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Trends: Volunteers, Volunteers Everywhere

Resource Center - Foundation

(Oct. 20, 2009) With a presidential-led call to service campaign in full swing in the United States, there is growing discussion and expectations that nonprofits may soon have a line at their door and ringing phones--if they don't already--from well-intentioned and passionate do-gooders. Is your nonprofit prepared?

A recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte LLP shows that while President Obama's national call to service could stimulate increased volunteerism by corporate workers, many nonprofits appear to have insufficient infrastructure to harness the influx of these volunteers. An article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (subscriber log-in required) indicates that nonprofits will have to quickly develop a volunteer strategy that harnesses the potential flood of human resources.

The Deloitte research shows that about half of companies (52 percent) surveyed in its 2009 Volunteer IMPACT Survey have already discussed how they will respond to the national call to service. Furthermore, 44 percent of corporate grant makers say their companies will increase resources for volunteerism in response to the national call to service.

Yet, what is particularly worrisome from the survey is that more than a third (34 percent) of nonprofits say they do not have the infrastructure in place today to effectively deploy volunteers. If an influx of volunteers occurs, even more nonprofits are unprepared. Well over half (57 percent) of nonprofits surveyed say they do not have the infrastructure in place to effectively deploy an influx of volunteers.

And this research, of course only reports on corporate volunteer programs. Many people are inspired to help and are having a hard time finding volunteer work, reports The Chronicle, raising the question: "Even if Americans answer the call to service, will charities know what to do with them?"

Harnessing the Volunteer Surge

The problem, the news article explains, goes well beyond giving people an easy way to locate volunteer opportunities. At issue is whether organizations are even set up to answer the phones that ring. Do you have a volunteer coordinator on the payroll? Are their particular jobs you want volunteers to fill? What skills should those volunteers have? What is your strategy for training and managing volunteers? Experts say it is important to assess the needs of your organization, identify the skills and experience needed by volunteers to fill them, and of course secure sufficient funding to handle the volunteer program in the first place.

Above all, those interviewed by The Chronicle said, charities need to change their thinking to allow volunteers to become a vital asset through pro-bono support. With budgets tightening a volunteer coordinator may not be feasible, but your organization should be on the lookout for people with specialty skills, be it technology experts, teachers, trainers, or any number areas that can boost your nonprofit-without a dollar ever changing hands.

Is your organization preparing new programs or building infrastructure to harness the volunteer surge? Tell us how. Write to and please use the email subject line "Volunteer Boom."

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