Maryland Today | New research reveals nonprofit volunteers More…
Nonprofits struggling with rising demand, limited resources and reduced staff in the wake of a global pandemic are relying more than ever on volunteer engagement, but those volunteers are now harder to engage, according to a new study released Tuesday published by the University of Maryland.
The first-of-its-kind analysis of the state of volunteerism in the United States emerged from a survey of more than 1,000 nonprofit CEOs and more than 100 donors conducted by the School of Public Policy’s Do Good Institute and funded in part by a new one national collaboration, the Strategic Volunteering Initiative.
The survey found that in 2022, nearly two-thirds (64.4%) of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their organizational services. Just over half (51.1%) expanded service delivery and 48.5% increased employee workloads to meet demand. At the same time, 28.7% of nonprofit organizations operate with less funding and paid staff than before the pandemic.
“This gap in funding and staffing makes volunteers even more important to many mission-oriented organizations,” said Nathan Dietz, senior researcher at the Do Good Institute and associate research scholar at the school. “Nonprofits are likely to face burnout or service delivery problems if this continues. Many of these organizations provide critical services and support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, so we should all be concerned about that.”
Nonprofit organizations face the challenge of finding the right volunteer support, as well as the capacity and infrastructure to sustain volunteer engagement. Almost half (46.8%) of CEOs state that recruiting enough volunteers is a major problem for their organizations, especially volunteers who are available during the traditional workday and have the required skills. Many nonprofit organizations reported retaining very few volunteers, and their volunteers performed fewer rather than more specific organizational activities such as service delivery, fundraising, professional support, or advocacy.
Despite these challenges, nonprofit organizations appear to be more convinced of the benefits of volunteering. For example, the percentage of nonprofit CEOs who feel that “highly” volunteers allow the organization to pay closer attention to the people they serve increased from 37% in 2019 to 65.6% in 2022. And the percentage of nonprofit CEOs who believe “highly” volunteers increase the organization’s return on resource investment from 43% to 68.4% over the same period.
However, there is a disconnect between funders and nonprofits on the value and challenges associated with strategic volunteering. For example, 72.2% of nonprofit executives believed that volunteers significantly improve the quality of the service or program provided, but only 25.2% of funders agreed; and while 65.6% of nonprofit leaders report that volunteers give a lot more attention to the people they serve, only 29.3% of donors agreed.
This lack of shared understanding between funders and nonprofits can be problematic, as funder investment is key to helping nonprofits recruit and engage more volunteers.
“Today, while nonprofit organizations are making more efforts to engage volunteers, they are experiencing a triple hit of greater demand for their services, fewer volunteers, and fewer funders with a track record of supporting volunteerism,” said Robert Grimm, director of the Do Good Institute and the Levenson Family Chair in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. “These troubling trends must be reversed.”
The Initiative for Strategic Volunteer Engagement is a new effort by funders and nonprofits who believe in the power of volunteers to increase impact. It will provide practical and research-based tools and resources to help nonprofits engage consciously with their volunteer networks and inspire funders to invest further in strategic volunteering.
“We believe in the power of volunteering to advance mission-critical issues and causes, and that is the primary driver for commissioning this research,” said Jeffrey Glebocki and Betsy McFarland, co-directors of the Initiative for Strategic Volunteer Engagement. “This research will be used to spark a national discussion about making greater philanthropic investments in strategic volunteering – and equipping more nonprofit organizations to use strategic volunteering for greater impact.”