For nonprofits, volunteerism is the best thing since sliced bread, especially in these tough economic times. According to a recent report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, Americans spent a total of 8.1 billion hours volunteering in 2010. This increase was most significant among Generation X (people born between 1965 and 1981) as they devoted 2.3 billion hours to service last year. While one could argue that the economy has freed up a lot of time for people to lend to charitable causes, this may not necessarily be the case. In fact, the data from this report is consistent with generational patterns about the volunteer life cycle (i.e., volunteerism rates tend to be high during the teen years, drop significantly during early adulthood, recover as individuals pass through their the mid- to late twenties, and peak in middle age).
So what does this mean for YOUR nonprofit? Well, for one, this data affirms the altruistic value of most people. Oftentimes, it is not the pursuit of the almighty dollar (or even a fancy schmancy title) that gets folks to put in their best work to forward your organization’s cause. In a world where xenophobia and self-preservation reign supreme, volunteerism (like its play-cousin, philanthropy) is still a significant source of in-kind contributions for the nonprofit sector. But, the previous statement is only true when you effectively manage this free-will offering.
Below are some quick tips to consider in soliciting and stewarding volunteer support:
- Free ≠ cheap. While it’s true that you do not pay volunteers to work, this does not lessen the value that they bring to your organization. Having said that, be mindful of the way in which volunteers are organized within your company. If possible, consider hiring someone to recruit and manage your volunteer base or restructuring the responsibilities of your current staff to fill this need. Still have to tighten your purse string? Consider using social media (e.g., LinkedIn and craigconnects) to reach out to the volunteer community.
- Leverage impact. Strong community involvement is a great way to show potential funders and donors that your organization is worth supporting. And while reporting the number of volunteers that you have is a start, consider adding a financial value to their support as well. Case in point: Civic Grind. Launched in 2010, this social enterprise company was created to advance progressive growth in under-resourced communities throughout the Baltimore-Washington region through the civic-engagement of Gen X and Y African American professionals. In its first year, Civic Grind ran a blog post about a local nonprofit. One of its readers saw the article, reached out to the nonprofit’s executive director, and offered to write a grant proposal pro bono. Shortly after that, the executive director received news that their proposal was approved and they would be receiving a $50,000 grant! This story is a real-world example of the financial impact that volunteers can have.
- Steward well. Since volunteers ultimately add to your organization’s bottom-line, it is imperative that they are treated with respect among your staff and board. Have an annual fundraising gala? Consider dedicating a portion of this event to acknowledging the contributions of your volunteers. And don’t just wait until a public event to say “thank you”. Let your volunteers know you appreciate them all year long.
How have volunteers contributed to the success of your organization? What other advice would you offer on how to effectively translate their support in advancing your financial goals?