Small-Scale Volunteering with Large-Scale Impact

A special post for World Give Day.

Volunteers are the skeleton of your organizationImagine for just a minute that your nonprofit is like a living, breathing human body. With each step the body takes, you come closer to fulfilling your mission.

There are thousands of factors involved in making this body work. But the structure, the skeleton of your organization, is formed by your volunteers. They determine the shape, strength and function of the body and how exactly you’ll accomplish your important work.

With so many bones to keep track of, most of us tend to forget about the small ones, like the individual vertebrae in our backbone. Unless they’re not working right, these parts are not constantly at the forefront of our awareness the way our arms and legs are – but there’s no doubt about their importance.

Your small-scale volunteers, the ones you only see occasionally, are like these small bones. They come in when asked, love your work, and really do help out, even if their contribution is measured in hours per month or year instead of hours per week. Some of us may not fully appreciate these volunteers until they’re gone or, well, not really working right.

So let’s take some time now to recognize these small bones in the skeleton of your organization. Maybe they just come in an hour or two per month. Maybe they join you for one day a year. But we all feel their impact, and our nonprofits depend on their help. They might be small, like individual vertebrae, but together they form the backbone of your organization.

Who Are They?

Depending on what your nonprofit does, these small-scale volunteers can take different forms. They might be virtual volunteers, or even microvolunteers, completing quick tasks remotely that eat away at your to-do list when you’re not looking.

They may be attendees at your annual event, or runners in your charity race devoting time to their personal fitness as they simultaneously help you raise money.

Whoever they are, there are a lot of them. According to the “Volunteering in America” report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service, in 2009 the average American volunteered 34.2 hours per year. This comes out to less than three hours per month.

Why Are They Important?

In addition to the large bursts of results these small-scale volunteers provide to your organization periodically, there are other ways in which they contribute to your work:

  • When fresh faces come in the door, it provides an infusion of energy for your staff and your more regular volunteers, reminding them of what an important and special thing they are doing.
  • Engaging small-scale volunteers allows your nonprofit to get your community involved in a more general way – instead of closing your doors to only those who are willing to make significant time commitments.
  • Finally, each of these small-scale volunteers has the potential to turn into a more committed volunteer or donor – if you recognize the value of the relationship you already have with them.

So take some time to appreciate and recognize the small-scale volunteers in your life.  Think about it like stretching – you’ll be able to feel how each individual piece of your backbone supports you and makes you stronger and more flexible.

This post is part of a blog series inspired by World Give Day and hosted by GiveForward.  To find other posts in this series please visit or follow the hashtag #giveday.