Why Volunteers Are More Important Than Ever Before
The Salvation Army Indiana Division is like thousands of nonprofits at this time of year. It is gearing up for 2021's fourth quarter madness. The organization has a small staff of professionals that must depend on many volunteers of all ages to fully execute successful community programs. Examples of where The Salvation Army Indiana Division needs volunteers in the next five months include a capital campaign, Coats for Kids, Angel Tree Program, WIBC-FM Radiothon Event and Red Kettle Program. I am certain your organization is in the same boat.
In normal years, volunteers are a precious resource. Think about 2021, when more than 90% of volunteering in the United States virtually shut down in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to VolunteerMatch. The question is: Can you bring these volunteers back into the fold? This involvement will continue to be a combination of virtual and in-person volunteering.
An Independent Sector study found that volunteers are important to the foundation of civil society. They help their neighbors, their communities and provide expertise to others in need of their services. As of April 2021, the estimated national value of each volunteer hour was $28.54. For many nonprofits, these organizations save millions of dollars a year by having volunteers work in place of paid employees.
There are many statistics that show the importance of volunteerism. VolunteerHub cited these 10:
- One out of four Americans volunteer.
- Individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 are most likely to volunteer.
- Volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate.
- Volunteerism in the United States has an annual value of more than $184 billion.
- Volunteerism improves personal health and reduces stress in participants.
- 60% of hiring managers view volunteerism as an asset when making recruiting decisions.
- Volunteers, on average, spend 50 hours per year donating their time to the greater good.
- More than 71% of volunteers work with only one organization each year.
- There are more than 1.8 million active nonprofits in the United States with volunteer needs.
- Women currently volunteer more than men by 6%.
Galaxy Digital cited one volunteer trend is the use of technology to promote volunteerism. Apps and services are now being used to increase accessibility for volunteers and the nonprofits that use these tools. Another trend is the increased use of smartphones to make donations, register volunteers, show volunteer impact and communicate through email. The use of text messaging to engage volunteers continues to increase as well.
The dramatic use of social media is employed to educate and stimulate volunteer engagement. Video is the choice of nonprofits for marketing, fundraising and volunteer showcase campaigns. One area of shift for nonprofits is to focus on immediate community needs and telling stories that provide emotion and reality. Since many people continue to stay at home, virtual volunteerism opportunities must continue to exist. There must be a renewed focus to engage corporations and businesses to provide funds, talent and plenty of employees eager to follow a nonprofit's mission. Nonprofits act as community hubs and connect the private sector, donors, volunteers, stakeholders and decision-makers. In 2021 and beyond, organizations should have the tools to ensure relationships are recruited and maintained in a positive fashion.
According to Civic Champs, organized volunteering that dropped 93% has already rebounded by 50%. The mission of the organization, serving community needs and utilizing a specific skill are three of the biggest reasons people are volunteering today. On the contrary, government regulations, income concerns and fear of exposing others or being exposed to illness are keeping people from volunteering. Volunteers are expressing an interest in short-term assignments though, so use volunteering to engage your donors. Reassess your volunteer needs and capacity. Determine what has changed in your volunteer world and make appropriate adjustments to rebuild your volunteer program over time.
Tobi Johnson and Associates indicates the top volunteer trends for 2021 are continued investments into technology infrastructure for better productivity and data collection. Volunteer training, orientation and support will continue to be introduced online. Volunteers will be asked to become community advocates to seek government support for their nonprofit organizations. Organizations will be held accountable for greater volunteer diversity and equity. Volunteer talent will be given greater recognition as an organizational strategic asset as their value has grown dramatically in importance. A surge in pro-social human behavior will continue to shine a light on volunteer growth and development.
Volunteerism is continuously changing as the pandemic has transformed how organizations attract, engage and retain qualified volunteers, according to a Sterling Volunteers blog, reflecting on 2021. These individuals want more short-term projects and flexibility. Volunteers like technology and virtual opportunities. Organizations are looking at best-of-class options for future development. Volunteers are now more cause driven than organizationally driven. Smart organizations are providing a blend of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities in addition to creating projects that require a cross section of ages and talents.
A crystal ball by Volunteer Matters states that nonprofits must be better at recruiting younger volunteers due to growing health concerns by older volunteers. These organizations must be mobile and virtual in scope. Volunteerism is getting more streamlined, so continued communication with volunteers, using a variety of tools, is critical for ongoing success. Volunteerism must be an important future focus to bring in new supporters and turn a “customer” into a passionate supporter.
An sgENGAGE article directs nonprofits to seek answers to these four questions regarding volunteers within their organization:
- What is your priority philanthropy issue?
- What are your barriers to employee volunteering?
- What role did volunteer programs play in ensuring a strong company culture?
- Did your volunteer opportunities support your company in addressing issues of racial equity?
Skills based volunteering is the all-purpose player in the changing landscape of volunteerism.
You do not appreciate something until you lose it. The nonprofit sector lost volunteers in 2020 and boy they were missed. For a variety of reasons, nonprofit volunteers are more important than ever before. Take the proper steps to strengthen your volunteer program. Think outside the box. Seek to recruit and retain the best skilled volunteers you can find that will become committed to your institution. With 2021 organizational revenue and expense fluctuations plus an unstable employee base, you need a best-of-class volunteer program — beginning today. You have no other choice.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.