Considering Why People Volunteer
Volunteers are the lifeblood of the nonprofit sector. Just about every nonprofit charitable organization uses volunteers in some capacity. In most cases, board members serve without compensation. For many nonprofit organizations in the United States, volunteers do all the work, from planting the trees to paying the bills. Even if your organization employs paid staff, volunteers still provide valuable service. Organizations depend on volunteers to staff telephone hotlines, lead scout troops, provide tutoring, coach youth sports teams, serve hot meals, organize fundraising events, and stuff envelopes. So if you’re going to manage a nonprofit organization, you need to know how to work with volunteers.
The classic stereotype of a volunteer is someone who has lots of time to spare and is looking for something to do. Although this perception may have been true in the past when many women stayed out of the workplace and gave their energies to charity, the stereotype no longer fits. Women still volunteer more than men, and people between the ages of 35 and 44 are the likeliest to volunteer. Those members of the “likeliest group” also are likely to be balancing careers with raising families, not to mention taking care of aging parents, going to the gym, and keeping up with e-mail.
Understanding why people volunteer makes it easier to find volunteers, organize their work, and recognize their contributions. Not everyone is motivated by the same factors. People volunteer for a variety of reasons, including their desire to
- Help the community and others. Helping others usually comes to mind first when people think of volunteers. But as you see when you read deeper in this list, their motives aren’t always this simple.
- Increase self-esteem. Volunteering makes people feel better about themselves. Giving a few hours a week, or even a month, to an organization creates good feelings.
- Help out friends. Friends are often the first people we turn to when we need help. Volunteering also can create a great way to get together with friends on a regular basis.
- Make new friends. Volunteering is usually a social activity. People use this opportunity to meet interesting people who share their interests and values.
- Try out a job. People considering a job in the nonprofit sector often discover that volunteering is a good way to get a peek at what happens on the inside.
- Polish their resumes. Adding volunteer experience to a resume shows a commitment to helping others or to working in a particular field.
- Develop new skills. A volunteer job often gives people an opportunity to learn how to do something they didn’t know how to do.
- Enjoy something they love. Many volunteer jobs come with intrinsic benefits for their participants. Ushers at the symphony get to hear the music. Gardeners removing invasive plants from a native plant preserve get to spend a day in a beautiful natural setting.
Keep this list in mind, and you’ll realize that you don’t have to focus your recruitment efforts exclusively on retired people or others who have a lot of leisure time. If you can provide an environment in which volunteers can bring their friends, meet others who share their interests, and learn new skills, you can lure even the busiest people into helping. Remember that you have no reason to be apologetic about asking for help: Volunteering benefits those people who step forward to assist you.