Farmer-to-Farmer Value of Volunteer Time: A Special Study

Published Date: 
Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Farmer-to-Farmer has recently concluded a special study researching the value of volunteer time. The purpose of this short study is to provide information to Farmer-to-Farmer program managers and USAID on an approximate averaged value of volunteer time across the program, and whether that value is consistent with the current value of $470/day. Value of volunteer services is a metric tracked by F2F, reported annually, and captures one of the unique attributes of F2F – the value of the time contributed to US foreign development programs by highly skilled Americans.1 The current value of $470/day was determined by ACDI/VOCA about 15 years ago,2 and has been audited by USAID several times since. The main question of this study is whether this rate is still representative of the value of F2F volunteers. The study’s main tasks were:

  • Research methodologies used in determining the value of volunteer time;
  • Suggest a methodology for determining the value of F2F volunteers;
  • Carry out the methodology to determine the rate; and
  • Suggest a rate to be used in the F2F program

The methodology suggested by the research team (Annex 1) was heavily guided by USAID regulations and instructions on substantiating the value of volunteer time. The researchers did not, in the end, carry out the full methodology to suggest a new rate for the value of F2F volunteers. The reason the full methodology was not carried out, in sum, was that obtaining an auditable rate would require us to: a) have a larger sample size of volunteers; and b) ask volunteers for contact information for employers in order to be able to verify the income information they were providing to us. USAID and F2F program directors reached a consensus that volunteers would likely not be willing to answer questions about employment history, and that it would be difficult to effectively survey a larger group of F2F volunteers in the short period of time of this study. It is also critical to note that the F2F program does not report volunteer time as cost share and it is therefore not auditable.

Based on this feedback, the investigators re-tooled the methodology to survey approximately 10% of volunteers and to allow volunteers to self-report their income without employer contact data (thereby not verifiable). The methodology, in order to meet USAID ADS clauses on verifying what an organization pays consultants/ employees for similar work, also collected information from F2F implementers on rates paid to consultants. The modified methodology, instead of determining an updated rate for F2F volunteer services, determined whether the $470 rate currently being used was still representative of the overall value of the F2F volunteer time.

The researchers came to the following key conclusions:

  • The average rate, based on the randomized survey of F2F volunteers, was $522/day. Averaged rates ranged from $385/day to $770/day depending on the implementing partner. Samples of rates paid to consultants who perform similar work to the volunteers were averaged at $566/day. These rates are higher than the $470 rate, suggesting it may be time to more formally assess and update the rate being used3.
  • The average F2F volunteer has an advanced degree, and over 20 years of experience. The national median rate (according to US Census Bureau data) of an employee with an advanced degree is $92,525 or about $473/day4 (this includes all ranges of experience).
  • Using an averaged rate across implementers is the most efficient and representative method for reporting on the value of volunteers for the F2F program. Volunteers in F2F programs, according to the survey we implemented, typically hold graduate degrees and have 20+ years experience. Despite this, there is a vast diversity in income levels. An averaged rate best accounts for the high incomes and low incomes, finding a balanced means to report overall value.
  •  Creating a regular methodology for collecting data on volunteer incomes/ rates could be valuable to the implementers of volunteer programs, as the data will make it easier to obtain an audited rate (updated every few years) and perform data quality assessments for their monitoring and evaluation plan.

Please download the PDF file below to read more about this study, including our methodology, data analysis and a full set of recommendations.