RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS: TIME FOR TRANSFORMATION
Updated: Feb 26
Preface. Hello. I’m Florence May. I own a software company that helps organizations manage their volunteers. The company was founded in the early 2000s to support large events – the 500 Festival, NCAA Final Four, the Super Bowl, National League of Cities, American Association of Museums, National FFA and Special Olympics.
Our product was on the vanguard of transforming volunteer management. Volunteers no longer had to track down a volunteer manager by phone, email or fax. Trading contact information, schedule availability and participation questions back and forth was eliminated or largely reduced with the capability to automate the process. This allowed volunteer managers to focus more energy on recruiting, event communications and retention.
In 2000, several IT leaders told me this new Software As A Service (SAAS) would never work because all “reputable software companies” must load their software on corporate servers. After all who would buy volunteer management software from a company that collected data in a central server?
Of course, the answer was …. EVERYONE. Online volunteer management was revolutionary. Go to the organization’s website. Click on registration. Receive a confirmation email with your volunteer schedule.
Today. But now nearly 20 years later it is time for a new volunteer revolution. You still need volunteer management tools but your organization needs to be more strategic about how to use software in conjunction with a rapidly changing volunteer recruiting environment. Part of my role is to closely observe volunteer management trends and over the past 5-6 years we have witnessed major changes in the volunteer world.
Let’s start with the big numbers. “More than 77 million American adults volunteered through an organization last year. That’s a record – and it’s also about 30% of all people over the age of 18 in the entire country. Combined, they volunteered for almost 7 billion hours, or about 800,000 years.”
At myTRS, we pay close attention to demographics and our technical offerings. Mobile friendly and text options have become standard expectations for many of our clients. However, the changes in the volunteer world goes beyond technology.
“There is nothing more sad or glorious than generations changing hands.” – John Mellencamp
The large Boomer Generation is retiring or moving into semi-retirement making them ideal volunteer candidates. But they aren’t volunteering in the same way as their predecessors.
The relatively small Generation X (late 30s to early 50’s) is not large enough to replace the aging Boomers. With children in school and many assisting their parents, the Xers are often more focused on day-to-day priorities. Volunteering with schools and youth sports is common.
Focus has moved to the largest generation in the workforce today, the Millennials. Now in their 20s and early 30s, this is the generation with emphasis on having a direct impact and making social change. Like the Boomers, they are not volunteering in the same way as their predecessors.
“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” – W. Edwards Deming
TRS partners with Sterling Volunteers (previously Verified Volunteers) for integrated background checks. The Sterling team is also paying close attention to volunteer patterns. They recently surveyed more than 7,000 volunteers and with their permission we are sharing a portion of the report below.
“Why do you volunteer?”
66% of respondents volunteer to improve their community, and 83% do so to contribute to a cause they care about. Many people agree that they volunteer basically to “give back,” but when you look a little more closely you find that motivations for volunteering can be complicated, highly personal and subjective. And there are other reasons for volunteering beyond simply “giving back,” and it’s important to understand every volunteer’s perspective. Here are some of the motivations for volunteering.
“I Volunteer to Socialize”
More than 35% of respondents said one of the reasons they volunteer is to socialize. Sterling discovered that just because a volunteer enjoys the social aspects of volunteering, doesn’t mean they’re not committed. In fact, they might be more committed than the average volunteer.
Half of these social volunteers said they volunteer 2-3 times per month or more frequently, versus 40% of all respondents.
Additionally, 81% of social volunteers give time with multiple organizations, versus 75% of all respondents. Social volunteers may be volunteering for reasons other than the cause, but they actually may be among your most committed advocates.
“I Volunteer to Build My Skills”
There aren’t many volunteers who choose to volunteer daily, but, surprisingly, 200 of our respondents reported that they do. One-third of daily volunteers also said they volunteer “to build their skills in a particular area.” It’s an interesting motivation for volunteering, and one that isn’t frequently discussed.
Half of these skill-based volunteers are 34 years old or younger, with 14% at 18 years or under. It makes sense. Volunteering can offer young people unique opportunities to get into new fields, network with good people to know, and develop skills they can use throughout their lives.
Skill-based volunteers also spend more time volunteering each time they volunteer compared to the general population. Almost 20% give more than 5 hours each time they volunteer, compared to 13% of all respondents.
Respondents also had the opportunity to share their own personal reasons for volunteering. As you read through them, you come to understand just how subjective the motivations for volunteering can be. You realize that behind every volunteer is a story of sorts, a lifetime of experiences that lead to them giving their time to a cause, and we should all be grateful for that, no matter the volunteer’s motivation.
“I love animals.”
“To combat depression.”
“I just retired, so now I have more time to spend doing it.”
“It gives my life purpose.”
“To put my skills to work for others.”
“To understand the world.”
“To show my children and grandchildren the importance of giving back.”
“I’m offered volunteer time off through work.”
“We take our students to volunteer in the community.”
“So those I’m serving feel cared for.”
“My husband and I volunteer in the National Parks and Monuments to help the underfunded system …”
“It’s therapeutic for me.”
“Family time with my daughter.”
“I am disabled but need to feel useful.”
“To engage with my work colleagues.”
“It gives me an opportunity to travel.”
“For spiritual/religious reasons.”
“To share my knowledge …”
“… In honor of our daughter … she was extremely involved in the community and we know it is what she would want us to do.”
You may wish to study Sterling’s “Volunteer Perspective: Industry Insights 2019” report at https://pj.news.chass.ncsu.edu/2019/07/15/volunteer-perspective-industry-insights-2019-results-and-impact-on-the-nonprofit-sector/ as it highlights two of the biggest trends that we are also observing at myTRS.
Community Matters In the past, people were most likely to focus their volunteer time with a single organization. Now, people are far more likely to volunteer with several organizations. There is far greater interest in making an impact on my community and solving challenges in a comprehensive manner.
Volunteer Groups In the past, we occasionally would see groups of volunteers. Sometimes from corporations and churches but more often from scouts. Now, the importance of volunteering with co-workers, friends and family members is one of the strongest trends. We have seen the rapid growth of corporate social responsibility programs and expansive outreach partnerships via churches and charitable organizations all anxious to show the impact they are making in their own communities. People are finding volunteer opportunities that build skills and allow them to socialize or network via the organizations where they have the most time investment (eg work, church, youth sports).
What do these trends mean for organizations, especially festivals and other community events, wishing to recruit and retain volunteers?
You are going to find it more and more difficult to recruit all of your volunteers in the traditional manner. And in younger trending geographic areas you may have more trouble recruiting any volunteers using the traditional methods.
“Community is much more than belonging to something. It’s about doing something together that makes belonging matter.” – Brian Solis
It is time to rethink the traditional models of recruiting volunteers.
The goal is to make it easy for the people in your community to find volunteer opportunities. All organizations struggle with limited resources. And sending competing recruiting message simply creates more confusion about where to find volunteer opportunities. But if you collaborated with other community organizations, you could have the advantage of shared resources, a consistent volunteer recruiting message and a single online location for volunteers to discover multiple opportunities.
What are the potential benefits of a community volunteer program?
Build a shared volunteer recruiting brand. “We are a community where you are invited to volunteer and make a difference in the place where you live.”
Single search for a variety of volunteer opportunities. A central website provides expanded reach for all organizations seeking to share volunteer opportunities. This is where individual and group volunteers go to check opportunities and learn more, maybe about organizations which they not presently familiar.
Collaboration between organizations. A strong coalition not only builds a brand and stronger sense of community but allows volunteer managers to share experiences, challenges and lessons learned.
People are looking for opportunities based on their availability and skills. Offering more opportunities allows volunteers additional engagement options. If you run an organized and meaningful volunteer program, it is unlikely that you will lose volunteers with this approach.
Opportunity to create a stronger reward program and recognize the top community volunteers.
Encourage all participating organizations to create positive volunteer experiences.
Offer a one stop shop for occasional volunteers and the group volunteer organizer. “I or my group is available on a specific date and would like to volunteer, what is available in my community?”
Bottom line? You need to collaborate!
But where to start?
The best collaborations create something bigger than the sum of what each person or organization can create on their own. Collaborate with people you can learn from. Partner with well-run organizations. And set goals that make the individual organizations and your community better. Now check the next article on how grow a community volunteer program and feel free to send me your questions to Florence May at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are pleased to share resources, case studies and ideas!
“Alone, we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller