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Volunteers are a tremendous resource for charitable nonprofits. Absent volunteers, many charitable nonprofits would not be able to conduct programs, raise funds, or serve clients. The vast majority of board members who serve on charitable nonprofits’ boards are volunteers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteerism peaked between 2003 and 2005, when 28.8 percent of Americans reported having volunteered the previous year. Today, the numbers are far less. People are busy and more families may need to work fulltime, leaving less time for volunteering. However - volunteer opportunities are shifting with the times. Did you know that it's possible to volunteer virtually? Or that websites exist just to help match the right volunteers with service projects and even skilled-volunteer opportunities? If you are searching for a volunteer opportunity, or would like to grow your nonprofit's opportunities to be most attractive for volunteers - and find the right ones - state associations of nonprofits as well as state service commissions are great places to start.

Did you know? 

  • Many charitable nonprofits have no paid staff and are run entirely by volunteers.
  • Volunteering can have positive effects on a volunteer's mental health!
  • Volunteers should not receive compensation for their services (receiving it can turn them into “employees” in the eyes of the law). Similarly, providing "in-kind" benefits can be the equivalent of compensation (which will turn the volunteer into an employee).
  • In many states, volunteers are not covered by workers' compensation insurance, which is why some nonprofits elect to purchase "volunteer accident insurance."
  • Volunteer time has value – but volunteers cannot claim a deduction for their time, or the value of their professional services, on their personal income tax returns.
  • For purposes of a nonprofit's annual report to the IRS, Form 990, volunteer time is NOT reported as a contribution (see also FASB Accounting Standards 116) but may need to be acknowledged on IRS Form 990, Part III, Statement of Program Service Accomplishments.
  • Volunteers are among the most loyal donors, so don't overlook them as prospects for gifts or bequests!  Time and Money – The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy (Fidelity Charitable)
  • June 21 each year is the United Way's #DayofAction

Practice pointers for managing volunteers

Managing volunteers is similar to managing paid staff, except that volunteers don’t expect to be compensated for their services. However, they do expect to be treated with respect, trained (as needed), supervised, and provided with feedback, and rewarding experiences.

Some nonprofits only engage a few volunteers a year – others several hundred volunteers each day! The extent to which your nonprofit relies on volunteers will determine how extensive a “volunteer program” is needed at your nonprofit.

Thinking about using pro bono skilled volunteers? Prepare your nonprofit for success with pro bono and skilled volunteers using the Readiness Roadmap.

Rather than building a volunteer management program from scratch, why not collaborate with another nonprofit or tap into existing volunteer programs in your community, or “share” a volunteer program coordinator?

All the steps nonprofits take to ensure the “right fit” in the workplace for paid staff apply equally to volunteers. Many nonprofits screen volunteers (some even conduct background checks on volunteers). Orientation programs for volunteers are common, as are recognition programs that reward volunteers for their service. Many nonprofits adopt written policies that apply specifically to volunteers and find that providing volunteers with a “volunteer handbook” is useful.

Data on volunteers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes an annual report sharing data on the number and demographics of Americans volunteering in their communities. The Corporation for National & Community Service also publishes an annual report: Volunteering in America. The economic impact of volunteer time is calculated annually (Hands-On Network). The value of volunteer time is calculated hourly and by state each year (Independent Sector).

Tools for managing volunteers



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