State of the Union
Four out of five charities use volunteers in their activities, either in service to others or in helping to run the organization.
In 2017, one in three adults (30.3%) volunteered through an organization, demonstrating that volunteering remains an important activity for millions of Americans.
In 2018, the overall volunteer rate increased by more than 6%; nearly 77.4 million Americans volunteered 6.9 billion hours. It looked like this across the generations:
- Generation X had the highest volunteer rate among age groups at 36.4%.
- Baby Boomers had the highest number of hours at more than 2.2 billion.
- Millennial volunteering increased more than 6% since the last report, now at 28.2%.
- Over the past 15 years, Americans volunteered 120 billion hours, estimated to be worth $2.8 trillion.
Caution – Poor Management Ahead
While much attention has focused on how to recruit Baby Boomers into the ranks of volunteers, relatively little attention has been paid to ensuring that those who choose to volunteer one year continue to do so the next. Because three out of every ten Boomer volunteers choose not to volunteer in the following year, a key aspect of keeping Boomer volunteer rates high is to learn how to retain existing Boomer volunteers.
A UPS Foundation study revealed that 40% of volunteers have stopped volunteering for an organization at some time because of one or more poor volunteer management practices. Reasons included the organization not making good use of a volunteer’s time or good use of their talents, or that volunteer tasks were not clearly defined. Since volunteering requires sacrificing free time, people want to be assured that their time will be used for meaningful activities that show tangible impact.
Most nonprofits do not manage volunteers in any formal manner. As stated above, volunteer retention is becoming a new cause for alarm. An Urban Institute study of volunteer satisfaction and retention by Hager and Brudney recommends the following minimum nine management practices for establishing a professional approach to your volunteer corp.
How many of these practices does your nonprofit already have in place?
- Regular formal supervision and communication with volunteers.
- Liability coverage to protect volunteers.
- Regular collection of data on volunteers to understand your organization’s unique volunteer profile.
- Screening procedures that recruit volunteers that are most likely to succeed in your environment.
- Written policies and job descriptions that give volunteers comfort and confidence.
- Recognition activities to motivate and congratulate volunteers.
- Annual measurement of the impacts of volunteers to let everyone (management as well as the volunteers themselves) know how they’re doing.
- Training and professional development that gives volunteers confidence and improves effectiveness.
- Training and pay for staff dedicated to working with volunteers.
Nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers, but poor management can result in a volunteer's dissatisfaction. As a result, more than one-third of those who volunteer one year do not donate their time the next year at any nonprofit. That adds up to an estimated $38 billion in lost labor. To remedy this situation, nonprofit leaders must develop a more strategic approach to managing this overlooked and undervalued talent pool.