Jun 15, 2010

Record Rise in Volunteerism: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

A whopping 63.4 million Americans (age 16 and older) volunteered for charitable causes last year (2009), despite -- or perhaps in response to -- economic hard times.

As if that weren't impressive enough, it represents an increase of almost 1.6 million volunteers since 2008, and the largest one-year increase in the volunteer numbers since 2003. Women, particularly working mothers, were among the most active.

For more details and numbers, see the Volunteering in America 2010  report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In the meantime, the key question is, ARE YOU READY? Volunteers can perform a number of valuable tasks for an organization, from the menial to the skilled professional, in some cases reducing the need for paid staff.

Yet because many volunteers report being turned away by groups unable to handle them, or worse yet, quitting on their own because they didn't feel their time was being meaningfully used, you've got to think ahead of time about how to best choose, train, assign, and supervise them. I've learned this lesson the hard way, having had volunteers walk out because they were bored by the tasks assigned them -- and I've myself quit volunteer jobs because I felt my time was being wasted standing around waiting for instructions. 

Creating a volunteer program that both helps your organization and satisfies the volunteer's desire to feel needed, well used, and perhaps reach other goals such as learning new skills -- or even meeting other single volunteers (see previous post, "Volunteering for Charity May Lead to Romance!") -- isn't easy. But there's a lot of good advice out there on how to make it work, starting with this article, "Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming."