The rate of volunteerism in America fell to the lowest level in a decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report Volunteering in the United States — 2013. This appears part of a downward trend.
Nonprofit organizations should find this trend alarming for a number of reasons, including:
Volunteers provide an essential labor pool. Approximately 62.6 million (25.4 percent) Americans volunteered at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.
The median volunteer spent 50 hours on volunteer activities during the study period. These significant volunteer hours mean that volunteers are a valuable part of the nonprofit labor force. Declining volunteerism rates mean charities will either have to limit services, discontinue certain activities, or pay for employees to perform the tasks formerly handled by volunteers.
Volunteers serve as ambassadors. Individuals who volunteer usually act as ambassadors for the organization. They obviously have a high-degree of interest in the organization, which is why they volunteer with it.
Through volunteer experiences, provided they are good ones, the volunteers will become more engaged with the organization and more passionate about its work. They will speak of the organization with family and friends. When they do, it will be in a positive, passionate tone. This word-of-mouth promotion will help your organization to attract additional volunteer and donor support.
Volunteers are more likely to donate. The more engaged an individual is with his community, the more likely he is to volunteer and contribute money to nonprofit organizations. The more points of connection there are between an individual and a particular nonprofit organization, the more likely that individual is to give, give often, and give generously to that organization, as I point out in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.
Volunteerism is an important point of connection. This phenomenon is explained, in part, by the Social Capital Theory popularized by Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone.
Volunteers are more likely to make planned gifts. Consider what researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP reports in his book, American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012):
Among those with [estate] planning documents, those who both volunteer and give ($500+) are dramatically more likely to plan a charitable estate gift than those who only volunteer or only give ($500+). Those who only volunteer, plan charitable estate gifts at approximately the same rate as those who only give.”
Furthermore, those who only volunteer or only donate ($500+) are more than twice as likely to make a legacy gift than those who do neither.
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Clearly, the steady decline in volunteerism represents a serious problem for the nonprofit sector.