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Volunteering Up, Dropout Rate Still High

(Aug. 4, 2008) Retaining donors is not the only challenge nonprofits face. A recent study shows that retention rates for volunteers are nearly as daunting.

A total of 60.8 million people, or 26.2 percent of Americans age 16 and older, volunteered through organizations in 2007, according to a report released last week by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

There were one million more volunteers in 2007 than in 2002. However, retention is still a big hurdle for nonprofits. Twenty-two million, or more than one in three volunteers, dropped out from 2006 to 2007.

In comparison the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, sponsored by AFP, estimates that only about one in six donors ever donate again to the same organization.

“This finding points out how important it is for organizations that use volunteers to treat them as valuable assets, give them meaningful assignments and use best practices in volunteer management,” noted a press release announcing the report, titled Volunteering in America.

The Corporation for National and Community Service suggests some easy ways to recognize volunteers and reward them for their work, such as involving them in the annual planning process of the organization or covering their expenses to attend a training, workshop or seminar.

The corporation also points to an article that gives tips on better managing volunteers and running a good volunteer program. Advice includes keeping donors challenged with work of appropriate skill level and encouraging them to take initiative and offer their input.

Beyond Their Backyards

The report also includes an analysis of the emerging phenomenon of voluntourism.  In 2007, more than 3.7 million Americans volunteered more than 120 miles from their home.  Voluntourism is especially strong in areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina – at least one-quarter of Mississippi’s volunteers and one-fifth of Louisiana’s volunteers last year were out-of-state residents.  Additionally, just over one million volunteers served with organizations located overseas in 2007.

Other Key Findings on Volunteering

  • Intensive volunteering is on the rise:  The percentage of volunteers giving over 100 hours of service per year reached its highest level since 2002, with 35.6 percent of all volunteers contributing at this “intensive” level. 
  • College towns are hot spots for volunteering:  College towns are home to students with strong volunteer habits and many highly educated adults.  For example, the high rankings of college towns like Provo, Utah; Iowa City, Iowa; and Madison, Wis., reflect the known positive correlation between higher levels of education and volunteering.
  • Women volunteer more than men, and working mothers have the highest volunteer rate.  About 29.3 percent of women volunteered in 2007, compared to 22.9 percent of men.  Women with children and women who work have higher volunteer rates than other women.

The Volunteering in America report contains six years of data on volunteering, rankings of states and cities, and volunteer trends and demographic information for every state and 162 large and mid-sized cities at a new interactive website: www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.

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