The New Volunteer Workforce

Nonprofits rely heavily on volunteers, but most CEOs do a poor job of managing them. 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. The good news is that new waves of retiring baby boomers and energetic young people are ready to fill the gap.

Most nonprofit CEOs would love to have a person like Jim working for them. Jim has 13 years of financial experience at General Electric Co. and 28 years at J.P. Morgan, and he currently works for the March of Dimes Foundation doing strategic planning, marketing, information technology, training, and research. Jim is not, however, a full-time employee. Rather, Jim is a 77-year-old volunteer.1 Jim enjoyed his volunteer work at the March of Dimes so much that his wife, Sari, joined him. Her volunteer position includes recruiting other volunteers—and she’s pretty good at it. In 2007, she helped recruit 42 volunteers who donated a total of more than 11,000 hours (valued at an estimated $200,000 of in-kind services).2 In addition to volunteering, Jim and Sari are donors—members of the March of Dimes’ President’s Society—and have convinced the rest of their family to participate. Their daughter, Beth, raised $3,000 over two years through the March of Dimes’ March for Babies walkathon, and Beth’s 12-year-old son is now forming his own walking team. Already into their third year of service, Jim and his family are creating a large amount of value for the March of Dimes. And the March of Dimes is just one of the organizations where they volunteer.

As Jim and Sari illustrate, volunteering, when channeled correctly, can be a highly valuable asset. The March of Dimes, however, is one of the few organizations that use volunteers effectively. Sadly, most nonprofits do not view their volunteers as strategic assets and have not developed ways to take full advantage of them. In fact, most nonprofits are losing staggering numbers of volunteers every year. Of the 61.2 million people who volunteered in 2006, 21.7 million—more than one-third—did not donate any time to a charitable cause the following year.3 Because these volunteers gave about 1.9 billion hours in 2006, and the value of their donated time was about $20 per hour4—that calculates to about $38 billion in lost volunteer time in one year.

As impressive as the $38 billion figure is, the actual lost value might be even greater. If a nonprofit were paying someone to handle the jobs that Jim and Sari do, the cost would be much more than $20 an hour. Volunteers can do much more than stuff envelopes.

A few nonprofits have grasped this concept and are taking what we call a talent management approach—investing in the infrastructure to recruit, develop, place, recognize, and retain volunteer talent. These are the savvy managers who recognize that there is a new national momentum and opportunity to engage more Americans to help solve America’s intensifying social and environmental problems. Despite the recent national attention generated by the first-ever ServiceNation Presidential Candidates Forum, a new bipartisan legislative proposal to expand support for volunteering and service, and the emergence of cabinet-level positions on volunteering in two states, most nonprofits are still letting volunteer talent slip away like water through a leaky bucket.

The nonprofit sector desperately needs the professional skills offered by volunteers. The nation’s nonprofits are under strain from the current economic crisis, a leadership drain as older executives retire, and high turnover among younger nonprofit staff . Volunteers are an undervalued and underused resource for tackling these challenges.

Volunteers, for example, can help nonprofits save money by providing technology services, developing programs, training staff , and conducting strategic planning, all without being paid a salary. Volunteers can also ease financial pressures by helping nonprofits raise money. Volunteers are effective fundraisers because their personal commitment to the organization’s mission makes them convincing advocates for the cause. In addition, volunteers are likely to donate to the organization at which they serve. Despite these benefits, few nonprofits use wide-scale volunteer mobilization as a principal funding strategy.

And it’s not just money that’s tight. The nonprofit sector is also facing a leadership crisis. Research has found that nonprofits can expect to lose more than 50 percent of their current leadership by 2010.5 Nonprofits also face high turnover rates among mid-level and entry-level professional staff . A 2007 study by the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network found that 45 percent of nonprofit workers predict that their next job will not be at a nonprofit. These young staffers cited burnout among the top reasons for leaving.

To alleviate staff burnout, nonprofits can bring in older, experienced volunteers. Retired baby boomer volunteers can mentor young nonprofit professionals, leading to improved staff morale and lower turnover. Volunteers can also take on leadership roles formerly performed by paid staff . In some instances, volunteers can even manage paid staff .

Some work is simply best performed by volunteers. Local volunteers may know their community’s assets, important players, and underlying challenges better than any paid staff person, helping the nonprofit stay connected to the community. Volunteers can also serve as evangelists to the larger community, helping to promote the nonprofit and its mission.

National volunteer rates are declining. Between 2005 and 2006, the percent of volunteers who did not do any volunteering the following year increased from 32 percent to 36 percent. Although nonprofits can expect, and in some cases even desire, some attrition, losing more than one out of three volunteers from one year to the next is clearly a problem.

Why are volunteers opting out? The 2003 Volunteer Management Capacity Study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS, the organization we are affiliated with), the Urban Institute, and the UPS Foundation provides some clues. The study concludes that fewer than half of nonprofits that manage volunteers have adopted a significant number of important volunteer management practices. Here are five of the main reasons why volunteers are not returning.

Not Matching Volunteers’ Skills with Assignments. Volunteers with valuable and specialized skills are often dispatched to do manual labor rather than tasks that use their professional talents. The prime goals of corporate volunteer programs, for example, are building teams and increasing morale, which are most easily accomplished by groups of people doing manual labor. For example, every spring in cities across the country, hundreds of professionals turn out to paint walls and plant flowers at local schools. Although this has its time and place, most community organizations really need an ongoing involvement that taps volunteers’ professional skills rather than a onetime project that uses their manual labor. Volunteers often don’t get much out of the experience, either. Many of these volunteers get an empty feeling when they know that the job they’ve been given is make-work or a photo op.

Failing to Recognize Volunteers’ Contributions. Nonprofits need to recognize volunteers both through an organizational culture that values them and through specific appreciation ceremonies and events. In their annual reports, most nonprofits list all individual donors categorized by the amount of money they have donated. Very few nonprofits, however, do the same for people who donate their time. Naming individual volunteers with the number of hours they have contributed (and perhaps the dollar value) is one way to demonstrate a culture that values volunteers. The Capital Area Food Bank of Texas does this and also profiles individual volunteers in its annual report.

Not Measuring the Value of Volunteers. Most nonprofits do not measure the dollar value that volunteers provide to their organization. This reflects the lack of seriousness with which many organizations view volunteers and tends to compound the problem. If nonprofit leaders had hard data demonstrating the value of volunteers, as the March of Dimes does, they would be more likely to invest more time and money in developing volunteer talent.

Failing to Train and Invest in Volunteers and Staff. Volunteers need training to understand the organizations with which they are working, and employees need to be trained to work with volunteers. Nonprofits rarely invest substantial amounts of time or money in volunteer recruiters and managers. For example, a youth service organization in Florida reported that at one time it had a busy receptionist managing several hundred volunteers. Unfortunately, the receptionist model of volunteer management is all too common. Nationally, one-third of paid nonprofit staff who manage volunteers have never had “any formal training in volunteer administration, such as coursework, workshops, or attendance at conferences that focus on volunteer management.”6

Failing to Provide Strong Leadership. Most nonprofit leaders are simply not taking the time to develop or support volunteer talent adequately—resulting in a poor or bland experience that leads to an unmotivated volunteer who has little reason to return. Most nonprofit leaders do not place a high value on volunteer talent. If they did, they would dedicate more resources to the task—not assign it to a receptionist. When told of this article, the CEO of a large national youth service organization said, “I think you’re on to something: 90 percent of our labor is performed by volunteers, yet our strategic plan makes no mention of them.”

Why isn’t volunteering more respected? Why aren’t more organizations investing in volunteering? One problem may lie with the term itself. The word “volunteer” doesn’t say anything about the nature of the service provided, except implying that it is free. It is often assumed that something free is not valuable. Maybe we should use different words—like fundraiser, project manager, or legal counsel—that describe the work performed and help erode outdated ideas about the value of the volunteer workforce.

Volunteerism also suffers from being thought of as something that is nice, but not necessary. When people think of volunteers, they often envision people spending a day cleaning up trash or planting flowers—projects that are helpful, but not essential. If the volunteer had not planted those flowers, would the nonprofit have paid someone else to do it? When nonprofit leaders see that volunteers can do highly skilled work that the organization would have otherwise paid for, volunteering will begin to get some respect.

To capitalize on the opportunity presented by volunteer talent, nonprofit leaders need to expand their vision of volunteering, integrate volunteers into their strategic planning, and reinvent the way that their organizations support and manage volunteer talent.

If nonprofit leaders want highly skilled volunteers to come and stay, they need to expand their vision of volunteering by creating an experience that is meaningful for the volunteer, develops skills, demonstrates impact, and taps into volunteers’ abilities and interests. More people need to understand that people will make time to volunteer if they are stimulated and engaged. Our research shows that the primary difference between volunteers and non-volunteers, when measuring what they do with their time, is the amount of television they watch. People who do not volunteer watch hundreds of hours of additional TV a year compared to people who do volunteer. It’s not that people don’t have enough time to volunteer. People do not volunteer because nonprofits do not provide them with volunteer opportunities that interest them enough to pull them away from their television sets.

Rethinking Work Roles. To create compelling opportunities for volunteers, a nonprofit’s management team should begin by evaluating the degree to which important roles could be performed by volunteers. Some organizations are elevating the roles of volunteers and blurring the distinctions between paid and nonpaid staff . (See “Filling Important Roles” on p. 36.) At the American Red Cross, for example, a volunteer chairperson runs the volunteer division and supervises paid staff . At the March of Dimes, people often move back and forth from senior paid positions to volunteer positions. Nonprofits also need to explore hybrid models of work and volunteering such as Experience Corps and ReServe. In these programs, people receive a modest stipend for their sustained and high-impact service, ensuring that people of varying income levels can participate.

Assigning Appropriate Tasks. Nonprofits must assign volunteers jobs that make the most of their skills and talents. For example, marketing experts from the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche were preparing for a traditional volunteer project—taking stock of donated inventory at a thrift store operated by Catholic Charities USA. But the Deloitte workers saw ways the thrift store could employ new merchandising techniques and offered pro bono consulting services to help make the changes. The changes the Deloitte volunteers suggested produced strong results: Average monthly revenue at the store rose 20 percent.7 Catholic Charities was planning to use Deloitte employees to sort pants and shirts, which would have returned a value close to minimum wage. Instead, Deloitte employees put their analytic and consulting skills to work and returned a value of approximately $150 per hour. Not only do nonprofits get more value from using highly skilled volunteers to perform highly skilled functions, but these volunteers are also more likely to offer their services again. CNCS research found that volunteers who engage in less challenging activities tend to be less likely to continue volunteering the following year. Only 53 percent of volunteers who did “general labor” activities or supplied transportation continued volunteering the following year. By contrast, 74 percent of volunteers performing professional or management activities continued volunteering.

Creating Bonding Experiences. One of the best ways that nonprofits can engage volunteers is to create experiences that develop strong attachments between the volunteer and the organization. The March of Dimes, for example, is constantly thinking about how to channel the interest of a onetime volunteer into a more sustained commitment. A volunteer might walk in the March for Babies two years in a row and then drop out. That person has not necessarily lost her passion for helping babies, she just needs a new challenge and more opportunities to stay involved. To keep her engaged, the March of Dimes might ask her to speak with groups of expectant moms on the importance of folic acid and prenatal checkups. That could lead to her managing a local fundraising event or recruiting corporate sponsors. The March of Dimes has found that by increasing responsibility, tailoring assignments to volunteer interests, and providing training and in-person networking opportunities, they are able to hang on to more volunteers.

Supporting and Training Volunteers. Nonprofits also need to support their volunteers. The American Cancer Society, for example, respects and cares for volunteers in the same manner that the organization cares for its own staff . Their chief talent officer ensures that staff and volunteers participate together in orientation and training classes and work together on important projects such as creating curriculum, delivering quality of life programs to cancer patients and their families, and serving as community health liaisons. The American Cancer Society also expects its staff to recruit and work with community volunteers, and it enforces this through performance reviews that measure volunteer engagement.

Using New Technology. New technologies allow nonprofits to communicate with volunteers inexpensively and to build social networks that connect volunteers with one another and with the nonprofit. Organizations like VolunteerMatch and Zazengo have developed technology that makes it easy for volunteers to find opportunities based on their needs, interests, and skills. With this technology, volunteers no longer need to go to a Web site to search for opportunities; the right ones come to them. Technology also allows people to volunteer without having to leave their homes. One of our colleagues, for example, develops and maintains Web sites pro bono without leaving her home.

Developing Strategic Plans. To make effective use of volunteer talent, nonprofit leaders must integrate volunteers into their strategic plans. In 2007, the leaders of 11 major nonprofit organizations and the authors of this article met to discuss ways to engage volunteers and laid out the ingredients for this process. Nonprofit participants such as Goodwill Industries, United Way of America, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America zeroed in on strategic planning as the most critical and neglected step in managing volunteers. By treating volunteers as the valuable resource they are, nonprofits get more challenging work done, reap the benefit of more volunteer hours, and incur fewer costs associated with having to replace lost volunteers each year.

Even with the best planning and management, nonprofits will always need to recruit new volunteers to support new or expanded programs and to replace those volunteers who inevitably stop coming. The most promising places for nonprofits to recruit new volunteer talent are among retired baby boomers, young people (millennials), businesses, and religious organizations.

Retiring baby boomers offer nonprofits experience, management skills, and vast numbers. Older American volunteers will increase 50 percent by 2020. Boomers are also healthier and more educated, and they are predicted to live longer than their parents. Perhaps half of these people will continue working into their 70s, which should ultimately encourage more volunteering later in life. Although one might assume that older people with jobs are less likely to volunteer, working appears to encourage people to stay more connected with their community and maintain social networks that promote volunteering.8

At the other end of the age spectrum, America’s young people are increasingly interested in making a difference. One recent study revealed that 68 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 26 prefer to work for a company that provides professional volunteer opportunities. 9 This trend is likely to continue. The UCLA Higher Education Research Institute reported in 2005 a 25-year high in first-year students’ belief that it is “essential or important to help others.”10

Pro bono business services are another emerging source of talent. In February 2008, CNCS joined with the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation to bring together more than 150 business, government, and nonprofit leaders in a summit on pro bono services. The summit identified the benefits to companies of providing pro bono services and sought to expand the pro bono ethic (typically identified with the legal profession) throughout the corporate community. Summit participants kicked off “A Billion + Change,” a three-year campaign to leverage $1 billion in skilled volunteering and pro bono services from the corporate community. To date, more than 23 companies have pledged more than $400 million in professional services.

Religious partnerships are a largely untapped area of volunteer talent: 85 percent of nonprofits with secular missions report that they do not have one partnership with a religious group.11 This religious- secular divide is all the more troubling when one considers the tremendous opportunity religious organizations offer: More people volunteer through religious organizations than any other kind of organization, and religious volunteers often engage in substantial work outside their congregation.

Former Philadelphia mayor Reverend W. Wilson Goode Sr.’s Amachi program spearheaded an effective secular-religious partnership that included Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, AmeriCorps VISTA, and local religious congregations across the country. Amachi had the kids who need mentoring, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America had the mentoring expertise, the congregations had people who want to mentor, and VISTA coordinated the collaboration.

Nonprofits can also use religious organizations to expand their reach into the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities. Each group does more than one-third of all their volunteering with religious groups. It is particularly important for nonprofits to tap into these communities, because racial minority populations are growing as a percentage of the overall U.S. population.

Sari (the March of Dimes volunteer we profiled at the beginning of this article) helped produce the equivalent of $200,000 worth of labor in one year. What was March of Dimes’ investment in Sari? About $13,000 a year. That represents a return of more than 15 times the organization’s investment. And Sari is just one volunteer in the March of Dimes’ offices.

Older, educated volunteers like Sari and Jim have the potential to perform valuable and highly skilled work, donate money, and activate social networks that multiply the impact of their individual contributions. By 2020, there will be millions more like them, thanks to the coming wave of retiring baby boomers. Simultaneously, companies are providing more opportunities for working professionals to engage in pro bono and volunteer work, as part of the company’s efforts to recruit and retain the most talented people.

This surge in professional people interested in putting their skills to good use creates a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits. The sector can’t squander that opportunity by assigning these volunteers to nice, but non-mission-critical work. Social entrepreneurs, nonprofit executives, and other public service leaders need to modernize their understanding of the value of unpaid work and embrace volunteer talent of all ages as an important way to fulfill their mission.

A new wave of volunteer talent is building. Some nonprofit leaders will take advantage of this opportunity and exponentially grow their impact; the rest will be left behind trying to make do the old way.


1 Jim and his family are real people and these are their real first names. The family’s last name has been withheld to protect their privacy.

2 March of Dimes estimate created by multiplying 11,000 hours by Independent Sector’s 2007 average value of a volunteer’s time, $18.77. Independent Sector, 2007 Value of Volunteer Time.

3 Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) analysis of data from the Volunteer Supplement to the Current Population Survey, 2005-2007.

4 Urban Institute with CNCS and UPS Foundation, Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations, 2004. In 2003, this national survey asked nonprofit staff who manage volunteers how much they would pay for their typical volunteer’s time. They reported a median value of about $20 per hour. The figure is close to Independent Sector’s frequently cited average hourly value of volunteer time ($18.77).

5 Annie E. Casey Foundation, Change Ahead: The 2004 Nonprofit Executive Leadership and Transitions Survey, 2004.

6 The Urban Institute, Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations, 2004.

7 Evan Hochberg, “How to Get an Extra $1 Billion from Business,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 12, 2006.

8 John Foster-Bey, Robert Grimm Jr., and Nathan Dietz, Keeping Baby Boomers Volunteering: A Research Brief on Volunteer Retention and Turnover, Corporation for National and Community Service, March 2007.

9 Deloitte & Touche, Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey, 2007.

10 Higher Education Research Institute, The UCLA College Freshman Survey, 2005-2006.

11 Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations, 2004.

David Eisner is CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the independent federal agency that administers AmeriCorps VISTA, National Civilian Community Corps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and other national service programs. He was previously an executive with AOL and AOL Time Warner.

Robert T. Grimm Jr. is the director of research and policy development and senior counselor to the CEO of CNCS. Grimm previously taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, where he continues to teach in the executive education program. His research has been featured on NPR, CNN, and Fox News, and in numerous national newspapers.

Shannon Maynard is the executive director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation and the special assistant to the CEO for strategic initiatives at CNCS. She previously managed an AmeriCorps program in Florida City, Fla., and directed outreach and communications for Youth Service America.

Susannah Washburn is the senior advisor at CNCS, where she has held positions in program, policy, and management for 10 years. She was previously an executive policy fellow (specializing in community service) for California Governor Pete Wilson and a field specialist at Youth Service America.

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  • BY Ashok Aurora

    ON December 1, 2008 01:56 PM

    I read the entire article, I am a volunteer co-ordinator for an RSVP Program here in Wichita, Kansas with the
    Sedgwick County. I have done this for the last fourteen years.

    I have gathered som very important information from the above article. Thank you for this information,
    I am going to use some of it.

  • BY Chris Jarvis

    ON December 2, 2008 02:44 PM

    Great article.  I referred to it in a recent blog post

    A lot of the findings and thinking in the article resonates with what I have found to be true in working with nonprofits and volunteers.  But as I was finishing the article, I was surprised to see the Volunteer Management Cycle on page 36 outlined in the diagram ‘Creating a Strategic Volunteer Plan’.  Besides taking a different approach to the process of developing an effective strategy for managing volunteers, I am a bit confused about the origination of this diagram.  As far as I know, it has been known as the Volunteer Management Cycle and has been around for a number of years -

    It is laid out slightly differently, but is too close in style and content to be legitimately claimed to have been developed last year by 11 major nonprofits and the authors of the article (page 36).  Not a big deal in my mind, as I believe the cycle facilitates some of the very ineffectiveness that the article rightly uncovers.  Not that it isn’t good, it just isn’t good enough.

    But mostly I am wondering how the diagram was developed, and why there is no reference to the existing Volunteer Management Cycle.

    Thanks, hope this doesn’t come across as contentious (remember, I cited the article in my blog and told my readers they should read it themselves…).


  • BY Alice Korngold

    ON December 4, 2008 09:41 PM

    Great article summarizing the better practices that have emerged across the sector and in the literature.  Readers will be interested in “Corporate Philanthropy at the Crossroads,” (1996) especially the chapters on volunteerism, and also “Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Engaging Businesses” (Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2005).

  • BY Shirley Weir

    ON December 5, 2008 04:39 PM

    All of us at Volunteer Vancouver applaud this article – it is completely in line with our key messages!

    At Volunteer Vancouver, our passion is people—working with organizations to strategically engage specifically-skilled people at all levels. After all, people are *the* competitive advantage of the not-for-profit sector.

    The good news: the word is getting out. We are starting to hear more and more examples (like your story of Jim & The March of Dimes) of how organizations are successfully engaging the “next generation” of volunteers (often referred to as “knowledge philanthropists”). The challenge: not enough organizational leaders have adopted this “people-first” philosophy…so, we’ve decided to publish a book: “101 Ways to Move Your Organization Forward”. Think of it as “Strategic Volunteer Engagement for Dummies” meets “Chicken Soup for the Soul”. The idea is that not-for-profit leaders will be inspired by the many ideas, possible volunteer roles and success stories.

    If you have a success story to contribute—we’d love to hear it. Email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  • Great post. I blogged a response to it at the link below in which I propose that we can go further than this article suggests by re-envisioning the business model of volunteerism.

    Here’s a quote:
    “I’m convinced that volunteerism of the 2010s will look nothing like we’ve ever seen and that it will go by a different name. And you won’t think of it as “donating your time.” You’ll think of it as something fun, social, and good for you. You may even think of it as entertainment for a cause. “

  • Shannon Maynard's avatar

    BY Shannon Maynard

    ON December 9, 2008 05:26 PM

    Mr. Jarvis: Thank you so much for your positive feedback and for referencing the valuable contributions to the volunteer sector made by our northern neighbor Canada.  The eight-step framework presented in the article builds upon the collective wisdom of practitioners like you and decades’ worth of volunteer management theory, practice, and research from a variety of sources.  While similar to the Volunteer Management Cycle to which you refer, the framework refines and further delineates the steps an organization needs to take in order to reap the greatest return on its investment in a volunteer strategy.  The framework was developed to emphasize two of the most critical and yet often neglected steps in the volunteer management process: strategic planning to maximize volunteer impact and measuring the outcomes of volunteers.  The Volunteer Management Cycle you refer to speaks more to operational planning than strategic planning at the leadership level of an organization.  Step 8 is equally important: organizations need to evaluate their volunteer management systems for continued improvement but also measure the social and economic impact of their volunteers.  Unless an organization can quantify the value of volunteers, it becomes difficult to justify investments in volunteer infrastructure.

  • BY Gary Rindner

    ON December 11, 2008 06:17 AM

    Superb article- quantifying the loss to nonprofit groups is a real eye-opener and your concrete suggestions are extremely valuable. I recently leaped into the nonprofit world as an older volunteer after a career as a corporate attorney. While my circumstances were somewhat unique, I did fashion a volunteer position that is working very well for me and Per Scholas. I just wrote about fashioning my volunteer role in a Chronicle of Philanthropy Regeneration article and my story may be of interest to your readers or other potential volunteers.

    The article is posted at

  • michelle peters's avatar

    BY michelle peters

    ON December 12, 2008 07:28 AM

    As I read the article, I was excited to see how it fits nicely into a community based learning model or service learning model.  I was a bit confused regarding the implied verbage of volunteers replacing staff.  Is this not a violation of labor laws?  Volunteer directors and coordinators have been “warned” against making statements regarding replacing a paid person with a volunteer.  In fact, I tell volunteers they are here to supplement staff not replace.  There have been lawsuits (one in Florida) where a hospital volunteer sued the organization where they volunteered stated they did the exact job of a paid employee and therefore were entitled to the same benefits and wages.  I believe the volunteer won this suit.  If you have information regarding the labor laws changing in relation to volunteers, please forward this to me as I would be quite interested.

    Thank you for promoting utilization of volunteers.  We are blessed with a retention rate of 85% and this includes college student volunteers returning semester after semester (leaving once they graduate) and I believe the sites where these volunteers are placed do a great job of utilizing the skill set of the the volunteers, thanking them, and making them feel they are a vital part of our mission.

  • BY Shawna Gnutel

    ON December 23, 2008 09:44 AM

    Excellent article…will pass along too colleagues. We all know it’s a new age of volunteerism but some are still stuck in the past…time to wake up.

  • BY Vancouver Computer Recycling

    ON January 9, 2009 02:33 AM

    Completely Agree. I represent The Electronic Recycling Association and we are actually looking for volunteers right now :-

    Volunteers wanted . Fixing computers for charities. The Era is looking for
    volunteers to help fix computers and electronic for donation to charity. ERA
    collects computers, laptops, monitors, lcds, servers and electronics for
    donation and recycling. Volunteers can earn a free computer for spending
    time at ERA and helping out. Volunteers can earn a free laptop for spending
    time at ERA and helping.

  • Thank you for this article.  As a professional working with volunteers for many years, I am happy to see this article.  Volunteering has become an important aspect in community-based organizations as well as members of our community.  We are beginning to see the definition of ourselves not in terms of what job we have, but what are values are and how we live our lives according to those values.  With that in mind, think about what you can do for your volunteers and it will come back to you ten-fold in what your volunteers can do for you.

  • BY Sarah H. Elliston

    ON January 10, 2009 07:38 AM

    Thank-you for a stimulating article.  It contains much that I teach others and your research is helpful.  I was curious that in your description of investing in the leadership of volunteers that you neglected to mention that many organizations have trained, experienced and effective coordinators of volunteers who help capitalize on people just like your March of Dimes volunteer.  In fact, CEOs rarely touch the majority of volunteer talent.

    While your 8 point program suggests good management strategies, I was surprised that you didn’t point out that Baby Boomers who aren’t stimulated and given opportunities to use their initiative are very likely the people who don’t come back, as well as the fact that the young volunteers who are so eager to help are interested in one-time activities, in a group, and deliberately want to help as many agencies as they can.  They have no intention of coming back.  The planning for them requires what you suggest as well as an understanding of the specific population. 

    Congratulations on a stimulating read.

  • BY Mary Quirk, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Ad

    ON February 9, 2009 03:05 PM

    There are many exciting initiatives around the country to build capacity to engage volunteers.  In Minnesota, the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) has trained over 1,000 leaders of volunteers across the state on best practices of leadership of volunteers to address the issues raised in the research mentioned in this article   We are doing advocacy with decision makers on the importance of investing in volunteers, the importance of this so well highlighted in the article. We are starting an initiative on building capacity to engage boomers as volunteers, which will bring the information to organizations on changes to better engage the new wave of volunteers.  We are also doing original research on volunteerism in immigrant and refugee communities to address how mainstream and immigrant/refugee organizations can build capacity to engage volunteers from immigrant/refugee communities.

  • BY Karen Bantuveris

    ON February 19, 2009 06:23 PM

    Thank you for such a rich article.  I think it’s important to recognize the ‘hassle factor’ in volunteer drop-out rates.  We’ve found that often people don’t return to volunteering because of little coordination breakdowns—taking time off work to volunteer only to be turned away because too many people showed up, reply-all email messages, phone calls and cumbersome sign up sheets—just to get on the schedule.  At, we’ve addresses a focused piece of the volunteer engagement equation by automating volunteer scheduling, sign ups and reminders in a free online tool so easy that ANYONE can coordiante volunteers.  Simpler, streamlined communication makes it easier for volunteers to say YES and keep coming back.

  • BY Jayne Cravens

    ON February 22, 2009 01:52 AM

    It’s always nice when someone outside the volunteer management sector learns about the issues and realities that those of us in the sector regularly discuss. This article brings up issues that volunteer managers across the USA (and, indeed, the world) are all discussing frequently. Much more than “a few” nonprofits have grasped the concepts noted in this article, and much more than a few are taking what this article calls “a talent management approach.” We volunteer managers are all only too painfully aware of the lack of infrastructure at many organizations to involve volunteers effectively. You don’t need to convince nonprofit organizations that they need to involve volunteers more effectively as much as you need to convince governments, corporations, foundations and other donors that the infrastructure to involve volunteers costs money. What this article doesn’t talk about—at least that I can find—is the reluctance of donors to pay for that infrastructure. Volunteers are *never* free. It takes money and resources to involve them effectively. But ask a donor to fund a volunteer manager, or a database program that will track volunteers, or training for staff to more effectively involve volunteers, and the donor will sniff, “I don’t fund administrative costs.”

    Also, I cringe at the old-school comment “Volunteers, for example, can help nonprofits save money” and “Naming individual volunteers with the number of hours they have contributed (and perhaps the dollar value) is one way to demonstrate a culture that values volunteers.” I discourage organizations from using dollar value for volunteer hours to show volunteer value—if it’s included, it should come only after a long list of the many other reasons to involve volunteers. An organization that emphasizes money saved is an organization that has just said, “We’d love to replace paid staff with volunteers, so we don’t have to pay people.” That not only gets the hackles up of union folks—it gets the hackles up of trained professionals who have chosen to work in the nonprofit sector and invested a huge amount in their own education and training to do so. It also can (and DOES) cause donors to say, “Please reduce your overhead by reducing your paid staff by such-and-such percent and replace them with volunteers.” NOT a good way to create good staff and volunteer relations.

    In addition, this emphasis on monetary value of volunteers says, “Volunteers are only free labor and potential donors.” If you gave me all the money in the world to hire all of the staff I needed, I would *still* create high-responsibility roles for volunteers, to give the community a way to be involved in the organization and a direct view of the work we do, to show donors that the community believes in the work we do, to get alternative viewpoints (sometimes volunteers will criticize in ways staff may be reluctant to do), and oh-so-many other non-monetary reasons.

    So—a good article, but it sounds like you think volunteer managers aren’t already aware of the points you have raised. We are. Acutely.

  • Nonprofit Prof's avatar

    BY Nonprofit Prof

    ON April 7, 2009 01:40 PM

    I am glad to see the Corporation paying attention to sector-wide infrastructure issues, but I have some serious concerns about this article.  There are gross overgeneralizations and the conclusions you draw are not always supported by the data you use. 

    First, although the Corporation’s well-circulated report on turnover legitimately calls attention to the need to invest more organizational resources in retention, I would ask WHY one in three individuals does not return to the same assignment in any year before I conclude that “most CEOs do a poor job of managing them.”  That statement is simply not supported by the 2003 Urban Institute study, which finds that most nonprofits invest at least some effort in volunteer management and that large scale investment in volunteer retention practices is more likely to be associated with the presence of a volunteer coordinator than it is with some characteristic of the CEO.  And since the Urban Institute study failed to screen out those nonprofits that—for reasons of mission, service demands or other legitimate reasons—simply didn’t require volunteers, it is impossible to draw generalizable conclusions about which nonprofits or CEOs really need to improve their volunteer management skills.  In other words, the Corporation’s conclusions and recommendations only make sense if they are applied selectively to those nonprofits that actually report they depend on volunteers to the extent that a volunteer management program makes sense.

    Moreover, I would not conclude from the turnover data that those volunteers who have left an assignment have stopped volunteering.  They could have moved on to another organization, and they could represent short-term volunteers who have completed their assignment.  This criticism has been made before about the Corporation’s turnover report, so you should be addressing it.

    Next, this article overgeneralizes the problem.  You refer liberally to “most nonprofits”, or simply to “nonproifts”.  Are you really applying the same problems and the same expectations to two million diverse organizations.  Should all nonprofits be expected to follow your prescriptions?  To what nonprofits are we referring:  charities?  churches?  Hospitals?  Mental institutions?

    Finally, I share Jayne’s concern about using volunteer dollar value (or any wage replacement method) to value volunteer impact.  The principal limitation is that it’s not a cost-benefit analysis.  As you mention yourself, there are better ways, where the emphasis is on program improvements, secondary benefits such as increased donations, and other more qualitative and important impacts. 

    Although I appreciate immensely the research efforts of the Corporation, and although I agree with many of your suggestions, I expect the Corporation to be more nuanced in its arguments and more careful in its use of the data it generates.

  • BY Bonnie Hilory

    ON July 29, 2009 12:13 AM

    Perphaps I can share trends or shifts within the 3rd sector….I agree with collecting data on volunteers. Better tools are needed (such as Volunteer Spot- which is a free online service for scheduling volunteers in a self-directed respectful manner). There are new tools and services available that make tracking hours and make tracking the dollars easier to monitor as well. We (volunteers and contractors and staff) wrote our own code to accomplish exactly this… because we didn’t like what was available on the market.

    From my point of view, hours & a dollar value make sense. There are several perks to tracking this data. Blue Avocado has one of the best articles I have seen on this topic.  Donors want and deserve to understand why overheads are as high as they are in the 3rd sector. Often the lack of transparency with costs associated with managing volunteers is in fact part of the puzzle. Going deeper, the board of directors or executive staff may want to clearly understand the contributions volunteers make (beyond anecdotal evidence). It is hard to ignore numbers and sometimes helps business minded folks listen or relate better.

    For example, I am one of two full time staff. We have 3 part-time staff so our total is 2.80 FTE (full time equivalent personnel). We rent a 2,400 square foot office space.  Why? Not for our staff…for sure. The reason is “we manage our mission through the support of our wonderful volunteers”. Today is a typical day…we had our “volunteer” volunteer coordinator in , her new assistant, a grantee support person, a graphic designer, and a project manager for our IT issues in, plus 5 others who worked from home from 3 different states (web developer, editor, and copywriters). Each year our volunteer program has grown. Each year we report in our annual report the number of volunteers, how many hours they contribute and yes the total $ volunteer contribution. The messaging is like any other PR campaign…it needs to be thoughtful and carefully written. 

    My belief is as our 3rd sector emerges, grows and changes best practices will emerge. For example, now many foundations and companies are accepting volunteer contributions as part of matching funds raised. To say we should not quantify the gift of time is to say our development staff shouldn’t use the contributions for our fundraising for matching for corporate gifts or matching grants.

    Our volunteers login daily and love the feedback of their contributions.  We have an annual volunteer recognition event, like many other non profits. By tracking volunteer hours our volunteer will be eligible for the Presidential citation with . Tracking hours is important. But quantifying is also important. As our volunteer program grows we need to educate our board, donors and volunteers that more funding will be needed. The more volunteers we have the more financial support/help from the agency we will need. For example, as volunteer hours grow and volunteers grow so does the needs for more bus passes, parking, treats(we provide pop, fruit, chocolates often), L & I insurance (we pay .10 per hours for all in state volunteers), etc.. I call this the care and feeding of the volunteers. Four 1/2 years ago we had 15 volunteers…now we have 70=90. It costs to run a quality program however what we receive must go beyond anecdotal warm fuzzy stories. Gee…the irony is if you knew me you would think I am a numbers person. I am totally NOT…I am our chief storyteller…but to ignore dollars, is to ignore the impact and relevance to our budget and financials.

    If anyone wants to discuss this more, receive our annual report or discuss “best practices” please connect. I am reachable at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  or  Bonnie Hilory, Executive Director, Haas Foundation

  • Michael Gentry's avatar

    BY Michael Gentry

    ON January 12, 2010 11:40 AM

    We are starting an initiative on building capacity to engage boomers as volunteers, which will bring the information to organizations on changes to better engage the new wave of volunteers.  We are also doing original research on volunteerism in immigrant and refugee communities to address how mainstream and immigrant/refugee organizations can build capacity to engage volunteers from immigrant/refugee communities.


    Michael Gentry

  • Julia Stewart's avatar

    BY Julia Stewart

    ON December 3, 2013 03:06 PM

    I was just about to write an article like this; googled a few key words and voila! There the article was!  Similar ideas have been milling around in my head the past two days!!  I was going to title my article THE NEW AGE OF HIGH-VALUE VOLUNTEERS, referring specifically to retiring baby boomers who have the potential to enter the volunteer work force in droves over the next few decades—if their energy and skills are properly harnessed and they find the work rewarding and results-oriented. This work force has the added-value of being DONOR-VOLUNTEERS.

    The ideas dawned on me when I realized most of the foreign volunteers at a dog rescue shelter and sterilization clinic where I live in Mexico are retirees (or those in their 50s/60s not really retired//perhaps we can call them an ‘unencumbered lifestyle set’?) - who not only volunteer their time but also funds and much of the material and logistical items needed to carry out the work.

    Makes me so happy to know this trend is backed by facts and figures. We can improve our world, one good turn at a time!

  • BY Dara Krute

    ON August 27, 2014 01:16 PM

    Our nonprofit is just starting to recruit volunteers.  We agree with everything about managing them in this article.  But, where is the best place to find the people we need?  There are so many sites that provide volunteer matching or listing in some way.  We cannot find any listings or reviews of them.  How do we know where to focus our efforts?  This article is relatively mute on getting started with using a volunteer workforce.

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