Is Volunteering in Decline?
It’s no secret: Donors are a nonprofit’s lifeline. But money isn’t the only thing worth giving—or getting. Yes, cash keeps the cause funded (and the office lights on), but the contributions of volunteers are worth their weight in gold. When volunteers give their time, they take an active role in the organization’s mission and pledge their support to the cause.
And, as it turns out, volunteers often become donors—the best of both worlds.
According to the annual “Volunteering and Civic Engagement in America” research from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC), those who volunteer are twice as likely to donate to charity than those who don’t. An impressive 78.9 percent of volunteers donated to charity in the last year, compared to 40.7 percent of non-volunteers.
Clearly, volunteers are valuable. But they aren’t always easy to come by.
The research, gathered to provide nonprofit and government leaders with information on volunteering and civic trends in order to help them develop strategies to get more Americans involved in volunteering, puts 2014’s volunteer rate at 25.3 percent.
That is the lowest rate reported since the annual research began in 2002.
The highest rate came in 2003, 2004 and 2005: 28.8 percent.
To put it in context of the surrounding years, 2014’s rate is down just 0.1 percent from 2013. But 2013 was down 1.1 percent from 2012. So, do you see the glass half full or half empty? Are volunteer rates stabilizing or on the precipice of a downward trend?
Time will tell, but nonprofits still have 25.3 percent of Americans—one in four—to try to get engaged in their organizations.
The 25.3 percent translates into 62.8 million Americans who volunteered with organizations for 7.9 billion hours in 2014. Based on the Independent Sector’s estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour ($23.07), those 7.9 billion hours are valued at nearly $184 billion.
The data also provides insight into how, where and whom to seek for your volunteer base.
The two activities that nabbed the highest percentage of volunteers were fundraising (24.7 percent), and collecting and distributing food (24.2 percent). Other activities that garnered double-digit interest include general labor, tutoring/teaching, mentoring youth, collecting and distributing clothing, and office services.
Certain states may have a leg up on the volunteer game. Utah boasts the highest volunteer rate for 2014 with 46 percent, while Idaho (35.8 percent), Wisconsin (35.4 percent), Minnesota (35.3 percent) and Kansas (35.1 percent) round out the top five.
Likewise, certain types of organizations tend to attract more volunteers. Religious organizations had the highest rate of volunteers with 34 percent, with educational organizations (26 percent), social service (14.8 percent) and health (7.7 percent) as other popular arenas.
Generation X had the highest volunteer rate—29.4 percent—while only 21.7 percent of Millennials volunteered. Given the growing belief that Millennials are more likely to get involved actively in charity than their parents, this statistic is worthy of attention. Will we see a rise in Millennial volunteers next year? Or will we discover another nuance of the generation?
Baby Boomers remain active with a 27.2 percent volunteer rate, and while Older Adults reported a 24 percent volunteer rate, they took the top spot for the median hours volunteered: 90.
And, women win this battle of the sexes. In 2014, 28.8 percent of women volunteered compared to 22.5 percent of men. But parents, overall, are the real champions with 32.7 percent lending their time to organizations.
Getting volunteers is one challenge, retaining them is another—and it’s a key step in increasing the volunteer rate year-to-year.
As such, the CNCS and the NCoC provided a number of suggestions on retaining volunteers. Tips include regularly communicating with volunteers, annually measuring their impact on the organization, recognizing their hard work through activities, training staff on how to work with them, and making sure their interests match the volunteer opportunities and responsibilities.
Whether it’s giving their time or their money, your organization’s supporters are essential to your mission. Work hard to ensure that while the gifts from your donors grow, your volunteer base continues to expand.
Nonprofits have the chance to keep the volunteer rate from entering a steeper decline. How will your organization contribute?