Harnessing the Value of Volunteers in the Nonprofit Sector

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Volunteers enable nonprofits to deliver vital programs and services

Volunteers are vital to nonprofit organizations. Their active participation in fundraising, marketing, and program delivery saves their organizations millions of dollars a year.

About 77 million people, with an estimated worth of $25.43 per hour each, volunteer across the United States, according to the 2018 Volunteering in America report. For nonprofit leaders, volunteers are the backbone of the organization — something that’s especially true at organizations with a small staff or a unique mission, or for those in small or rural communities.

Volunteers serve at youth clubs, shelters, museums, health centers and millions of other nonprofits, assisting their neighbors, strengthening their communities, and contributing in invaluable ways.

“One reason we calculate the value of volunteer time is because it reminds us that volunteering may be priceless, but it isn’t free,” Dan Cardinali, president and CEO of Independent Sector, writes about the value of volunteers. “Volunteers contribute real value, and we need to recognize that. When businesses give workers time off for volunteering, they’re making a tangible contribution.”

At Ohio University, students enrolled in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs’ online MPA program learn about the larger benefits of public administration to society and the importance of the nonprofit sector. Charitable organizations often fill gaps in government programs and services, and the program’s nonprofit management concentration prepares graduates for a variety of nonprofit leadership positions, including supervising volunteers.

Scope and Value of Volunteers

Nonprofit CEOs and executives should understand the valuable role of volunteers in a nonprofit organization and how to recruit, manage and retain them. A skilled leader’s approach to volunteers can mean the difference between having active, engaged volunteers or constant turnover that disrupts the organization’s programs and morale.

Volunteers often help keep the doors open and enable nonprofits to deliver vital programs and services. They lend their expertise on the board of directors, to fundraising campaigns and special events, and often work in direct customer service roles.

Sector-specific statistics from Urban Institute highlight the main ways people volunteered in 2017:

  • Social service and care activities (24.8%)
  • Administrative and fundraising support (22%)
  • Other (21%)
  • Travel (11%)
  • Performing and cultural activities (8.6%)
  • Meetings, conferences and training (7.8%)

While the 2018 Volunteering in America report boasted a 23% increase compared to the 62.6 million volunteers in 2015, the last time the report was issued, another study conducted by University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute chronicled the decline of the volunteer rate over the past 15 years. Cardinali points out in his Independent Sector article that larger trends indicate how involved and how invested people are in their communities.

“Whether it’s giving or volunteering, you want to see everyone participating in civil society — you want to see everyone saying, ‘I have a stake in my community and I’m committed to doing what I can to make this a better place,’” Cardinali writes.

Business Partnerships, Millennials Can Help Harness Volunteers

With so many things competing for people’s time and attention, nonprofits are tasked with finding meaningful ways to attract and use volunteers. Because volunteers freely give of their time and talents, they must believe in an organization’s mission and feel valued and appreciated. As a result, they don’t want to be micromanaged, involved in office politics, or given menial tasks.

One way for charitable organizations to harness the power of volunteers is by partnering with businesses that believe in their mission. Nonprofits that raise awareness of their mission and spread the good work of their organization increase volunteers and giving. And businesses that partner with nonprofits to organize employee volunteer days can build both customer and employee loyalty.

Volunteering for a cause that matters makes people feel good about giving back. It’s a chance for them to learn new skills, network, build community and improve their overall health and happiness, according to the article, “How Individuals & Workforces Can Get Involved in Community Volunteer Opportunities,” in Nonprofit Technology News.

“Aligning the mission of the volunteer and organization is important for both the nonprofit and individual,” Katie Zwetzig, executive director of Verified Volunteers, says in the article. “Individuals want to volunteer for a cause they care about and where they can make an impact. Organizations ideally want to build a long-term relationship with volunteers.”

While baby boomers and Generation X rank in the top for sheer number of volunteers, nonprofits also need to start eying the impact of millennials, the largest generation in U.S. history. By volunteer rate, Generation X has the highest percentage of volunteers, but millennials’ volunteer rate jumped by more than 6% since the last Volunteering in America report.

Nonprofit leaders can use this information in both their giving and volunteer recruitment efforts. Millennials are future board members, committee chairs and donors. Six in 10 millennials said an employer’s “sense of purpose” played a role in why they chose their current position, according to the article ,“Tapping into the Nonprofit Next Generation: Pitfalls and Best Practices for Engaging Millennials at Your Nonprofit,” in NonProfit Pro.

Ultimately, once an organization connects with volunteers, it must find ways to keep them engaged and invested and to recognize their contributions. A solid volunteer training program, a dedicated volunteer manager, and opportunities for meaningful work can go a long way toward keeping volunteers happy and ready to return.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Public Administration (MPA) Program

Ohio University’s online Master of Public Administration program prepares graduates for a variety of leadership careers in the nonprofit sector, including recruiting and managing volunteers.

The University’s prestigious Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs offers foundational coursework in public policy and nonprofit management while building skills in budgeting and resource development, leadership and governance, and communications and community outreach. The school occupies the No. 12 spot in the SR Education Group’s 2019 Best Online Colleges Offering MPA Programs ranking.

For more information, contact Ohio University now.


Recommended reading:

Strategic Planning for the Nonprofit Sector

Capacity Building in the Nonprofit Sector

Seven Ideas When Budgeting for Nonprofits



2018 Volunteering in America Report: Corporation for National & Community Service

The Value of Our Volunteers: Independent Sector

Volunteer Hours Now Worth $167 Billion Annually: The Nonprofit Times

The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2018: Public Charities, Giving, and Volunteering: Urban Institute

Fewer Americans are Volunteering: Do Good Institute

How Individuals & Workforces Can Get Involved in Community Volunteer Opportunities: Nonprofit Technology News

Tapping into the Nonprofit Next Generation: Pitfalls and Best Practices for Engaging Millennials at Your Nonprofit: NonProfit Pro