Measuring the economic value of volunteer work globally: Concepts, estimates, and a roadmap to the future

Lester M. Salamon, S. Wojciech Sokolowski, Megan A. Haddock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article explores alternative approaches for measuring the economic value of volunteer work, develops a methodology for producing global estimates of this value using existing data sources, and identifies a new data source that promises to yield significantly improved data on which to base such estimates in the future at both the global and national levels. Both volunteering through organizations and directly for individuals are considered. Different approaches to valuation, including the replacement cost, opportunity cost, and social benefits approaches and both observed and reported market proxies, are examined. Based on a number of criteria, the replacement cost method using observed market wages is recommended. Using this method, the article estimates that 'volunteerland,' if it were its own country, would have the second largest adult population of any country in the world, and would be the world's seventh largest economy. The article concludes by discussing a new International Labour Organization Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work that adopts the basic method for defining and valuing volunteer work outlined here and promises to generate a much more robust and coherent body of data on volunteer work than has ever been available both globally and nationally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-252
Number of pages36
JournalAnnals of Public and Cooperative Economics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

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