Calculating match, how much to value volunteers contributing to project?

I am trying to figure out how to value the work of volunteers in contributing observations to a project.

Has anyone here used volunteers contribution to a project to calculate match for funding? Our project has about 2800 observations. While there is no way to know for sure how many hours of work this equates to I’m wondering if any one has given this thought?

In your experience, how many observations/hour is a reasonable heuristic to measure the value?

Or conversely, if you hired a team to make observations for a project what did their observation/per hour pay scale work out to?

I think it depends on what they need to observe, difficult taxa would be much harder to sample/observe than easy ones, so payment should be drastically different.


Great point. I should point out that these observations are the usual iNat observations: wild and natural instead of cultivated or captive. No special travel required.

I think this might be a case to use a commercial rate, if you can find one. e.g. $100/hour for identification by contractors, or at least $25/hour. (In the U.S.)

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Good point. I should clarify that a value for volunteer time is set by Independent Sector ( . This is a research based figure and one that is accepted by every granting agency, including the federal government, that I am aware of.

Since I have not asked the volunteers to track their time, I am trying to do a back-of-envelope figuring of how many observations equate to an hour’s worth of work. I’m wondering if I should say 25 observations = 1 hour of work, based on this guidance from iNaturalist (

Generally, you need some sort of authoritative documentation of match, otherwise people have a tendency to wildly over value their work. If iNat says it takes a “few hours to reach the 50 verifiable observation threshold” I think that would be an acceptable rationale for most funders.

I’m still interested in thoughts or in put.


With the iNat app, I can complete the process for a verifiable observation in 2-4 minutes, depending on strength of cell service. If you expect more field notes/tags/annotations and following up on ID suggestions/discussions after uploaded, I would lower it to 10-15 per hour.

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One approach to this I’ve considered is to look at time for each volunteer between first and last observation that day. Summed across volunteers and days, this gives a minimum estimate on field time contributed. I would then double that, as it takes extra time to make the field time into usable observations.


I guess another thing to take into consideration is the value of equipment used. I know that many use personal phones but others, like me, use DSLR cameras which, with their lenses, would run into thousands of dollars.

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i think 5 min per observation is a good general estimate. if folks are going for speed, i’m sure 5 observations per min is possible. but i’m equally sure that it could take an hour more to make a good observation in some cases.


When logging my iNat time as volunteer hours, I estimate 4 minutes per observation. Pretty sure it is an underestimate usually. I calculated that based on the average of two bioblitzes where I could easily see how much time I was out there and how many observations I produced. I use a camera and choose the best when I get home, then edit and crop before uploading, then usually at least try to ID things to family or genus. I include that time in the 4 minutes estimate.

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I like @dlevitis’ suggestion, which helps take into account time LOOKING for the next good observation, as well as time spent consulting references in the field. You wouldn’t have to do the calculation of hours-spent for every volunteer every day, just enough of a sample to work up a general statistic. This still doesn’t count time spent at home checking IDs (which for me typically is longer than the field time), but if you think they have spent time this way you can pad the estimate as @dlevitis suggests. (I actually report these at-home hours for the group that asks me to submit hours.) Once you have hours figured, apply a standard rate for match.

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you might like to read this:
you can " Access Volunteer Hours By State and Territory"

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