America has long been a country that prides itself in volunteerism.
In fact, our history of volunteerism dates back to the Revolutionary War when volunteers organized boycotts of British products. A century later, Clara Barton established the Red Cross. And, in the 1900s, volunteer-based organizations provided food during the Great Depression, civilian support for war efforts from World War II through today, and other programs.
Lately, though, volunteerism hasn’t been as popular. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 62.6 million people volunteered through (or for) an organization at least once between September 2014 and September 2015, the most recent dates available. That’s about 25% of the adult population.
However, there are ways to get people excited about volunteering:
Focus on Volunteers’ Skills. Volunteers often choose to use skills they want to develop or haven’t used in a while. Students may assist with marketing or finances to get experience. Those who dreamed of being artists, but took a corporate position, may opt to paint murals at local community centers.
Show Volunteers Their Impact. At Give2Get, we explain exactly how each project benefits either the non-profit we’re working with and/or the non-profit’s clientele. For example, when volunteers make toys for zoo animals, we explain that enrichment toys are essential to the conditioning and development of young animals. Through play, the animals learn behaviors they would exhibit in their natural habitat, including hunting and foraging.
Invest in Volunteers. Volunteers who don’t get proper training are ineffective. They also get frustrated and, eventually, quit. Spend time training volunteers and make sure there is a point person the volunteer can reach. If there are not funds for a full-time staff member to oversee volunteers, assign one person to oversee volunteers who serve in a certain function. This will also improve communication — another source of volunteer frustration.
Celebrate Volunteers. Highlight the way that volunteers contribute to the organization in monthly newsletters or social media. After large events, consider sending a "Thank You" email on behalf of the organization's leadership team. These little ways of celebrating volunteers are often much appreciated.