Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide

CPA Dennis Walsh of North Carolina explains why and how to include volunteer time in your nonprofit’s budgets and financials.

Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide
11 mins read

Your volunteers’ time is even more valuable than you might realize!

This article was updated on November 3, 2011.

Tracking volunteer time: Sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability. In this article, CPA Dennis Walsh of North Carolina explains why and how to include volunteer time in your budgets and financials:

An all-volunteer suicide hotline was having a hard time raising funds. Its total budget was $45,000, which paid for a small office, telephone lines, and advertising. It asked for operating support, overhead and other funds in its fundraising proposals. Unfortunately, many foundations and donors are allergic to those terms.

But when the hotline added up the time its volunteers spent answering phones, attending trainings and teaching others, it was able to show that it used 7,200 volunteer hours each year. Based on local wages for similar services, this came to over $140,000 in financial support!

A lot of bang for the buck

As an accountant, I know that by portraying their group as a $185,000 nonprofit, the hotline leaders showed the scope of what the organization contributes to the community and the tremendous support it gets. In this context, needing only $45,000 to deliver this many hours of lifesaving support is a real bargain.

Unfortunately, much valuable information about volunteer time goes unrecorded and unreported. A hospice CFO told me that even though Medicare, a source of some of the hospice’s income, requires volunteer time to be tracked, he had to dig back to his 2004 audit to find any reference to volunteer hours. He found that volunteers provided a remarkable 12 percent of direct patient hours. The hospice is missing an opportunity to strengthen its financial reports and show the extent of community participation in its activities.

Why track volunteer time?

1. We volunteers appreciate appreciation. We count what we value, so tracking is recognition that volunteer time is important. Recognition is a good investment; it pays off spectacularly.

2. Funders and donors want to know what resources your nonprofit already receives and from whom. “Our funders see volunteer inputs as a measure of effectiveness,” says Donna Newton, director of the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium, a network of 140 community-based nonprofits in Guilford County, North Carolina. “Reporting volunteer contributions is essential in securing funding.”

3. Funders, donors and the community want to know if you have the people in place to get the job done well. “This becomes a real problem when the nonprofit attempts to cost a program,” according to Kevin Gray, a program officer with the Weaver Foundation in Greensboro, North Carolina. “Too often volunteer inputs are not factored in properly, giving a false sense of the true cost.”

4. Volunteer time can help you meet requirements for matching funds. Certain grants stipulate that the nonprofit must match a percentage of grant funds and that the value of volunteer time may qualify toward satisfaction of the match requirement.

5. Documenting volunteer time can help protect volunteers and the nonprofit. Requiring volunteers to log activity creates a record that may become important evidence in defending the nonprofit or volunteers from allegations of misconduct. Blue Avocado contributor Pamela Davis of Nonprofits’ Insurance Alliance of California and ANI-RRG, the country’s leading policyholder-controlled insurers of nonprofits, shared this real life example:

While enjoying hors d’oeuvres at a special event, a guest was injured from slipping on a piece of cheese. The nonprofit had a safety policy that required volunteers to scan for such dangers, record arrival and departure times and the times they did safety reviews. “From this it was easy to show that the nonprofit was not liable for failing to maintain a safe environment,” Pamela said. “It had taken very appropriate steps and was completely absolved of liability.”

Can we include volunteer service in our financial statements?

Yes. You can certainly include them as notes to internal statements, for internal budgets and for many financial reports. But to include volunteer service in compilations, reviews and audits prepared by a certified public accountant, you must follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). GAAP specifies rules for two situations. (See Statement of Financial Accounting Standards [SFAS] N0. 116., recently redesignated as ASC Section 958-605-25-16 as part of the accounting standards codification)

The first situation that qualifies volunteer time for inclusion in external (audited or compiled) financial statements: the volunteer time creates or improves a nonfinancial asset, that is, property other than money or investments such as stocks. A common example is the construction of a facility with a volunteer workforce, regardless of whether skilled or unskilled labor is involved.

The second situation: Volunteer contributions must be recognized if they:

  • Require special skills
  • Are performed by persons possessing such skills
  • Would typically need to be purchased if not provided by donation

Among such services, according to SFAS 116, are those of “accountants, architects, carpenters, doctors, electricians, lawyers, nurses, plumbers, teachers, and other professionals and craftsmen.”

What financial value to  give to volunteer time?

For volunteer service involving specialized skills, it is appropriate to value the services at the vendor’s customary charge. For example, if you bring in a board trainer who charges $150 per hour, this would be the appropriate hourly rate for valuing a pro bono session.

In some situations you will be able to obtain this information from the pro bono donor or from a similar business. In other instances you may need to estimate. Resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) website can help.

In the case of services that do not involve specialized skills, including much of the volunteer help nonprofits receive with program activities, office tasks, or special events, a composite hourly rate may be a reasonable indicator for estimating the value of services reported in annual reports, newsletters, and grant proposals. The nonprofit association Independent Sector provides national and state rates, updated annually from BLS data. The most recent national figure is $20.85, which includes a 12 percent estimate for fringe benefit costs.

The following examples help illustrate these rules:

  • Sandra, a real estate attorney with a $300/hour billing rate, donated legal services by representing you in the purchase of land for a new office. Since these legal services are of a specific and substantive nature, they are required to be included in the financial statements, valued at $300/hour.
  • On the other hand, in her role as a board member, Sandra provides routine guidance on legal issues of a general nature. Because such legal advice would probably not have been purchased if Sandra were not available, they cannot be recognized in the financial statements.
  • Sandra donated eight hours helping paint your new office building. Because her services help create or enhance a nonfinancial asset, the value is required to be recognized even though this does not involve a specialized skill.
  • Sandra also donates five hours per week delivering meals to program recipients. Although such service would typically have to be purchased in the absence of volunteers, it does not meet the specialized skills requirement and cannot be included in the audit financial statements. However, this donation can be reported as supplemental information in the financial statement footnotes.

How can we easily document volunteer time?

One of the best ways to ensure that volunteer effort doesn’t go unrecognized is to record donated service at the time it is performed. By doing so you capture volunteer contributions for financial reports, lessen the likelihood that volunteer effort falls through the cracks unnoticed, and help identify and objectively rank volunteer service deserving of special recognition. In addition, you may be better able to budget paid staffing and service outsourcing needs with the aid of such summarized information.

Here’s a sample volunteer tracking form covering a one-month period, adapted from the former North Carolina Office of State Auditor/Nonprofits. Here’s an alternative time log from Mig Murphy Sistrom, a nonprofit accounting consultant in Durham, North Carolina. Useful when volunteers donate time to more than one activity, it covers a one-week period.

So what does this look like in the financial statements?

Hometown Hospice Care (name changed) is a community nonprofit providing services regardless of patient ability to pay. The attached financial statements excerpts here illustrate the improved reporting of the agency’s activities by including qualifying volunteer services in its Statement of Activities, and in addition, non-qualifying services in the footnotes.  As you can see, the improved statements show the full scope of the organization’s donations and its contributions to the community, and increase the percentage of expenses that are for program (rather than for management or fundraising).

Can volunteers deduct their time from their taxes?

No. But while your volunteers cannot take a tax deduction for the value of their time, be sure to inform them that out-of-pocket, documented expenses may be deductible on their individual tax returns. Volunteers may deduct the direct costs of operating their vehicles or the standard charitable mileage rate of 14 cents per mile as well as some other expenses. Volunteers should consult their tax advisor or refer to IRS Publication 526, Charitable Contributions.

What would our nonprofit sector look like without dedicated volunteers? Many community-based nonprofits would soon disappear in a vacuum of human capital. Don’t let this force go unrecognized!

We are pleased that a version of this article is being simultaneously published by Philanthropy Journal, an online publication with national and international news on fundraising, giving and more.

About the Author

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Dennis Walsh, CPA, volunteers his post-retirement time helping North Carolina nonprofits with accounting concerns, work for which he recently received the Community Service Award from the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium. He shares his expertise nationally with nonprofits through Blue Avocado. Through the Deborah and Dennis Walsh Foundation, he has also published “Legal & Tax Issues for North Carolina Nonprofits” and Man From Macedonia, a memoir by civil rights leader Aaron Johnson. Dennis also authored the Blue Avocado article Nonprofit Bookkeeping Test, which is one of the ten most viewed Blue Avocado articles of all time. Dennis can be reached through the Micah Project. A version of this article was published by the Planned Giving Design Center.

Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.

62 thoughts on “Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide

  1. Thanks for this comprehensive summary of the advantages to tracking volunteer time. This article was of particular interest to me, since I’m the co-founder of, an online time and expense tracking service. We’ve heard from many nonprofits who use our service to track both employee and volunteer time for some of the very reasons you’ve outlined.
    LiveTimer is an automated, accurate and affordable alternative to tracking time in spreadsheets or paper logs. If anyone’s interested, we offer a free 30 day trial, as well as a 50% discount to qualified nonprofits, which brings the cost of our service down to $2.50 per user per month. We’d love to be able to help more nonprofits keep track of their time!
    Dan Gebhardt

  2. This is so timely. I have a presentation to our Board tomorrow night on this subject and this article helps to clarify what is meant in Standard #116.
    Very well written and complete.

  3. An interesting article.
    I agree that it is important to be able to track volunteer contribution to the nonprofit organization. A cautionary note is that it is a slippery slope if we are not vigilant to ensure that we do not indicate that the value of one volunteer position is greater than another to the organization. All volunteers, if they are successfully fulfilling the tasks of their volunteer position are contributing 100% to the organization. It would be a shame to replicate the hierarchy of positions that are a part of the paid workforce when there is an opportunity to embrace equity, the rich experience and diverse skills that volunteers contribute to our organizations.
    Deborah Gardner, Executive Director, Volunteer Toronto1

  4. Dennis – great synopsis of this topic and timely, as I was able to incorporate your article into my nonprofit HRM class. I see only one limitation in your piece: the Independent Sector’s method for valuing volunteer time as an average non-agricultural wage is increasingly out-of-date. Its limitations (irrelevancy in some contexts) and the better alternatives should always be discussed.
    There are more sophisticated and not terribly onerous "wage replacement" valuation methods (see for example the Karn method). Some organizations (Habitat for Humanity comes to mind) will also find it useful to invest in even more complicated methods for estimating and valuing the real impact that a volunteer has on an organization’s bottom line (calculating not only the hours/inputs but also outputs of charitable gifts, program improvements and client outcomes).
    Although the IS method was a great contribution in its time, there is no legal requirement to use it, and organizations now have a much wider range of choices.
    Beth Gazley
    Indiana University-Bloomington

  5. I am a little confused about Sandra’s volunteer time accounting. Certainly she can be credited for $150/hr when acting as a real estate attorney and nothing when giving advice while attending a board meeting as a member of the board. However, it seems to me, while volunteering her myriad of skills as a painter or as a food delivery driver (neither requiring the specialized skills of a real estate attorney) shouldn’t her time be accounted for at the $19.51/hr rate in both cases?

    1. Larry,

      In the case of Sandra’s painting services, since this adds to the value of a non-financial asset, the fair value of her time would indeed be included in the cost of the finished asset. Under the accounting rules this can be accomplished in either of two ways.

      You can value her time based on one of the rates from the Independent Sector or from more specific occupational and regional wage data supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or any other reasonable and objective indicator of fair value. As Beth Gazley articulates below, the Independent Sector rates are based on very wide averages and are inherently imperfect, but can be a reasonable indicator in some situations. You need to choose a fair value measurement that is reasonable and best approximates the value of the contribution.

      An alternate method authorized by SFAS No. 116 is to impute the fair value of volunteer effort contributed to the project in a single calculation by subtracting the out of pocket costs (e.g. materials, contract labor, etc.) from the finished fair value of the asset as determined by appraisal or a builder’s estimate. The difference is recognized as donated services revenue and included in the cost of the finished asset.

      As for Sandra’s time delivering meals, since this service does not meet the specialized skills requirement it cannot be recorded as revenue and program expense in the statement of activities. However, this is important data that can be valued and included as supplemental information in the financial statement footnotes along with the other volunteer service data that is required by GAAP. Again, the objective is to measure fair value of the contributed services and the Independent Sector national or state hourly rate may or may not be relevant.

      Dennis Walsh

  6. I will be able to show our newly formed board the importance of tracking their volunteer hours. They are reluctant to do so at this time. They do not see the importance.

      1. Yes, Maria, the sample forms are intended to be used as a template to create your own forms. Any forms developed from this sample should be reviewed by an attorney who knows the specific purpose for which the form may be used.

  7. Thank you so much for this insightful article. We love our volunteers – they allow us to serve more people more deeply. It’s good to know how to put their hard earned hours and our data tracking to good use with funders and our financial statements.
    Lisa Miller

  8. We currently have a federal grant that requires a 100% match. Two-thirds of our match is the value of our volunteer time. We value the volunteer time using the Independent Sector rate. Individually valuing volunteer efforts just get ridiculous when you have a large number of volunteers. We’ve also found far greater public acceptance of the value of volunteer labor when we use IS numbers.
    I work with over 100 non-profit organizations and I have found that when Board members consider themselves volunteers (and are recognized as such) there is a far greater appreciation of volunteers throughout the organization. I’m going to send an email to all my partners urging them to read this article.
    Susan Peacock Reehl, Program Director
    WestArk RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program)
    401 North 13th Street, Fort Smith, AR 72901
    Office: 479-783-4155 Fax: 479-782-2269

    1. These are great points, Susan, and thanks for posting them. I especially agree with the point that board members are volunteers, and it’s odd that so many of them are encouraged to think of themselves as something other than volunteers. Thanks again for your comment! Jan

  9. A lot of work was done on this in Canada by Jack Quarter, who happens to be a member of the research network of the National Center on Nonprofit Enterprise, Laurie Mook and B.J. Richmond for their 2003 book ‘What Counts: Social Accounting for Nonprofits and Cooperatives.’ There’s a 2007 second edition of this, a Volunteer Value Added website and VolunteersCount online software. Go to:
    Richard Brewster

  10. In response to Jan Masaoka’s comment here that "so many of them (board members) are encouraged to think of themselves as something other than volunteers"– I truly believe that this is because for many,  the word "volunteer" conjures up  media-fed images of volunteers as envelope stuffers, fundraising Walk marchers,   Celebrity soup-kitchen helpers…  tasks that don’t necessarily require a lot in the way of  professional background or longterm commitment, as does that of a board member.  Nonprofits don’t  consistently treat the class of people known as Volunteers especially well, either.   But that’s a whole ‘nuther story. 

  11. Wow! First off, great article! Lots of good take aways. Thanks. Secondly, as far as “Boosting Your Bottom Line” with volunteers, here’s a link to a short video on how to help volunteers make the ask. The video features two women, Amy White and Meghan Wagner. Both are from the YMCA in Seattle. Here’s the link:

    Christopher Davenport

  12. Great article! I’d like to recommend two other resources:
    Calculating The Economic Impact Of Volunteers. The Economic Impact Of Volunteers Calculator created by the Points of Light Foundation estimates the appropriate wage rate for volunteer time based on what the person does, the value of specific tasks according to market conditions as reported by the US Department of Labor. Organizations can use the Calculator to determine the value of the time their volunteers give doing a wide variety of volunteer jobs.
    Sample Volunteer Job Descriptions. The Community Services Council of Newfoundland and Labrador has created an excellent resource for the development of volunteer job descriptions. Go to: To view a variety of sample volunteer job descriptions, go to: Then to create volunteer job descriptions, there is an interactive template. To view your job descriptions online, print them or email them, go to:
    Frank Martinelli
    The Center for Public Skills Training

    1. Anyone know what happened to Point of Light’s calculator. I cannot find it at their website anymore

      1. I can’t find it either and I use it every month for a mandatory report. Have you run across any others? I need one!!

        1. This appears to be a working link to the calculator:

    2. The Community Services Council of Newfoundland and Labrador is now the Community Sector Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. Along with the name change, the website has undergone some changes as well. The information about volunteer job descriptions and templates can be found here: I hope the readers of Blue Avocado will find this information to be useful. This site has a wealth of useful articles and I look forward to reading more.

  13. OrgSync – a 2.0 communication, collaboration and administration hosted solution originally developed for the Higher Education Market is now available for non-profits and faith-based organizations.
    The solution allows individuals and the overseeing "volunteer manager" to enter, approve and measure volunteer time, course completion, and much more.
    To receive a web-demonstration visit or contact:
    Greg Troxell
    WIA –

      1. If someone promotes a legitimate product or service that’s related to the article or thread, we allow it . . . but thanks for asking!

  14. Thanks so much for the fantastic article. Its really helping our organization shape our policies regarding this. There’s just one question that I have left regarding budgets in grant proposals.
    Is the valuation of the unskilled volunteer time counted in the budget, or does it have to be a footnote like it is in the financial report template that you gave? Do you (or any of the readers) have a template that shows how such a proposal would look like?
    Thanks again!
    Greg Freedman

  15. Can you please give me clarity on the way that paid staff can record time volunteered.
    Thank you
    Carmel Somers
    Valley Family Center

    1. You could try using OurVolts, which is an online time tracking tool for nonprofits, grassroots organizations, etc.

  16. We are a non-for profit youth sports association and rely on volunteers for coaching and other activities, this article certainly clarifies some of the questions I had related to the resource accounting, however we also rely on sponsorship monies to fund scholarships and to keep fees down. The Board is considering to pay commission as a % of sponsorship monies brought in (Pay in kind). what are the tax implications, to the association? to the “volunteer”?
    Thank you

  17. As a start-up AVO organization where the board functions also as the staff, we do everything from clean buildings to social media to writing proposals and grants. We haven’t been tracking but will now. We hope this info will help us in pursuit of funding, hopefully all of our volunteer hours and time spent will be helpful in more ways than one.

  18. I have an individual who received a Ed & Culture Grant to work on an important project in S. America…it is part of a long-standing PoA and Chapter Project. In completing his Travel Report, it asks to include Volunteer Hours for which he was not compensated. This individual was allowed to make the required 10 day visit to the country on “company time” and thus was “compensated” to a degree. But the time spent on this project took away from his work activities at his home base and it was a project of high value to the Chapter and PoA. He also spend many evenings at home preparing for this project…some parts of which he had to completed “at work” owing to the interaction of the project and his work. Can he not record the 8 hours/day he spent for the 8 days he was actually working on the project (not including weekend which was not a “work time”). I believe this is an important question as it shows the value of the Ed-Culture Program and a broad committment to PoA. He did not HAVE to make this visit , his employeer was not required to give him “time” to do the project: his time was “volunteered” by him and his employer to the Chapter and to PoA. Now what?

  19. Great article. Volunteers should be recognized and be appreciated because they render services without any remuneration. Kudos to Dennis Walsh for providing the accounting guide –

  20. Interesting info – But while your volunteers cannot take a tax deduction for the value of their time, be sure to inform them that out-of-pocket, documented expenses may be deductible on their individual tax returns. – didn’t know that, thanks will make good use of your input 🙂


  21. Are there any formal policies or protocols for inclusion of travel time folded into or counted as volunteer time? Differentiating volunteer time including travel to/from the organization to volunteer on-site or sign-in vs. travel to/from tasks off-site for the organization (delivering goods, meals, people, serving families, attending meetings, etc.) vs. travel to/from training and other mandatory/non-mandatory events for the organization?

  22. Are there any formal policies or protocols for inclusion of travel time folded into or counted as volunteer time? Differentiating volunteer time including travel to/from the organization to volunteer on-site or sign-in vs. travel to/from tasks off-site for the organization (delivering goods, meals, people, serving families, attending meetings, etc.) vs. travel to/from training and other mandatory/non-mandatory events for the organization?

  23. Interesting post. It's really too bad that volunteers can't deduct for the value of their time up here in Canada. Good, kind-hearted people who give up their time get little to no recognition from the Gov't while the rich make themselves "look good" and get huge tax deductions by giving away money they have no use for. Oh well. I guess being able to deduct expenses is something. – Grace

  24. hello!! Very interesting discussion glad that I came across such informative post. Keep up the good work friend. Glad to be part of your net community.

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  29. For volunteer tracking, check out Full disclosure, I’m the COO but we’ve created a volunteer recruitment and management platform that eliminates data entry and creates seamless analytics tools to fully track and manage volunteers. Not only do we automated volunteer registration and check-ins, but we also track hours and translate that into $$ values. We also provide full background check services.

    Shoot me an email at if you have any questions. Our goal is to free up as much administrative time and overhead as possible so that you can drive your organization’s mission forward.


  30. My workplace likes to invite employees to volunteer on projects every now and again, and being able to track that would be great. I’m planning to talk to my boss about setting up an online volunteer coordinating sheet so that we can better keep track of things, and you make a great argument for that in saying that it can be used both to defend nonprofit we volunteer for from legal allegations, should they arise. Being able to include the hours in the company’s tax deductions would be great as well.

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