Value of Volunteers

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

Volunteers: a tremendous asset

Many nonprofits are struggling to keep costs down in these difficult financial times, which oftentimes means not filling vacant positions.

This creates more problems when there are fewer staff members to run programs, oversee operations, conduct marketing or raise funds. Meanwhile, valued employees can become burned out and leave due to the extra workload.

One solution may be to consider using volunteers., a project of the Corporation for National and Community Service recently reported that 61.8 million volunteers donated approximately 8 billion hours of service in communities across the country last year. This is significant, in part, because volunteering in America—about 26% of all Americans—held steady between 2007 and 2008 after years of decline.

But engaging volunteers means much more than finding envelopes for them to stuff.

Today’s volunteers, especially retiring baby boomers, can put their professional skills to work performing a multitude of valuable tasks: strategic planning, fundraising, staff training, marketing, legal counsel, and financial management to name a few.

By calculating the cost of hiring full- or part-time staff to carry out these duties, you would get some idea of the true value of volunteers.

Moreover, many volunteers commit their financial resources to the organizations they serve and will activate their social networks as well. That’s because as they get more engaged with an organization, they become more committed to its success.

In order to develop a successful volunteer program, it’s important to understand today’s volunteers and how to manage them. A report entitled “The New Volunteer Workforce” by David Eisner, Robert T. Grimm Jr., Shannon Maynard, and Susannah Washburn and published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review this year explains five volunteer management pitfalls:

1.     Not matching volunteers’ skills with appropriate assignments

2.     Failing to recognize the contributions of volunteers

3.     Not measuring the impact of volunteers annually

4.     Failing to provide volunteers with training and professional development

5.     Failing to train paid staff to work with volunteers

Engaging volunteers to carry out important duties in a nonprofit organization requires a good management, flexibility, and mentoring—basically the same level of commitment that a nonprofit executive would make for any paid employee. But as many organizations have experienced, the benefits of working with volunteers can provide great rewards.

So the next time that a donor asks, “What else can I do?” consider whether creating a volunteering opportunity is one answer.

Sources for Success hosts the most comprehensive collection of data on volunteering and civic engagement ever assembled, including data for every state and almost 200 cities.  The data is collected through a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and has been released annually since 2005.

In addition, the website contains links to a number of other useful resources — including research reports, proven strategies, and effective practices — that are designed to help local nonprofit leaders target their recruiting efforts more effectively, match local programs with available volunteer resources, fill service gaps, and do a better job of retaining their volunteers.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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