November 23, 2017

Too Many Volunteers?

Too Many Volunteers - Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 006
by Fonda Kendrick, VolunteerHub.com

It’s a perfect storm when it comes to volunteerism in America right now, based on several factors that we’ve blogged about in the past. The baby boomers are retiring, the unemployed are looking for activities to hone their skills for resumes and simply to fill their free time, and President Obama has issued a massive call to action on the volunteer front. Based on these three streams of supply, nonprofits are currently seeing an unprecedented demand for volunteer opportunities.

In an ironic twist, many organizations that have seen a rise in their volunteer numbers have also seen a downturn in resources. Lindsay Firestone of Taproot comments, “It’s like a Greek tragedy. We’re thrilled to have all of these volunteers. But now organizations are stuck not being able to take advantage of it because they don’t have adequate funding.”

Just a few months ago, The New York Times reported a huge surge of volunteers in areas all across the country. (One hundred thousand in New York City alone!) Suddenly, many nonprofits nationwide are saying something they never thought possible: we have too many volunteers! In fact, the Times quoted one anonymous nonprofit exec as saying, “Can you make them stop calling? Everybody’s inspired by Obama,” he noted. Then he tacked on, “They also don’t have jobs.”

Others echo the executive’s sentiment. Bertina Ceccarelli of United Way in New York, states: “It’s sad but true, but the irony is that sometimes it’s almost more work to find something for a volunteer to do than to just turn them away.”


Having too many volunteers can be chaotic and counterproductive; both volunteer coordinators and volunteers can become frustrated with this situation. However, as we researched deeper into this topic, we found some tips for regulating volunteers within an organization:

  • Before recruiting new volunteers, take stock of your current needs. List the tasks you would like to assign to volunteers, how many people you will need for each task, and how many hours per week should be devoted to these assignments.
  • Write up a “wish list” focusing on a variety of areas within the organization. What have you been wanting to do/try? In particular, you may want to focus on fundraising efforts, marketing/PR/graphic design, and maybe even maintenance work such as cleaning or painting. Again, assess the hours and number of individuals needed for these tasks.
  • Create a “crowdsourcing” area on your website. Have members of your organization brainstorm on challenges that hinder them from attaining some of their goals. Ask your volunteers (or the public in general) to offer ideas for solutions, then use those suggestions, in tandem with volunteers, to put those plans into action.
  • Get creative. What new programs or teams could you start with additional volunteers, even on a shoestring?
  • Develop a list of tasks that can always be done with little direction/supervision.
  • Hold monthly informational meetings for potential volunteers to find out more about your organization and its volunteer opportunities. This will minimize time spent on this aspect of recruiting and maximize the amount of individuals reached each month.
  • Cultivate one or more volunteers to manage and/or train other volunteers.
  • Start a waiting list for volunteers. As we all know, some volunteers have a short-lived enthusiasm. If some drop out of your volunteer pool, it helps to have more ready and willing contacts at your fingertips.

Handy hint: Once you have new volunteer opportunities planned, don’t forget to use VolunteerHub’s event slot limit feature to set boundaries on the number of volunteers registering. (Make sure to use the waitlisting feature, too!)

Remember, with a surplus of volunteers, this is your time to be selective. You have the right — and the responsibility — to interview volunteers to make sure they are a good fit for both your organization and the projects you have outlined. And, by partnering with other organizations in your community, you can refer individuals that do not mesh well with your agency to other groups to which they may be better suited.

Perhaps most importantly, keep in mind that this is your chance to make a lasting impression on your volunteers. Take the time to evaluate your need for volunteers and match those willing to help with challenging, meaningful tasks. If they have a fulfilling, well-planned experience, your volunteers are likely to maintain their ties to your organization for years to come.

Fonda Kendrick works for VolunteerHub,  the latest version of a system first conceived in 1996 to facilitate volunteer registration for the University of Michigan’s campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Since its humble beginnings, the service has grown to offer a wide range of features for event, event registration, and volunteer workforce management. Today VolunteerHub connects people and purposes for a variety of nonprofit, educational, and commercial organizations.

Related article:

“From the Ranks of Jobless, A Flood of Volunteers,” by Julie Bosman, in the New York Times, March 16, 2009

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