Why are we talking about volunteerism in a financial crisis?

This sudden attention to volunteerism can be seen as nothing more than the Nonprofiteer’s obsession with her own recent personal experience.  And it may seem beside the point in a financial context where nonprofits are scrambling for every dollar.  But here’s why it’s not:

Individuals contribute more than three-quarters of the operating revenue of the nation’s nonprofits.  And volunteers donate more than other individuals.  Volunteers are more likely to continue to make a charity their priority than people who simply wrote a check once.  The comparison that comes to mind is the one the late Danny Newman posited between the feckless single-ticket buyer and the virtuous subscriber: the latter makes your organization a part of his/her life, while the former might just as well have stumbled over you on the street.

So any nonprofit interested in its financial future should be thinking about how to attract and retain volunteers.


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4 Responses to “Why are we talking about volunteerism in a financial crisis?”

  1. philanthrophile Says:

    While for some, volunteering may be a way to “be someone,” for others – like me – it may driven in part by a more strategic reason. I could give money, or I could invest time and expertise to build capacity – in my case marketing and communications capacity. Having left my 12-hour-a-day executive position to care for my 92 year old Dad, I’ve chosen to focus on select pro bono projects as a way to support causes and organizations I care about. Sometimes my work is an outright donation, and other times, sliding scale – usually if I want to ensure that the organization doesn’t take the work for granted and really implements the results. Though I have 25+ years of experience in marketing and strategy for large organizations and agencies, I’m also diving into some tactical arenas that are new to me. I’m blogging my experiences and learnings at philanthrophile.wordpress.com… Thanks for the interesting post. (aka Betsy Stone)

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    I guess I draw a distinction between “volunteering” and “pro bono consulting.” If your goal is to share specific skills with a wide range of clients, that’s consulting, whether or not you get paid for it; but if your goal is to invest yourself in a particular organization, that’s volunteering. They’re both useful but they serve different social functions, as well as different functions to the individuals.

  3. philanthrophile Says:

    Thinking about the range of projects I’ve completed, I do some of both. Why does the distinction matter? Would there be “rules of engagement” that one should follow as a pro bono consultant vs. a volunteer? What might the pitfalls be of a volunteer who works like a consultant (after some negotiation about engagement, of course)? There are some organizations for which I am a pro bono consultant, where my goal is to build capability, and there are others where I have a strong personal investment in the organization, and I suppose you would say I am first and foremost a volunteer, even though the activity is also my professional expertise.

  4. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Please see tomorrow’s posting about the Taproot Foundation for my thoughts about the distinction between volunteering and pro-bono consulting, and why I think the distinction matters. I think your phrase “rules of engagement” is a very appropriate one, as the whole topic is how to get people deeply engaged in civic life.

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