How Nonprofits Can Turn 25% into 62%

boy holding butterfly in his hand

Getty Images by Dina Marie

If you haven’t spent time exploring the latest “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” report, released by the Corporation for National and Community Service and National Conference on Citizenship, you should – it’s pretty fun.

You can see statistics about volunteering rates in 2013 based on geography, demographics, and even cause area. How does your state or city rank vs. some of the most active volunteering areas in the country? How is the new “Generation Z” starting to emerge when it comes to volunteering? There are even pretty graphs and charts to help ease your way through all that data.

Some of the statistics might not seem so fun, though. For example, it’s great that 62.6 million Americans reported volunteering in 2013, but when you do the math…that’s only about 25%. Not necessarily encouraging for us as nonprofits, who always seem to be looking for more folks to help out, right?

VolunteerMatch president Greg Baldwin recently took a deep dive into this stat, so we won’t spend a ton of time worrying about it. Instead, let’s take a look at another one: more than 138 million Americans engaged in what the report calls “informal volunteering” in 2013.

Huh? What is this…informal volunteering? The report explains that it includes helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting. Basically, these folks spent at least a bit of time, every once in a while, doing something for someone else.

Well, we can work with that!

You see, this number is proof, for those nay-sayers who might be wringing their hands and lamenting the low volunteering rate, that people WANT to help out. They help each other all the time! So why aren’t they turning those altruistic urges into volunteer time for your nonprofit?

What we’ve realized at VolunteerMatch, from our many, many years working in the volunteering field, is that the limiting factor in the volunteer rate is NOT the amount of people willing to help out. It’s the ability of nonprofits to engage those folks effectively. (That’s why, in the rippling wake of this past recession, we’re now seeing a drop in volunteer rate. Nonprofits are feeling the squeeze, and it has impacted their ability to build strong volunteer programs.)

If you’re frustrated by an inability to engage volunteers as efficiently (and as often) as you wish, start with these two important steps:

1. Ask them. A lot of them.

People are busy, and the world is a noisy place these days. You have to cast your net pretty wide and shout pretty loudly to be noticed. Websites like VolunteerMatch can help you reach many more potential volunteers with your opportunities, so go ahead and spend 5 minutes posting a listing right now.

2. Learn what to do with them.

Chances are, you didn’t go to school for volunteer management – and that’s just fine! There are a number of great resources to help you learn on the job, so your program can be stronger at attracting, managing and keeping great volunteers. Check out the free webinars in the VolunteerMatch Learning Center.

Don’t be discouraged by some of the data you’re seeing about volunteering. Instead, be inspired! And know that whatever the numbers say, you can count on VolunteerMatch to be there to help you engage the volunteers you really need for your nonprofit.

How does your organization encourage your community members to move from “informal” to “formal” volunteering?

The Real Reason 75% of Americans Don’t Volunteer

Raising hands to volunteer.Our country takes great pride in the role volunteering has played in our history. We believe that volunteers are virtuous, kind and essential to the health of our society. It is why the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, for instance, is celebrated as a national Day of Service. We are a country that loves volunteering.

 

We are also a country where three out of four people don’t do it.

According to the Corporation for National & Community Service 62.6 million Americans volunteered in 2013. That is about 25% of the adult population, and if you happen to be keeping score, the lowest rate in a decade. Yes, you can view this as a glass 1/4 full. But given how important volunteering is, I’m not alone in thinking, “We can do better.”

Click here to read Greg’s full article about why the majority of Americans don’t volunteer. It will probably surprise you. It will definitely inspire you.

Expert Snapshots for January: Starting 2015 Off Right

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s a round-up of some news to keep you inspired for the year ahead…

What Did You and Volunteers Do Well This Year?

The first step in planning a stellar 2015 is to reflect on the successes and failures of 2014. Be honest, be merciless, learn from your mistakes, celebrate how awesome your were, then move on. To help your process, Susan Ellis of Energize, Inc. provides a bunch of great questions to ask yourself related to your work as a leader of volunteers, as a volunteer program generally, and more.

Why you *don’t* have to keep up with everything in #nptech

Yesenia Sotelo, a nonprofit website expert, lays out this cold, hard truth: it’s impossible to keep up with everything going on in the nonprofit digital space. Instead, identify the 3-4 things that are most important for your work, and that are most immediately actionable. Follow those things. She provides examples from her own arsenal to help make her point.

Case Study: Get Involved: Powered by Your Library

An amazing story published recently by Reimagining Service chronicles the work of California State Library to engage constituents on a deeper level via volunteering, and the partnership with VolunteerMatch that made it possible. It’s as inspiring as it is practical.

Mark Your Calendars! 2015 Cause Awareness Days

Cause awareness days can be a powerful engagement tool, as you can tap into the buzz already happening to get people excited about your organization’s work. Nonprofit Tech for Good lists the biggest and best coming in 2015 to help you plan ahead, strategically.

Bonus: 2015 Editorial Calendar from Lightbox Collaborative

Speaking of planning ahead, we couldn’t NOT include this amazing resource: a fully-formed editorial calendar from Lightbox Collaborative that you can download for free and customize for your organization’s communications needs. This is a great template for building a robust, effective communications calendar to help your organization really step it up in 2015.

Expert Snapshots for December – International Volunteer Day Edition!

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. And since today is International Volunteer Day, here’s a round-up of some news to keep you inspired…

In pictures: International Volunteering Day

This slideshow published by the BBC features an inspiring collection of photos highlighting local volunteers in developing countries. Putting faces and places to the abstract ideas of international development work can inspire us all to “make change happen.”

Volunteering in the ‘red zone’ of West Africa’s Ebola crisis

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has identified a special focus for this year’s International Volunteer Day on the ongoing Ebola crisis in West Africa. This article in the International Business Times some of the work that’s going on and the organizations on the ground (and their volunteers) making it happen.

Community Service Volunteers Tackle Billion Dollar Burnout Crisis

Volunteering can be exhausting – physically, mentally and emotionally. Expert Dr. ck Andrade is spending her International Volunteer Day (in partnership with organizations like VolunteerMatch), educating nonprofits and volunteers about how to prevent stress and burnout.

Make change happen, volunteer!

For more inspiring stories about all the great stuff happening today and every day around the world, check out the International Volunteer Day website.

 

Expert Snapshots for November

Expert SnapshotsAt VolunteerMatch we learn so much from other experts in the field of volunteer engagement and management, and we want to help you stay up to date on the latest news and trends. Here’s just a snapshot to get you started…

Five things I’d like to say about calculating the economic value of volunteering

There’s no question that the practice of assigning a monetary value to volunteer time is controversial. Many organizations find that it’s a useful way to measure impact – in fact, VolunteerMatch calculates social value using Independent Sector’s annual estimate of the value of volunteer time – but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect system. In this article, Rob Jackson presents some important considerations for us all when applying economics to volunteering.

Four Elements to Successfully Manage Volunteers

Volunteers are always first to think of themselves last – especially event volunteers. By treating your volunteers right, you’ll have a more dedicated and productive team that can accomplish just about anything you place in their path. Check out these four tips on the Event360 blog.

Adding Mission to Your Volunteering: Webinar Presentation & Video

This first installment of a new webinar series from Wild Apricot focuses on dispelling myths about volunteering, and providing us with ideas and strategies for attracting a diverse range of volunteers who are passionate about getting stuff done and helping our organizations. You can access the summary article, the presentation slide deck and the full recorded video.

When someone says they don’t see what’s wrong with saying we “use” volunteers

And now for a bit of [snarky] fun from our friend over at VM Snark: this animated gif illustrates the importance of words (something we very recently addressed), and how your word choices could offend the very people we’re trying to engage and honor.Think about it!

A snarky image from VM Snark