Friday, July 24, 2009

Volunteer Labor Equilibrium

A friend of mine recently interviewed for a non-paid volunteer position at an established relief organization. Apparently they had no positions open for a few months, but suggested she return at that time to try again.

I was blown away for two reasons. First, they must be quite ineffective at interviewing because they definitely do not know what kind of worker and person they turned down. Second, I was intrigued by the equilibrium that was apparently reached.

Marginal cost of the non-paid worker is 0. Well, maybe there are some training costs or other costs associated with account set up, HR work, etc. associated with new hires. So marginal cost is minimal. These means the return to marginal labor is also very low, there are non market influences (union like behavior by those in the paid positions protecting themselves) or the organization is not employing capital and labor optimally.

If the primary explanation is the first reason above, that is great news for humanity, at least in this region. There are so many volunteers that there is not enough capital to allow them to be productive. Any more volunteers will just be getting in the way at this point and reducing the overall output. How excellent would that be? Could you imagine meeting with the Bishop and hearing, "Sorry, we do not have anything you can do for about 2 months. Every single calling is booked." That would have to be an extremely light load for any one person. I think that would stink too. Reminds me of a BYU ward. "I just got my calling, I am the hymn book collection committee to pick up hymnals after meetings. We work closely with the hymn book distribution committee."

I suspect reason number two is the most likely primary reason, but number 3 is also a weaker factor as well.


  1. Couldn't get a job volunteering? Crazy.

    "Yeah Mom, I was just called to be on the HRC (hymnal retrieval committee)"

  2. Another possible reason would be that it may put a government, tax consumer employee out of work!

    In a BYU married ward, the calling would be CRC (Cheerio retrieval committee).