Neil Tambe

Husband, Father, Citizen, Professional.

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

The Time Problem - Part 2 (Observations)


A few weeks ago, I started a post investigating some data I pulled from the American Time Use Survey and some other sources. At the time, I just laid out the context. Before I lay out some observations, I'd like to qualify this post (even though it weakens the persuasiveness of this post) by offering that this is pretty back of the envelope data. Despite that, however, it's still interesting and does have some explanatory power.

Anyway, here are some observations. Here's the data. Apologies that my write up is pretty fast.


For this post, I set out to try to understand what the deal is with people's time and why it seems like everyone is short of it. Time, it seems, is a critical resource in making communities stronger and in my real-life observation...everyone seems over committed.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to access data about time use that precedes 2003. This is limiting, but I was able to find a study with an abstract suggesting that Americans' time use hasn't changed that much over the past several decades.

As far as volunteering time goes, it's increased modestly (about 11%) from 2003 to 2011. At the same time, volunteering seems counter-cyclical to the economy - when the economy is under stress, volunteering time seems to increase. Similarly, average volunteer hours per capita increased about 8% from 2003 to 2001 - from 51.1 hours per year to 55.1 hours per year. So overall, volunteer hours have increased a bit, but that figure could be tied to the country's economic health. Also, this data cuts across the entire population and there could be huge disparities between different demographic groups (e.g., employed vs. unemployed, old vs. young, etc.).

Before this next part, note that US GDP increased 35% from 2003-2011 and the US population increased 7% from 2003 to 2011.

While the US GDP grew 35%, reported revenue of all not-for-profits (as reported on form 990s) clearly outpaced US GDP growth and increased 62% from 2003 to 2011. I wonder if these revenues are driven by government grants or donations from private citizens, I couldn't find the data.

The number of not-for-profit organization also increased during that period - overall, there were 15% more not-for-profits in 2001 than 2003 and there was a 99% increase in the number of not-for-profits with revenues less than $100,000. Controlling for population, not-for-profit revenue per capita increased 51% and revenues per not-for-profit increased 41% from 2003 to 2011.

Here's one more stat. The total number of hours volunteered by Americans divided by the number of not-for-profits in the US has be surprisingly stagnant. It's only increased by 1% from 2003 to 2011.


I think it's pretty strange that revenues have exploded in the sector and so have organizations, but, Americans use of time hasn't really change that much. Moreover, it seems that if the sector doesn't have a reputation for impact (which obviously varies from organization to organization)...why aren't our volunteer hours per organization focusing more...why aren't we trying to improve the organizations we already have?

It almost seems like volunteering is supply-driven, rather than demand driven, which is to say it's dictated by the number for not-for-profits that exist, rather than by the amount that citizens want to volunteer. Which is wild. Wouldn't we want growth in the sector to be mirrored by organizations increasing their brand profile to the point where more people want to spend more time volunteering for the same number of organizations? Especially because the value of a volunteer per year (assuming an average of 50 hours volunteered per year and a $10/hr value of time) is about $500.

If you look at the average hours volunteer per not-for-profit divided the average volunteer hours per person, the amount of people volunteering with each not-for-profit is about 200. Combining this with the value of an individual volunteer (which is conservative because $10 isn't even close to the hourly rate of a skills-based volunteer) shows that volunteers are big boons to any organization.

Anyway, this data could be useful when determining some baselines for determining whether an organization is paying too much to manage a volunteer (given their value).

Overall, I don't know that this really gets at the time problem, save for saying that not-for-profits haven't really improved (at the macro level) in engaging volunteers. ROA for volunteers (which is the amount of hours divided by assets, which in this case I'd say is the number of not-for-profits) is stagnant. It's declining if you look at assets as NFP revenues. Improving this volunteer ROA could yield huge benefits for not-for-profit organizations, that could actually be measured financially.


What do y'all think? Why have revenues exploded whereas volunteer hours haven't? Are volunteer hours even important?

That's actually a very relevant question - does it matter if volunteer hours aren't growing as fast as revenue? My intuition says that buying social sector activity is probably a bad thing (because the social capital created by connections and engagement probably has immeasurable benefits).

Any other datasets which would be good to mash up?