July 2, 2014

RSVP – Lead With Experience: The Value of Volunteerism

By Bill Sedlacek
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program of Eastern Iowa and Western Illnois

I recently heard (admittedly second or maybe even third hand) that our lawmakers charged with difficult budgetary decisions have been asking, “How necessary is it to fund organizations such as RSVP, since the volunteers themselves are doing the work”?

That is a fair question in times of tight budgets, and they would be remiss if they did not ask it when trying to effectively allocate public money. I believe, however, that is a mistake to minimize the role of organizations such as RSVP in the total volunteer scenario.

In the past couple of months, I have read and heard many stories from Scott, Rock Island, Mercer and Knox counties about the gratification felt by the volunteers who serve others and the gratitude of those who benefit from their efforts. Frankly, I am amazed by the deep roots that the RSVP driven volunteer effort has in our extended community. I read of retired teachers tutoring at-risk students and rejoicing in their progress, trained tax preparers helping those who don’t have resources to pay a tax preparer, and the many “Helping hands” stories. One example is the young man who was really trying to better himself and had an interview at a bank but did not have appropriate clothing. He was fitted with a second hand, but cleaned, suit for the interview. He got the job and believed it was partly because of his “RSVP Assisted” appearance. There are so many more stories of the good works of the volunteers and the sense of purpose they get from that work. At the receiving end, there is the gratitude for the help and the pride they feel when, with that help, they get on track to succeed in the classroom and life. I am amazed by the number of such stories of volunteers at every skill level making a difference under the RSVP umbrella.

This volunteer contribution to our community is a joyfully colored tapestry, woven with multicolored threads representing both the gratification felt by those who serve and the gratitude of those who benefit from that service. As with all tapestry, it needs a loom to weave the threads together. RSVP is that loom, matching an incoming request from individuals or organizations to a pool of over 900 volunteers with the appropriate skill and qualification to meet the specific need.

These 900 RSVP members contribute between 120,000 and 130,000 hours a year, the equivalent of 60 to 70 full time workers. Using the Independent Sector hourly valuation of volunteer efforts of $22.55/hour, these hours are worth $2,706,000 to $2,931,500. The full- and part-time staff of RSVP is funded at about 10,000 hours, the equivalent of five full- time work years. It takes a lot of effort to recruit, evaluate, assign, and manage 120,000 to 130,000 hours of volunteer effort. Funding five work years to get $3 million worth of effort from mature and seasoned individuals with the skills and wisdom they gained over their lifetimes seems like a real bargain.

Filed Under: Community