November 23, 2017

Why Volunteers Stop Serving

Non Profit Consulting and Training - Wendy Biro-Pollard 114
Introduction

In spite of the economic downturn, many individuals continue to serve in their communities–helping their neighbors and organizing service projects.

In  2008, 61.8 million adults donated approximately 8 billion hours of time, and yet, over one-third of these individuals (35.5%) stopped volunteering and did not serve with any organization the following year.  This high rate of volunteer turnover has forced nonprofits to focus on replacing volunteers instead of maximizing impact and building organizational capacity.

A July 2009 report titled Pathways to Service posted on Volunteering In America identified five barriers that may keep individuals from volunteering or returning to service.

Key Findings

1.  Personal invitations to serve are more appealing to prospective volunteers.

Many individuals said they had never volunteered because they had never been asked. These same non-volunteers also said that if they were asked, they would be open to volunteering.

Organizations need to address this misconception in order to effectively recruit new volunteers.  Having existing volunteers share their stories can help non-volunteers see that they are just like those who serve.

2.  Non-volunteers see themselves as essentially different from volunteers.

Non-volunteers saw volunteers as retired, without children, and with an abundance of free time. While this may be true for some volunteers, data shows that the majority of volunteers tend to have busy schedules filled with work, children, and other commitments.

Organizations need to address this misconception in order to effectively recruit new volunteers.  Having existing volunteers share their stories can help non-volunteers see that they are just like those who serve.

3. Non-volunteers worry about having enough time to volunteer.

The term time poverty was coined over a decade ago.  Organizations are competing with people’s free time and time with family and friends.  They need to offer a variety of jobs—both short and long term.

Data shows that 65.5% of all US volunteers are episodic volunteers (volunteering less than 100 hours a year with all organizations) whereas 34.5% of individuals are intensive volunteers (volunteering 100 hours or more per year).

4.  Poor volunteer management turns people off of service.

Individuals who had a bad experience volunteering with one organization often did not volunteer again.  Individuals complained about poorly trained and unprepared leaders,  inadequate orientation and  skills training, restrictive volunteer assignments, lack of recognition and more.

5.  Skills-based volunteering can bring in new volunteers.

Non-volunteers reported that using their skills and learning new skills was important to them.  Pro bono and skills-based volunteering gives nonprofits access to needed expertise at a time when many are short staffed.

Organizations need to develop sound business strategies, models, and protocols. In support of this effort, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation recently initiated a challenge to leverage $1 billion in skilled volunteering and pro bono services from the corporate community. This three-year campaign, titled A Billion + Change, is led by the Corporation for National and Community Service to help nonprofit organizations benefit from professional skills, skills-based volunteering, and pro-bono contributions.

To see the full report:

“Pathways to Service: Learning from the potential volunteer’s perspective,” July 2009.

For another excellent report see:

The New Volunteer Workforce, By David Eisner, Robert T. Grimm Jr., Shannon Maynard, & Susannah Washburn, Winter 2009

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