Posts tagged ‘Robert Putnam’

February 28, 2014

Warning: US Volunteerism at a Decade Low!

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.”

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

Graph from American Charitable Bequest Demographics (1992-2012) by Russell James.

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.

For a free electronic copy of James’ book, subscribe to this blog site in the right-hand column. You’ll receive an email confirmation of your subscription that will contain a link to the book.

Clearly, the steady decline in volunteerism represents a serious problem for the nonprofit sector.

So, why is volunteerism on the decline? Unfortunately, the reasons for the decline are unclear. However, the report contains some clues.

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April 5, 2013

If You Don’t Care About Them, Why Will They Care About You?

A reader of Michael Rosen Says… recently contacted me with her/his own unfortunate experience with a nonprofit organization. S/he provided me with a copy of an email exchange s/he had with a theater company. I’m going to share this person’s story with you because it contains a worthwhile lesson about the importance of reciprocity.

Photo by Shira Golding via FlickrBefore I get to the story, however, I want you to know that I am editing the emails for brevity and any identifying information. I’m protecting the name of the theater company, the name of the Managing Director of the theater company, and the reader who contacted me because neither party knew, at the time, their one-on-one communications would find their way into the press.

From time to time, I write about the blunders that some nonprofit organizations make. I’ve done this, not to shame them, but so others can learn from someone else’s mistakes. It is much less painful if we learn from someone else’s missteps rather than our own.

The story begins when my reader — let’s call her/him “Sam” — received an email from a theater company. Sam, who had purchased two season subscriptions, immediately opened the email. The message promoted an interesting lecture by a well-regarded nonprofit leader in the community. The lecture dealt with leadership and tied-in with the company’s current play.

The event appealed to Sam. Just before clicking through to the organization’s website to accept the invitation and purchase tickets, Sam noticed the date of the lecture: Monday, March 25. Unfortunately, this meant that Sam would not be able to attend because that date was the first night of Passover, an important Jewish holiday.

Annoyed that the theater company would schedule a special one-time program on Passover, Sam wrote to the theater company:

Disappointing scheduling of an otherwise appealing, academic lecture.

So, add this to your discussion: Does a good (nonprofit) leader ‘dis’ a large portion of the region’s top arts patrons through thoughtless event scheduling?

We’ll be celebrating first Seder.

We really would have enjoyed hearing the address on this topic. The speaker is a dynamo.

Sam”

The theater’s Managing Director responded the next business day. This was very good. The Managing Director did the smart thing by responding soon after receiving the complaint:

Dear Sam,

Thanks very much for writing. I’m very sorry for the scheduling inconvenience. We truly do our best, but we present special events all season long and it is not possible to avoid all holidays on the calendar. For example, this event takes place on the first night of Passover, we have a performance of XXXXXXX on Easter, etc.

If you’re interested in history, I hope you’ll consider joining us for the talk on Monday, April 1 with ZZZZZZZZ. He’s truly fantastic.

All best,

Fran”

The response was good in three ways:

1. A high-level person sent an immediate, personal response.

2. The message contained an apology.

3. The author suggested another program that the individual might enjoy.

Unfortunately, the goodwill these positive points might have earned was largely negated by the defensive and dismissive tone of the email. Sam responded:

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