measure.[1]

As shown in Table 2.1. so computed, the FTE organization-based volunteer workforce ranges from a low of less than 0.5 % of the economically active population in Pakistan, Colombia, and Egypt, to a high of 7 % in Sweden. As a general rule, such volunteering is higher in western developed countries than in the countries with lower per capita income, as might be expected since this is volunteer work that is mediated through organizations, and the network of civil society organizations is generally less extensive in poorer regions. At the same time, however, there is a considerable degree of variation in the scale of such volunteer work in every region.

  • [1] The economically active population is the population aged 15 or over that is not incarcerated orotherwise unable to work. Because volunteers typically work only part time, the full-time equivalent number of volunteers is likely much smaller than the number of people who do any volunteering, even though care has been taken to estimate the annual time a volunteer devotes to this activityover an entire year even when the reference period for the survey covers a shorter period. A complication of organization-based surveys is that a particular individual may volunteer for more thana single organization, thus potentially overstating the number of individuals volunteering. For anestimate of the number of physical persons volunteering, see Salamon et al. Table A2.
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