Volunteers

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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.

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on nonprofits' ability to recruit volunteers. “Volunteerism had been declining for years before Covid-19, and the pandemic sent many charities’ volunteer programs into disarray,” according to a September, 2022 article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Nonprofits have been working to engage volunteers virtually and recruit more young volunteers, among other adaptations.

If you are searching for a volunteer opportunity, or would like to grow your nonprofit's volunteer program, state associations of nonprofits as well as state service commissions are also 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 or in-kind benefits for their services. Receiving even even a small amount can turn volunteers into employees in the eyes of the law, or create other risks to the nonprofit.
  • 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 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. See The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy, which also presents research on the impact of COVID-19 on volunteering (Fidelity Charitable).

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 seeking pro bono services or skilled volunteers? Prepare your nonprofit for success with pro bono and skilled volunteers using the Readiness Roadmap.

All the steps nonprofits take to ensure the “right fit” in the workplace for paid staff apply equally to volunteers. Many nonprofits conduct background checks on volunteers; some adopt written policies that apply specifically to volunteers and find that a volunteer handbook is a useful tool.

Tools for managing volunteers

Volunteer matching 

  • The nonprofit VolunteerMatch can help match the right volunteers with service projects and some skilled-volunteer opportunities, and also offers learning programs in areas like managing remote volunteers and engaging skilled volunteers. 
  • The nonprofit Taproot matches nonprofits with skilled volunteers "through structured consultations and projects to assist organizations in tackling critical challenges." There is no cost to the nonprofit (although be prepared to invest time and energy, as well as other resources if needed).
  • Catchafire provides a project platform and skilled volunteer matching for nonprofits at a cost, sometimes underwritten by foundations.

Data on volunteers

Americorps publishes a report on American volunteering, including demographic breakdowns such as by gender and generation. The value of volunteer time is calculated hourly and by state each year (Independent Sector and DoGood Institute).

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