Communities across the country rely on volunteers for essential services. That's why it's essential that volunteers are given the tools and resources to succeed. Well-managed volunteer programs do just that; they provide volunteers (and the communities they serve) with a sustainable support system for doing their best work.
Need to make the case for starting a volunteer program at your organization? Keep reading to discover how your organization can leverage volunteers at your organization.
The Benefits of Volunteer Programs
There are currently over 1.4 million registered 501(c)(3) organizations in the United States, and many of them rely on volunteers to carry out the necessary activities that meet critical community needs.
In other words: volunteering benefits everyone!
Why Are Volunteers Important to an Organization?
We know the personal benefits of volunteering; it’s good for your health and instills a collective sense of community. But what are the benefits of using volunteers at your organization?
- Grow a nonprofit and build capacity
- Improve an organization’s return on investment
- Deliver services that an organization would otherwise have to pay for
- Support the necessary functions of a nonprofit
Without volunteers, many communities would face significant gaps in necessary services.
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The Value of Volunteer Time
You know that volunteers are important to our communities. But how do you quantify their value? Why do organizations measure the value of volunteer time?
Nationwide, 30% of Americans volunteer, serving an estimated 5.8 billion hours annually. The economic value of volunteering is worth 147 billion dollars.
By putting a value on every volunteer hour, organizations are not only recognizing the sizable contributions that volunteers make, but they can also use this information to make key decisions about resource allocation.
How do you measure the value of a volunteer hour?
Many organizations choose to recognize either the volunteer hour value national average or their statewide average value.
The current estimated national value of volunteer time is $29.95, a 5% increase from the previous year.
In other words, if volunteers were to be paid an hourly wage for their work, they would make $29.95 per hour. That’s four times the federal minimum wage.
The Independent Sector also recognizes state-by-state data on volunteer hours. In some areas of the country, the value of the volunteer hour is as high as $50.48!
Organizations can also use an industry standard hourly wage when measuring the volunteer value for highly skilled positions or pro bono work. For example, in some cities, the hourly volunteer value for pro bono lawyers is worth more than $85 per hour.
Maximizing Volunteer Impact: The Value of Volunteer Programs
From nonprofits to businesses, all kinds of organizations need volunteers to help make real change. And a volunteer program mobilizes volunteers to maximize impact.
A volunteer program is a systematic way of leveraging the power of volunteer time. Investing in a volunteer program with volunteer management at its core will maximize its value to your organization and the communities you serve.
Starting a volunteer program is about more than taking on a few volunteers. It requires careful coordination and the right volunteer management tools to best use your volunteers’ time.
How to Start a Volunteer Program
By now, you understand the enormous benefits of volunteer programs. But how do you actually form a volunteer program at your organization?
These are the steps you need to take when starting a volunteer program:
- Develop a Mission Statement. A strong mission statement helps steer the planning process and drive your efforts moving forward.
- Establish Program Goals. Concrete goals give your volunteer program direction and create momentum. Goals should be measurable and specific.
- Formulate a Strategic Plan. Consider how you’ll approach each step of the volunteer management process, from resource allocation to recruitment and recognition.
- Manage Community Relationships. Volunteer management is relationship management. You’ll need processes in place for maintaining relationships with your volunteers, community partners, and stakeholders.
- Track and Evaluate Progress. Your volunteer program should be ever-evolving and growing. You’ll want to measure progress based on your program goals and develop systems for implementing improvements.
Perhaps you’re still in the planning stages of your volunteer program and wondering how to use volunteers to help deliver on your mission. Keep reading to explore the many ways volunteers support community organizations!
Types of Volunteer Involvement
There are many benefits of using volunteers and just as many ways volunteers can get involved.
Volunteers can help your organization by:
- Providing direct service to your clients
- Offering expertise that your organization or community needs
- Serving on your board or other committees
- Supporting events and fundraising
But that’s not all. There are many types of volunteers, including:
Direct Service Volunteerism
Direct services impact clients closely, as volunteers work to address the immediate needs of a community. Volunteers will interact with the community members served, whether they’re tutoring children, walking shelter dogs, or beautifying a public park.
Direct service opportunities are great for volunteer programs that work closely with clients and community members and provide plenty of options for volunteers of all ages, abilities, and commitment levels.
Because your volunteers will be working closely with clients, you’ll need to vet volunteers appropriately to safeguard your organization and those you serve.
Many organizations rely on volunteers to staff events, from charity auctions to fundraiser runs. Organizing an event requires many helping hands, and employing volunteers is a great way to support event operations.
Here are a few types of opportunities for event volunteers:
- Attendee sign-up and customer service
- Ticketing and guest check-in
- Traffic and parking management
- Selling or distributing merchandise
- Set up and clean up
Keep in mind that recruiting and organizing event volunteers can be a challenge, so you’ll need a reliable and efficient way to communicate with volunteers before, during, and after the event.
Today’s employees want to give back. And corporate volunteerism is becoming increasingly popular as companies strive toward more corporate social responsibility. That’s why businesses are partnering with community organizations to maximize impact.
Your organization can leverage employee volunteers’ unique expertise to provide valuable services to clients, such as free tax prep. You can also mobilize corporate volunteer groups to tackle larger projects throughout the year, like planting community gardens or sorting donations en masse.
Other Types of Service
Your organization and its volunteers are certainly not limited to direct service. In fact, there are plenty of other ways that volunteers can support your organization beyond direct service, including:
Pro bono volunteers donate their professional skills or expertise to organizations in need. While pro bono work often involves legal services, the term can also refer to any professional work provided without charge.
Pro bono services may include:
- Legal advice and services
- Tax preparation
- Free physician visits or medical services
- Professional mentorship
Organizations that recruit pro bono volunteers will typically partner with businesses, professional associations, trade unions, or campuses to source qualified participants. When managed effectively, these partnerships can be fruitful for all stakeholders.
Community service is non-paying work performed for the benefit of the community or its institutions. It differs from traditional volunteer work because it may not be performed on a voluntary basis.
Community service can encompass court-ordered service, in which individuals convicted of a crime may be sentenced to complete a certain number of service hours with credible agencies, such as nonprofits. Schools or other institutions may also require service hours for certain benefits, grants, or scholarships.
Community service has many of the same benefits as traditional volunteerism in that participants can help organizations improve communities. Organizations considering community service partnerships will need a reliable system for tracking service hours.
Like volunteers, nonprofits can utilize interns to help support operations and programming. Interns differ slightly from volunteers in that internships take place over a fixed amount of time, often to fulfill an academic requirement or advance one’s career. On the other hand, people volunteer for many different reasons, and volunteer roles vary.
Nonprofit interns are usually given relevant projects that expand their knowledge or skills while making a genuine contribution to your organization.
Interns can offer your organization fresh perspectives, bring renewed enthusiasm, and fill skills and knowledge gaps.
How can your organization make the most of its interns? Some examples of great nonprofit internship projects are:
- Planning an upcoming fundraising event
- Writing posts for your organization’s blog
- Implementing a social media strategy
- Researching technology solutions for streamlining volunteer management
Unmissable Trends in Volunteer Involvement
Volunteer programs continue to prove their value even during unprecedented times. The pandemic forced organizations to pivot to deliver programming safely.
We’d wager that these emerging trends in volunteer involvement are here to stay:
Virtual volunteering has probably been on your radar for a few years now. But it’s a form of volunteerism that will likely stick around.
What are the benefits of recruiting virtual volunteers?
Many volunteers cite busy schedules as the largest barrier to volunteering. Volunteering from home offers busy people the flexibility to make a difference in their own time and in their own space. For homebound individuals or those with limited mobility, online volunteering offers additional inclusivity so that anyone can be a part of making an impact and feel valued.
Microvolunteering mirrors everyday good citizenship by asking people to complete simple, episodic volunteer tasks. Tasks occur on an ad-hoc basis and can be completed on volunteers’ terms, either virtually or in person.
What are the benefits of microvolunteering?
Microvolunteerism is great for programs that want to grow their volunteer pool, divide and conquer large projects, and raise brand awareness.
“Micro” volunteer opportunities are approachable and convenient, so you can engage busy people who want to support a cause but may not be ready to commit long-term.
What types of volunteer opportunities are great for microvolunteering?
You can ask microvolunteers to:
- Share a post on social media to raise awareness or ask for donations
- Sign a petition
- Donate supplies or collect donations
- Fill out a survey
- Translate a document
- Record a video
- Design a flyer or poster
The Next Generation of Volunteers
If you want to create a sustainable volunteer program, you’ll need to understand how to engage the next generation of volunteers.
Volunteer programs understand the importance of youth volunteerism; children and teens who volunteer become civically engaged adults. Young volunteers offer enthusiasm and passion, while you help reinforce social capital.
To welcome young people into your volunteer program, consider creating family-friendly volunteer opportunities.
Generation Z (Gen Z) is poised to become the largest generation in the U.S, with the eldest members entering the workforce in droves.
Gen Z understands the value of civic engagement and are prepared to take on the challenges of today and tomorrow.
You’ll need to understand how they prefer to get involved to engage this passionate bunch.
Service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. Service learning is designed to enrich the student’s learning experience by teaching civic responsibility.
Why is service learning important to your organization?
Service learning strengthens communities. Organizations benefit by partnering with schools and campuses to create mutually beneficial and enriching volunteer experiences for students.
Students can bring enthusiasm, unique skills, and new perspectives. In turn, your organization offers a unique opportunity to understand and work through real-world challenges.
If you are an instructor or academic chair looking to implement a service learning program, you can learn more about service learning best practices here.
Emergency and Disaster Response
Volunteer organizations are often at the front lines following a disaster. Emergency and disaster response volunteers are mobilized when an event—such as a natural disaster—affects a community. Volunteers can also assist in preparation and mitigation efforts.
What roles can disaster response volunteers play?
There are typically four main areas in which volunteers help in emergency response and disaster recovery efforts:
- Administrative - Planning, coordination and communication, public information and warning
- Health and Recovery - Supply distribution, shelter set-up, counseling, evacuee support and reunification
- Transportation - Critical transportation, supply delivery
- Safety - Search and rescue operations, fire management and suppression, location security, environmental response
If you think your organization can mobilize its volunteers or other resources in response to an emergency or disaster, you’ll need to come up with a disaster volunteer management plan.
The benefits of volunteer programs are clear: they help build capacity at nonprofit organizations and deliver community functions. From service learning to direct service, volunteers in all its forms are essential to the well-being of our communities.