Why are we Surprised that it's Tough to Find Volunteers?
A recent article in “The Chronicle of Philanthropy” is titled “Nonprofit Leaders Want More Volunteers but Say It Is Tough to Recruit Them.” It states that “nearly 70% of nonprofit leaders surveyed said volunteers were a very worthy investment for nonprofits in 2022 versus 43% in a related survey in 2019.”
Those of you who read this newsletter regularly won’t be surprised that my response to that is “…and?”
I’ve been writing and speaking for years now about the way volunteers are thought of by many nonprofits — as many of them are thought of as “second-class citizens”. I’m not at all surprised, and a bit pleased, that some in leadership positions at NPOs are beginning to realize that volunteers are an extremely important part of any charitable organization. I hope that this new bit of research will encourage — or force — nonprofit leadership to rethink their attitudes and strategy relative to their volunteers.
Why are volunteers an important (I say critical) part of your organization? Why do we need to “sound the alarm” about this recruiting issue?
Most of us know that volunteers help offset costs and provide additional resources, talent, and time. What we often don’t think about is that they’re often donors as well. Need convincing? Here’s all you need to know:
Volunteers are 66% more likely to donate financially to the organization they support than those who do not volunteer their time.
Americans who volunteer their time and skills to NPOs donate an average of 10 times more money to charity than people who don’t volunteer.
Younger donors thinking about their charitable path are “checking out” nonprofits they’re interested in giving to by first volunteering. Many of them feel that they can best understand how an organization works, and how “legit” they are, by volunteering for them first.
Assuming that piques your interest, let’s now think about why volunteers don’t want to “sign up” or continue volunteering.
This wonderful article from the people at Track it Forward (a volunteer tracking and information company) says it best as they look at “Why Volunteers Volunteer and Why Volunteers Quit”. Some key points:
They volunteer “because they have a personal tie to the mission, but they quit because they’re unaware of their impact.” (And/or they don’t see the impact of the organization at all.)
They volunteer “because they want to feel important and have a sense of purpose, but they quit because they don’t feel recognized”.
They volunteer because “they want to build new skills, and then they quit because they’re not given opportunities to do new things in the organization.”
From my experience, I’ll add a few more reasons why volunteers quit (and don’t volunteer again).
They volunteer because they feel they have something to contribute to the organization (usually some type of expertise), but they quit because that expertise isn’t being used or even acknowledged.
They volunteer to be able to better understand the culture of the organization (i.e. they want to trust the organization before they give money) and they quit because they see that the nonprofit is dysfunctional, wasteful, and/or unproductive.
They volunteer because they believe in the organization and its mission, and they quit because they don’t feel that the organization believes in (or respects) them.
They volunteer because it feels personally satisfying to “give back” in that way, but they quit because they spend a lot of time standing around waiting for instructions, and they (often) don’t see the value of the work that they’re doing.
They volunteer to get a “bird’s eye view” into the people who run the nonprofit, but they quit because they never have a chance to meet them.
They volunteer because they want to support the organization fully and are starting out learning the landscape by volunteering, but they quit because, despite the obvious need for more funding, they’re never asked for a donation because they’re not in the “donor group”.
If you’re still having trouble seeing the missed opportunity that comes from minimizing the impact and potential of your volunteers, think about the bequests that you’ve received. A good number of them come from volunteers who nobody in the finance/development office recognizes the name of — and they’re often very large amounts of money.
Here’s a terrific report by The Stelter Company called “The Secret Giver”. As you read it, think about your volunteers, and how dedicated they are to your organization and mission. Chances are there are several “Secret Givers” right under your nose.
When you keep your donors and volunteers in separate (and often unequal) boxes because you think that “volunteers don’t give”, you’re doing a disservice to your organization (as well as to those volunteers and donors.) The time is now to change how you think of (and interact with) your volunteers. Carpe diem!
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