What do you know about your volunteers?

Refreshing Your Volunteer Corps

Do you know your volunteers? Do you know their age, marital status, household income, level of education attained? Are your struggling to refresh the ranks of your volunteer corps? A few years ago a Congressional report stated that “Volunteering rates in the US are no lower than in the 1970s.” Really! Certainly we’ve improved from disco music, bellbottoms, huge sideburns, tube socks, lava lamps, and the AMC Gremlin

What do you know about your volunteers
What do you know about your volunteers?

In 1974 the most typical American volunteer was a married white woman between the ages of 25 and 44 who held a college degree and was in an upper income household. Recent studies suggest that gender, marital status, age, education, income and race are still factors impacting the frequency of volunteerism in our nation:

  • More women volunteer than men, and the steady and significant increase of women in the workforce today has not changed the gap and the higher prevalence of women as volunteers persists.
  • Married Americans are fifty percent more likely to volunteer than those who had never married. Logically, parents are naturally inclined to support their children’s activities yet this does not fully identify the marriage factor in higher volunteerism. Married but childless Americans volunteer more often than never-married adults. And married parents volunteer only a bit more than childless married adults.
  • Age differences in volunteering seem to be narrowing over the past five decades yet those adults ages 25 to 44 volunteer less than they used to, and those 65 and older who volunteer has remained stable. Individuals ages 45 to 64 tend to be the highest volunteering age group, by a small margin.
  • Education is an important factor. Individuals with a college degree are nearly three times more likely to volunteer than those with less than a high school degree.
  • As household income decreases, so too does volunteering. Volunteering in households making $100,000 or more are 21 points higher than households making less than $20,000.
  • Race is also predictive. Non-Hispanic whites volunteer more frequently than non-whites.

A private study recently commissioned by Fidelity Charitable of almost 2,000 current donors highlights the evolving cultural differences and priorities among volunteers today, and it may be the most current survey to provide insight of the impact from Covid-19 social distancing. Before the pandemic in March of 2020, respondents to the Fidelity survey reported that volunteerism was on the rise, with 30 percent saying they had increased the amount of time that they volunteered in the past two years. After the onset of the pandemic in August through a follow-up survey of nearly 500 Fidelity donors, two-thirds of the donors reported decreased volunteerism. While many organizations have attempted to engage volunteers virtually a majority of respondents prefer in-person and on-site activities. Hopefully we can all get back to in-person activities very soon.

The Fidelity report proposes differences in responses and stated values between generations. Millennials reported placing greater value on transparency and want to better understand their impact than Baby Boomers. The older Boomers are described as more traditional volunteers that prefer to serve by simply lending a hand, in contrast to Millennials that like to donate their skilled labor. Boomers were more likely to focus their time with a single organization, while Millennials indicated they had recently volunteered for three or more organizations. Competing for the attention of Millennials may be increasingly worthwhile as a third of them say they give more to the nonprofit they volunteer with.

For development officers and nonprofit executives, this information on the changing face of volunteerism should best serve as a wake-up call to make greater strides to learn more about the specific interests and values of their actual corps of volunteer. Further, we will all be challenged to improve the programs and methods of engaging, communicating and recognizing the irreplaceable value and importance of our organization’s volunteers. How we work to help individuals to become more involved is changing but it will still lead to greater donor investment in our organizations.

Click Here for pdf version

For more on The Role of Volunteers, Developing Effective Fundraising Leaders  access:  Goettler Series Volume 10