2012 Non-Profit Trends and Predictions: Volunteerism

This week I’m looking back upon 2011 for major trends, and then looking forward to 2012 with an eye towards making a few predictions. Today, we are looking at non-profit volunteer recruitment, retention and management.

Throughout the course of 2011, I had the opportunity to write about non-profit organizations and volunteerism. I’ve kept my eyes open for signs of what non-profits are doing with volunteers, and I see indicators everywhere pointing to:

2012 continuing non-profit agencies’ focus on volunteerism.

Here is what I’ve seen that leads me to this conclusion:

  • My fellow Generation Xers continue to increase the amount of time they spend volunteering. (I personally suspect this has less to do with their charitable outlook on life and a lot more to do with the fact that they’re in the heart of their child rearing years)
  • I see my parents’ Baby Boom Generation starting to retire, and they just don’t know what to do with themselves when they wake up in the morning. They are volunteering because they don’t see themselves as being old and they want to keep busy.
  • I see my Millennial generation friends standing in the unemployment line, and then turning around in search of volunteer opportunities that they hope might just turn into a job opportunity (or at the very least turn into a great reference or a referral).
  • I see my former employer — Boys & Girls Clubs of America — partnering with one of their major corporate supporters to fund a volunteer management pilot project in an effort to develop a program to teach their local affiliates to become better with volunteer recruitment, retention and management.
  • I see corporations demanding volunteer opportunities and projects from their philanthropic partners in an effort to drive down their employee turnover rates and grab onto what marketing professionals call “the halo effect”.
  • Let’s not forget about the research out there on the Millennial generation that shows this emerging generation is very much into volunteerism unlike any other recent generation.
  • According to a recent Guidestar survey, many non-profit agencies are trimming staff or putting a cap on hiring plans in 2012. Not surprisingly, the same survey showed that 65-percent of all non-profit respondents are looking for volunteers for program work and 54-percent are looking for volunteers for administrative work.

The reality is literally this simple . . . donors are saying they want to see non-profits do more with less . . . volunteer recruitment and management helps accomplish exactly this . . . and in the final analysis volunteers turn into new donors a lot easier than cultivating new prospects from scratch.

Investing in volunteerism could just turn out to be the non-profit sector’s version of an economic stimulus plan that pulls agencies out of their economic doldrums.

Volunteer recruitment, retention and management isn’t as easy as just putting out a call for volunteers. As with everything in life, it is science that requires planning and careful management.

Since the economic collapse four years ago, this trend has been taking form and the non-profits who are leading the way have been experimenting with such things as: volunteer databases, volunteer coordinators, various recruitment strategies, strategic alliances with agencies that specialize in volunteerism, recognition programs, orientation and training programs, placing value volunteer hours, and much much more.

As budgets get even tighter in 2012, the flood of non-profits who commit themselves to figuring all of this out will continue to propel this long-term trend.

Is your agency recruiting more volunteers? How has it gone about doing so? What challenges have you experienced along the way? How important is it to have a volunteer coordinator on your payroll to orchestrate recruitment, orientation, training, volunteer opportunity assignment, evaluation, retention, etc? How successful have you been at turning volunteers into new donors?

Please scroll down and use the comment box to weigh-in with your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Erik –

    Great insights on volunteerism, I agree. But I have a slightly different perspective on corporate interest in volunteerism.

    Beyond employee engagement and “halo effect”, companies and nonprofits can develop more meaningful partnerships through volunteerism. The deeper the involvement, the more likely it is that donor, nonprofit and volunteer will work more effectively together.

    As highlighted in a recent Forbes article (http://linkd.in/uo5VIm), it’s also an opportunity for leadership development. Something valuable for everyone involved.

    In any case, you’re right on target that volunteerism is becoming a more critical piece of the puzzle. Thanks for your post.

    – Meredith

    1. Thanks, Meredith. I agree with your additional observations about volunteerism and corporate engagement. I never really thought that volunteer opportunities via the workplace could be part of a company’s leadership development program.

      I try to learn something new every day, and you helped me accomplish that today. THANK YOU and Happy New Year!


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