Inside Philanthropy

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

January 5, 2009

Nonprofits can reap big returns from volunteers

By Todd Cohen

While they need to work even harder during the recession to ask for contributed dollars, nonprofits also should focus on recruiting more volunteers.

The troubled economy clearly is chilling the fundraising climate.

According to the latest Philanthropic Giving Index from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, nonprofit professionals are reporting the lowest overall level of confidence in the fundraising climate in the U.S. in over a decade.

That confidence index now is 64.8, down 21.7 percent from just six moths ago and down 27 percent from December 2007.

The center’s research for Giving USA Foundation also shows an annual falloff of roughly 2.7 percent in total giving during longer recessions.

A separate survey by the Association of Fundraising Professionals finds that over half the charities in North America were raising less money during the last three months of 2008 than in the same period in 2007.

Among charities surveyed, 53.3 percent were raising less money than they did a year earlier, and only 22.7 percent were raising more money, while 23.9 percent were raising about the same amount.

In stark contrast, the survey a year ago found 48.3 percent of charities were raising more money in the final three months of 2007 than in the same period in 2006, and only 26.3 percent were raising less.

Experts on fundraising and giving say nonprofits should not panic but instead should focus on sharpening the case they make to givers and continuing to ask for support.

And new research from the Stanford Graduate School of Business suggests that encouraging volunteerism can generate healthy financial contributions for nonprofits.

Because volunteers make an emotional connection to an organization and its mission, asking supporters for their time rather than their money is a better way to increase donations of money, says the study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

In fact, it says, initially asking givers for money can alienate them and make them less likely to get involved and less likely to actually give, the study says.

Increasing volunteerism, by young people in particular, also is the focus of a new initiative by Youth Service America.

With support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the new “Semester of Service” campaign aims to engage millions of young people by providing “service-learning” opportunities that give students the chance to connect community service with curriculum either in or out of school.

Youth Service America says a report from RMC Research Corp. concludes service-learning has a great impact on students and the community when projects last the length of a semester.

Times are indeed tough for the giving sector, but that simply means nonprofits need to be smarter and more focused than ever on connecting with givers and asking for their time, their expertise and their money.


  • At 4:00 PM, Blogger DoMoreGood said…

    Part of being smarter and more focused in connecting with givers/volunteers is to be sure we're not frustrating them with how we ask for help. It's a waste when volunteers take time off from work only be turned away b/c too many people show up. Too often, well-intentioned folks opt out of volunteering b/c they are bombarded with reply-all email and Yahoo!Group requests just to set the schedule. In smaller nonprofits, there is extremely high turnover among volunteer coordinators who are themselves frustrated with antiquated coordination tools and communication processes.

    We've elevated our game in how we solicit giving. Using volunteering as a fundraising steppingstone - it's time to formally improve how we coordiante volunteers.

    Karen Bantuveris - Founder,, DOING GOOD just got easier!

  • At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post - we just posted about it at our blog. The power of volunteering for financial giving has certainly been my experience working in the nonprofit sector - particularly when inspiring corporate or employee giving. Volunteering builds a kind of trust that is very important to new donors. Building trust between donors and nonprofits is even more important in today's uncertain financial climate. And nothing is more inspirational than seeing lives changed or services provided or houses built - or being involved in whatever the nonprofit does.


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