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While some types of volunteering are created primarily to serve the volunteer (in the rehabilitation and mental health fields, for example, volunteering is viewed as part of the healing process), most volunteering is organized to generate benefits beyond the persons engaged in it. Hence, it is widely acknowledged that volunteering can produce benefits for the organization engaging the volunteer and/or for service users, program participants, and communities at large. In this sense there is usually an expectation that volunteers will generate value through their involvement. Volunteers are often a cost-effective source of labour, but they certainly are not “free.” In most instances, volunteer engagement needs to be coordinated. Typically, volunteer coordination entails a series of functions including, for example, needs assessment, volunteer position design, infrastructure development, recruitment, screening, orientation, training, placement, supervision and ongoing support, recognition, performance evaluation, and program evaluation. While there is a wide range in the degree of formality with which these functions are undertaken, most organizations find it necessary to invest some measure of time and financial resources to successfully engage volunteers. Where the work of volunteers is more complex, sophisticated, risky, or direct-service in nature, the costs associated with its coordination usually increase. In societies where liability can be connected with the involvement of volunteers, a greater pressure exists to ensure the safe and effective engagement of volunteers (Graff, 2003).
These factors are typically associated with higher volunteer coordination costs both in terms of time and money. Because volunteer labour is by definition unpaid, there is a general assumption, thoughperhaps rarely articulated, that volunteer involvement will return more than it costs to mobilize. The returns on volunteer involvement take many forms, but the “assumption” prevails that when all costs and benefits are tallied, there is a positive return on the investment in volunteer involvement. The term assumption is used deliberately here because it is so often the case that volunteers are engaged with much less conscious planning or rigour than paid staff.
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