Donating Time vs Money

donating time

Warning:  this article is a pure and utter rant. Normally I try to provide at least a little bit of advice or help to leaders of volunteers, but today I just needed to vent. I was talking with someone this past weekend about the fact that in Canada you can get an income tax deduction for donating money to a charity, but that you can’t for donating time, ie. volunteering.

Why is volunteering seen as so much less worthy?

Author Kahlil Gibran wrote “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”  In other words, our time is more valuable than our money. Think about it. We are happy to spend money on things that will save us time and effort – dishwashers, snowblowers, even electric toothbrushes! Would we be so willing to spend our money if we didn’t think our time was more important (even if we’re just spending it binging Netflix)?

Don’t get me wrong; money is important!

But is it more important than time? It is, according to government agencies, and often even the organizations themselves. If you look at the home pages of most social impact organizations, there’s a big button right up front asking viewers to send money. The volunteer application is usually lost somewhere in a dropdown menu, or even buried at the bottom of a random page somewhere.

And yet most organizations say that they couldn’t do anything without volunteers. And it’s true! All the money in the world won’t get services or aid to the clients without people. Unless you’re willing to use that donated money to pay staff to do all the work, you need volunteers! So why aren’t they seen as just as valuable?? It blows my mind. I’m not saying that volunteers are more valuable, but they should be seen as equally so.

So what’s the issue?

Is it just our western culture that has made money the be-all and end-all? Is it because volunteers have been seen as “free” labour for so long that we’ve lost sight of their true value? Whatever the cause, it just annoys me.

Our time is precious. And irreplaceable!

I was on a panel discussion late last year, and one of the panelists, Wolfgang Krell, said something that illustrates this perfectly. “Time is not an abstract; it’s a slice of my existence.” Maybe that’s the way we need to start looking at donating time. That people are donating a portion of their very lives. Let’s face it, we can always get more money, but we will never get back time that we’ve spent. Should that not be acknowledged?

According to recent surveys, most social impact organizations right now are struggling to find volunteers. Umbrella organizations like Volunteer Canada and Points of Light have been trying to advocate to increase awareness of the impact that volunteers make in our communities. Perhaps, rather than trying to raise awareness, we should all start advocating for something specific.

What would happen, for example, if people received a tax receipt for donated time?

Oh, I know there are probably lots of barriers; ways that people could or would abuse the system. Still, as Colin Powell once said “Don’t let adverse facts get in the way of a good decision.” Yes, there will be problems. We’re smart people; we can figure out solutions!

Just think of the benefits! There would be way more people volunteering. The impact that your organization has could grow exponentially. More salmon streams rehabilitated, more housing for those in need, more children fed.

It wouldn’t be that hard to pull the numbers together to show how it could benefit the government, either. Every client that a social impact organization can help is one less that the government needs to care for. More salmon equals more fishers working equals more income tax paid. I really don’t think that the financial argument would be that hard. And, wow, would it make good public relations for the government in power!

Also, if organizations want to increase their recruitment, make it easier for prospects!

Put a big red button on your home page, right beside the one about donating money, that leads directly to the application form. Don’t make people go searching for information. Show that you value people donating time as much as those donating money.

Well, I guess I did offer a bit of advice after all. I never know exactly where I’m going to end up once I start writing. I feel better, though, for having vented. Thank you for “listening”, and have a great 2024!

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