By the HELP Committe and Havre Public Schools
Many people would be amazed to learn that each hour they volunteer for a nonprofit organization saves that organization $17.55.
Consider the community's youth sports leagues: Volunteer coaches, league coordinators and concession-stand workers provide children with the opportunity to wrestle and play ball. If a payroll were created for these positions, players would have to pay participation fees that few families could afford.
The $17.55 hourly value of volunteer time was the national average for 2004, as calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. To arrive at a dollar figure, the bureau considers the average national hourly wage for all workers who are not in management positions and not working in agriculture. Then it adds 12 percent to account for the fringe benefits that often come with volunteering.
In Montana, the dollar value of a volunteer hour in 2004 was significantly less: $11.36 per hour. This is because Montana wages are significantly lower than the national average. However, volunteers here should feel no less valued; their help is often even more critical to a rural organization's ability to provide services.
So who are these people who are working so hard as volunteers? They represent all ages, races and creeds, and they volunteer for a wide variety of positions. The largest group of volunteers is composed of parents with children under 18 who are involved in a sport.
The average volunteer puts in three to four hours a week at his or her organization of choice. That modest contribution per volunteer becomes 15.5 billion service hours each year when provided by the estimated 83.9 million volunteers nationwide.
Those volunteers help at the local soup kitchen, youth organization or hospital, making their services available to those most in need.
Their beneficiaries would say that no dollar amount could accurately reflect the value of volunteer services.
The hungry and homeless benefit from the human touch and compassion of volunteers who serve meals at the local soup kitchen.
Children who are paired with an adult mentor feel cared for and special and get to participate in activities that broaden their horizons.
Hospital patients enjoy friendly conversation and some extra attention when volunteers provide them with newspapers, magazines and other reading material.
The case has clearly been made that volunteerism benefits nonprofit organizations and the people they serve. But what does the volunteer gain? Why would anyone want to sacrifice her or his time, energy and skills without monetary compensation?
Volunteering can be a means of career exploration. High school and college students can volunteer as a means of trying out different jobs and employers.
Volunteering can provide an outlet for skills and experience. An artistic person may not be able to make a living selling his art but may gain satisfaction from teaching others how to draw or paint.
Volunteering can provide an opportunity for emotional healing and social change. Mothers Against Drunk Driving began with one mom who was devastated when her child died in a car crash caused by a drunken driver. It is now a nationally known organization that supports people who have suffered similarly. And it is at the forefront of promoting impaired-driving prevention efforts.
Readers of this column who are inspired to volunteer have ample opportunity in the Havre area. Northern Montana Hospital, Feed My Sheep Community Soup Kitchen, the Salvation Army and the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line are just a few of the organizations that regularly work with volunteers. Give them a call and start making a difference today.
The HELP Committe and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line encourages community participation and volunteerism. For information on volunteer opportunities with the organization or Havre Public Schools, call 265-6206.