Volunteers seen as underused resource

With the nonprofit sector facing the twin challenges of a recessionary economy and a stalled leadership pipeline, volunteers are a largely underutilized and underappreciated resources, a new article says.

About 61.2 million people volunteered their time in 2006, but more than one in three of them did not volunteer again in 2007, says “The New Volunteer Workforce,” an article published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

At a time when nonprofits are stretched thin by the economy, that attrition represents $38 billion in lost revenue, the article says.

At the same time, the sector is facing a potential leadership crisis as more than half of the current nonprofit leaders likely will leave their posts by 2010.

Much of the volunteer attrition is due to poor management of people who donate their time, the article says.

Many organizations do a poor job of matching volunteers’ skills with meaningful assignments, an oversight that leaves volunteers with an “empty feeling.”

Often, nonprofits don’t do enough to recognize their volunteers, either through a culture of volunteer appreciation or through ceremonies and events that honor service.

Training for volunteers, and the staff that manage them, is lacking at most nonprofits, the report says, an oversight that leaves volunteers with little substantive knowledge about the people and organizations they serve.

To take better advantage of volunteers, the article recommends nonprofits reconsider the assignments volunteers are given, with a goal of increasing the importance of the work volunteers do.

Nonprofits also should carefully evaluate volunteers’ skills, place volunteers in activities that take advantage of their individual talents, and provide training that help them do their jobs well.

The article was written by David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service; Robert Grimm, director of research and policy development at the Corporation; Susannah Washburn, a senior advisor at the Corporation; and Shannon Maynard, executive director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation.

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