Inside Philanthropy

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

December 21, 2009

Volunteers big opportunity for nonprofits

By Todd Cohen

While volunteers are indispensible to them, nonprofits are failing to fully tap the pool of potential volunteers or to fully engage them and the know-how and other resources they can contribute to their organizations.

That is the message of a new study by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch.

The study reinforces a recent report by the Corporation for National and Community Service that called for nonprofits to do a better job giving volunteers jobs that match their skills.

The challenge of involving volunteers in the work of nonprofits in a way that is fulfilling for volunteers and productive for the organization is more urgent than ever in the face of an economy in collapse that has increased nonprofits’ operating costs and demand for services while making it tougher to raise money.

The new study, which conducted in October by Harris Interactive and surveyed 1,005 respondents age 18 and older, found 72 percent of Americans that age have volunteered at some point in their lives, with 43 percent of Americans volunteering in the previous 12 months and 28 percent having never volunteered.

“Most Americans are motivated to volunteer to support a cause they care about,” says Sarah C. Libby, president of the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund. “Yet, three in 10 can’t find an organization that matches their interest.”

Americans who volunteered in the previous year gave $2,593, on average, to nonprofits, compared to $230 donated by people who had never volunteered.

Sixty-seven percent of those who volunteered in the previous 12 months said they generally made donations to the same charities where they volunteered.

And 32 percent of active volunteers said they were more likely to increase their charitable giving in 2010, compared to 26 percent of people who have never volunteered.

The survey found the main reason people do not volunteer is a lack of time, a lack of interest in volunteering, pressure from organizations to give more time than people want to give, and the inability of people to find the right organization to match their interests.

The survey also found 60 percent of Americans say charities have become too much of a big business, and 56 percent believe many charities have disorganized management.

Thirty-eight percent said they wqant to see immediate results when they volunteer, and 44 percent indicated if an organization cannot take advantage of their specific skills, they likely will volunteer elsewhere.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits to build greater awareness and understanding of how they manage their organization by sharing insights into their funding structure, project management and volunteer coordination,” says Libbey.

“Transparency through open and frequent communication with current and prospective donors should always remain a priority.”

Volunteers can be a huge resource for nonprofits.

First, though, nonprofits must work a lot harder to make volunteering truly matter to volunteers.

That will require treating volunteers as an integral part of their organization and giving them jobs that let them put their actual knowledge and skills to work.


  • At 11:12 AM, Blogger jayne said…

    Another blog chastising nonprofits for not involving volunteers effectively -- where are the blogs chastising donors for not funding volunteer management systems, training and staff? Volunteers are *never* free, yet donors won't fund the resources necessary to involve and support them, and executive staff won't make funding those budget lines a priority.

  • At 1:05 PM, Blogger VolunteerMatch said…

    Robert here from VolunteerMatch. Great post, Todd. Of course, communications isn't the only part of this. Two things come up in my mind related to the Blackbaud community. First, development professionals and other fundraisers ought to sit down with their volunteer coordinators and get an update on what the organization's volunteer program is doing, how it's being run operationally, what challenges it's facing, and who the volunteers are. Second, fundraisers should be looking at investing in systems that integrate their fundraising databases and other operational tools with volunteer coordinator systems like VolunteerMatch and others. There's a role here for tech solutions like Blackbaud to play in helping nonprofits streamline their systems for managing those who give money and those who give time into a single directory of those who give, period. Keep up the good work!


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