The end of April marked the end of National Volunteer Month, including National Volunteer Week, for 2023. While the special spotlight has dimmed, there are eleven other months, and 51 other weeks, during which volunteers make immeasurable contributions to nonprofit organizations by touching lives and making their communities better places.
The contributions of volunteers are priceless, but there are ways to track the value of all those hours. Independent Sector’s annual Value of Volunteering Time report shows in 2022, the national value of a volunteer hour was an estimated $31.80, up 6.2% from the previous year. In New Jersey, the number was higher, at $33.82.
And the U.S. Census Bureau and AmeriCorps found “despite the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. population continued to serve each other and their communities – giving their time and talent to help others at a time of unprecedented need.” Between September 2020 and 2021, almost 61 million people aged 16 and over (more than 23%) formally volunteered through an organization, giving more than four billion hours of service with an estimated economic value of almost $123 billion.
Despite the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. population continued to serve each other and their communities. Between September 2020 – 2021, almost 61 million people gave over four billion hours of service with an estimated economic value of around $123 billion!
As robust as those numbers are, Associated Press Philanthropy explains the 23.2% formal volunteer participation reflects a 7 percentage point drop between 2019 and 2021 – “the largest decrease the survey has recorded since a version of it started in 2002.”
Right now, many nonprofits are scrambling for help, paid and volunteer. The New Jersey Center for Nonprofits latest Trends and Outlook Report found nonprofits are “struggling with significant workforce shortages that threaten their ability to meet community needs.” 53% of nonprofits with employees had staff shortages, with an average vacancy rate of 19%.
Volunteer participation is dropping, and nonprofits are scrambling for help, paid and volunteer, struggling with significant workforce shortages that threaten their ability to meet community needs.
So, how can nonprofits attract and retain volunteers at this critical time? One of our New Jersey clients is Fulfill, a food bank and pantry network that fights hunger in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Last year, Fulfill welcomed 850 regular volunteers who provided nearly 43,000 hours of service. Kelly Watts, the organization’s VP of Development & External Relations, says “our mission of feeding neighbors in need and building a food-secure community attracts volunteers on its own. The best way to maintain volunteers is to keep them engaged and show them the impact that their work has for us as an organization and for our community as a whole. It is also important to keep them updated on Fulfill’s vision for the future and how they can play a role in helping us reach those goals.”
Almost 1,300 miles from Fulfill in Neptune, New Jersey is Naples, Florida, and another of our clients, Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education & Experience Center, whose website highlights nearly 22,000 annual volunteer hours. Deanna Deppen, Executive Director of the animal rescue organization, says “Volunteers are essential to our daily operations. They are involved in all aspects of the organization including rescue requests, veterinary visits, daily care, fundraising, administration and our extensive educational programs.” She notes the pandemic impacted volunteering at Shy Wolf, and the organization is increasing efforts to recruit new volunteers, including “making hours more flexible for volunteering with animals care, and reaching out to people that have expressed interest in the past but have not been recently, to find out why and what we can do to encourage their return.”
When it comes to attracting and keeping volunteers, Deanna says, “Volunteers are already drawn to give, but thanking them daily for what they are doing goes a long way. It’s also important they feel needed and wanted through tasks assigned. Showing up to stand around and not feel like they have a task is sure to drive them to look elsewhere.”
We often hear from our clients how volunteers are the heart of their missions, providing crucial connections to the community.
From Fulfill to Shy Wolf to all of the nonprofits we partner with, we often hear how volunteers are the heart of their missions, providing crucial connections to the community.
When it comes to community and connections, almost as soon as April’s volunteer month was over, May arrived with a profound report titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation.” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy says the human suffering from loneliness includes an increased risk for premature death. But social connection and community can have a powerful healing effect on that epidemic of loneliness, and that includes volunteering.
Even before these findings, there was reporting on volunteering as a way to ease loneliness, with The New York Times saying “science tells us the solution may lie in what we do for others, not ourselves.”
So whether it’s April, May or any other month, there is an organization that could use your time, maybe now more than ever. And the benefits of volunteering? They truly are priceless.