Why It’s Still Hard to Volunteer (and How Nonprofits Can Help)

This post was originally published on the New York Cares blog.

Guest post by Gary Bagley, New York Cares

New York Cares Volunteer Impact ProgramSince the report in February that volunteering numbers are down in the U.S., I have spent much of my time telling well-meaning people poised to make a call to service to please put down the bullhorn. A call to service is important, but a greater problem needs to be addressed first – improving the ability of nonprofits, schools, and community groups to engage volunteers strategically to drive impact.

At New York Cares, we think of volunteers as employees who get ‘paid’ with something other than money. That ‘something else’ may be different for each of us. Regardless, the same tenets that make for top-notch HR practices hold true for volunteer management. If a business mismanages its employees, it will lose them. New York Cares was founded in 1987, expressly because so many schools and nonprofits lack staff, money and know-how to involve volunteers effectively, if at all.

Our strategies are twofold:

  • We provide free volunteer management to our Community Partners, allowing them to outsource their volunteer needs to us, at no cost to them or their clients.We have fulltime staff who manage every program detail. They diagnose community partner needs, develop programs, create curricula, buy supplies, and recruit and train volunteers and volunteer leaders.
  • We also train Community Partners to grow programs by leveraging volunteers. In 2012, we launched our Volunteer Impact Program (VIP) to go beyond our outsourcing model. During the three-year pilot phase, we developed multi-year volunteer management plans with 15 Community Partners and provided ongoing training and staff support for achieving the goals. The results were dramatic. Our VIP participants from Year One had a 138% increase in the number of volunteer projects, compared to a 29% increase in non-participating Community Partners. We are committed to scaling up our VIP work by expanding to more nonprofits through a combination of training and consulting services with New York Cares. These VIP results reaffirm our belief that the question is not whether volunteers are willing and available, but rather, how to better prepare organizations to engage volunteers well.

By the way, the numbers may be down nationally, but this is not the case at New York Cares. We orient approximately 18,000 new volunteers annually, and this number is holding strong.

Thank you to all of New York Cares’ volunteers, current and future, who are committed to making NYC a better place to live for all New Yorkers.

Gary Bagley is Executive Director of New York Cares. He is responsible for more than tripling annual volunteer service delivery, filling more than 150,000 volunteer positions on 18,000 projects and serving over 1,300 nonprofit organizations and schools last year. If you would like to read more of his musings, go here or follow him on Twitter at @GBagley_NYCares.

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