Are volunteers free labour force?

Anna Mária Bartal - Éva Perpék - Réka Nagy


While in Hungary the social significance of volunteering is a relatively well-discussed topic, its economic benefits and sectoral importance - even at the level of estimated data - have hardly been analysed in detail. The situation becomes even more difficult when we try, as a novel methodological approach, to reveal the costs (inputs) of volunteering in Hungarian organisations that employ volunteers. Against this background, our aim is to analyse the costs of volunteering by presenting relevant findings from the international literature on the one hand, and by conducting a pilot study on the other. In this paper, we use six examples of volunteering programmes to examine the types of costs - human, service and material - and cost elements associated with the recruitment, selection and employment of volunteers. By doing this, we would like to contribute to a systematic quantitative examination of the costs of volunteering and raise awareness of these costs. Our results clearly confirm that volunteers are not free labour. The empirical analysis has shown that while the costs related to human resources, volunteers' rewards and some services appear manifest and more realistic in the costs of the organisations studied, the material and other background service costs are more "hidden" as they are embedded in operating costs of the organisations and therefore are much less visible.

On the basis of our results, we expect to launch a professional dialogue on the question of whether volunteers are "free labour force" - both within the Hungarian voluntary sector itself and with decision-makers who might rethink more differentiated support schemes for voluntary programmes. In our view, a more detailed and tangible presentation of the costs (inputs) of volunteer programs will make the management and use of funds more transparent for government, corporate and private donors as well as for the organisations that run volunteer programs.

Keywords: cost of volunteering, types of volunteering input costs, cost elements of volunteering, human resource cost of volunteering, material costs of volunteering, service costs of volunteering