Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

April 23, 2007

Nonprofits must engage volunteers

Volunteerism in the U.S. is declining and eroding, and nonprofits need to find ways to better engage and retain volunteers.

As PJ reports, those are the challenging findings of a new study by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

While 61.2 million adults representing 26.7 percent of the population volunteered in 2006, time worth $150 billion, the study says, the number of volunteers fell 4.2 million from the previous year, when adult volunteers represented 28.8 percent of the population.

Equally troubling is the study’s finding that 20.9 million of the 65.4 million adults who volunteered in 2005 did not volunteer in 2006.

“While the good news is that most volunteers choose to continue volunteer, the dramatic cycling of people in and out of volunteering reinforces the fact that volunteer management is critically important and that creating positive volunteer experiences is key to growing a widespread culture of service.”

It also is good news that volunteer rates among young adults ages 16 to 19, mid-life adults ages 46 to 64, and older adults all have been increasing significantly over time.

And the study notes that the Higher Education Research Institute reported recently that the percentage of student entering college who believe it is “essential” or “very important” to help others in difficulty climbed to a 25-year high in 2005, and then grew slightly in 2006.

Americans are willing to give their time to causes they care about.

But if they expect to attract volunteers, and the money, know-how and connections that often flow from volunteers, nonprofits need to work a lot harder to understand the role that volunteers want to play, engage them in ways they find meaningful, and treat them as valued and integral members of the team.

Nonprofits, many of which seem to believe that engaging donors requires no more than an annual volunteer dinner and service pin, need to overhaul their organizational culture and begin to treat volunteers for what they are -- the vital heart of the voluntary sector.


  • At 1:34 PM, Anonymous James R. Kelley said…

    From: American Idol Producer
    To: Fox Network; American Idol Sponsors

    We recently held a charity promotion on American Idol and raised $60 million for poor children throughout the world.

    The net result of this effort was an unbelievable trashing by a little-known charity coordinating group.

    I promise all involved parties that we will never again sponsor a charity fund raiser, and I apologize for the bad publicity that our efforts and your $60 million dollars have generated.

    James R. Kelley - Raleigh


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