Responses to a recent study from nonprofit leaders and consultants.

You may have seen the news: apparently, volunteerism in America is at a record low. Only 25.4% of Americans volunteer, according to a recent study.

I asked my nonprofit marketing colleagues what they thought of this. Is it true? Is it false? What approaches to volunteer development are working right now? We had a fantastic conversation on LinkedIn about it--you can read the full conversation here.

Here are some of the points I particularly appreciated:

Nonprofits aren't organized

"Earlier this year I contacted a local NPO asking about opportunities, and received a reply about a couple of volunteer spots I was interested in. We emailed back and forth a couple of times and was told that a contract and more information would be coming to me soon. The director seemed excited to receive a non-solicited offer of help.

A few weeks later, still no reply, I contacted her again to ask if they still needed the help as I was still interested. I have not received a reply, a month later. This is not a unique situation, as it has happened to me on more than a few occasions.

I think some NPOs have so much work to do, they don't know where to start, and so when people like me show up asking "what can I do for you?" they have no starting point for new volunteers. I think NPOs need to be organized and have an effective volunteer recruitment/training program, so when new people come a knockin' they can respond and get them started right away, instead of leaving them hanging and wondering, and eventually falling off the radar."

Donna Rondeau, CEO of Epic Virtual Assistance

"Create a Volunteering for <insert NP> guide for each constituency group / program. Use the medium and language that best fits each group and ask those who are interested to inquire. In my experience, gathering then for an informational with each group fosters trust and enthusiasm.

Make sure to include the benefit to the volunteers as well as community members. Establish ways to recognize volunteers for their effort and time, and most importantly, invite volunteers from each group to become part of a volunteer recruiting committee."

Kristen Gardiner, Freelance Marketing Consultant

Volunteers are changing

"What I do wonder about when it comes to volunteering is the sustainability of the "core volunteer"--you know the kind; they're not so much the board member but the long-standing individual(s) who come week after week (or day after day) for many years and "owns" the work that needs to get done. I'm certain the long lasting relationship has to do with showing appreciation and impact of the work being done. However--and I have no facts and figures to support this observation--it seems there's a generation of volunteers who move from organization to organization to do the one-off project or help the "org de jour" because it "feels good to help" but they don't really connect enough with the mission to keep them on long-term."

Liz Swanson, Nonprofit Sector Consultant

Not seeing the trend

"For us volunteering is increasing. I am still trying to catch up with the many people who want to come in and help. I think it is amazing and I so appreciate their desire to do the work so desperately needed. Chapman University, Cal State Fullerton, some wonderful retirees, those that run companies and just plain normal people wanting to help. They clean refrigerators, shelves, sweep the floors, mop, and pass out the food. At Second Harvest, I see volunteers as well. It might be the field you are in."

Michelle Hensley, Executive Director of You Are Special Community Outreach

Manage volunteers like they're people

"Nonprofits must get out of this type of me-centric thinking where people will give money, time, and effort simply because their mission is noble. Undoubtedly it is. But if NPOs are going to fulfill its mission, introducing more people to become dedicated to the cause, we need to think of each individual as investors and build the internal systems that encourage deeper relationships built on mutuality and respect.

I've worked with the dedicated volunteers as well as dabblers [who float from cause to cause]. Both present their own unique challenges to getting things done and impacting the org's mission. Our work is to build the personas in order to understand these multiple types...so we don't waste valuable time and effort trying to get the dabbler to stay loyal and then get dismayed when they move on to another cause important to them. It requires a different type of communication and relationship strategy. But unless we segment our volunteers according to these personas and stop treating all volunteers the same, we'll probably continue to spin our wheels."

Chris Bailey, Nonprofit Sector Consultant

"It's not whether volunteerism is up or down - it's often how volunteers are managed - treated - and "thanked". As noted - just because your cause is noble - doesn't mean that the people helping should be taken for granted and treated that "they owe society" the time they donate."

Stu Leventhal, President of Lexicon

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