How to Manage the Volunteer Life Cycle

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Angel Rutledge

Volunteers are one of a nonprofit’s most valuable assets.

In fact, an hour of a volunteer’s time is worth $24.69, according to the most recent data from Independent Sector, a national member group that brings together nonprofits, foundations and corporations for good causes.

It’s no surprise that managing volunteers is a crucial duty for nonprofits everywhere. Volunteers can help even a small organization have a huge impact — that’s something we see every day at SignUpGenius, which helps nonprofits and other groups manage volunteers and events.

We surveyed SignUpGenius users for National Volunteer Week, and uncovered some interesting findings that show the patterns of volunteers as they progress through life:

Volunteers were most likely to contribute time to nonprofits/community groups, with 57 percent of survey respondents saying they volunteered with nonprofits. Schools followed closely behind at 56 percent.

All age demographics were likely to volunteer with nonprofits, though people 65 and older were most likely to volunteer at 65 percent.

As people age, their reasons for volunteering change. The youngest demographic (18-24) and the oldest (65+) were more likely to say they volunteered to “meet new people and build relationships.”

People are increasingly likely to prefer giving money over donating time to favorite causes as they get older.

Volunteers of all ages overwhelmingly said their primary motivation for volunteering was to “impact my community in positive ways.”

How can you use this information to your advantage as a nonprofit leader?

Think about your current volunteer base. Are you drawing most heavily from one age demographic? It might be time for an outreach effort to new groups.

For instance, people older than 65 were much less likely to volunteer in schools than other age groups. Your PTO or PTA could reach out to local senior centers and churches — you might be surprised at the influx of lunch buddies and tutors you receive.

On the other hand, if your volunteer base is composed mainly of older individuals, make an effort to have intentional times when volunteers can connect with each other and talk. Your nonprofit could set up a monthly breakfast for volunteers. The more connections they make, the more likely they are to return.

Plus, don’t be discouraged if some volunteers lapse during busy times of their life. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about your organization anymore — it just might mean they’re more primed for a donation message than a volunteer one. And they may very well volunteer again once life becomes less hectic.

Most importantly, people want to feel like they are making a difference. Send regular communications that demonstrate the value of what your volunteers accomplish, and show some extra appreciation with these low-cost, high-impact ideas.

Your volunteers are making a world of difference every day. The more strategic you can be in using this valuable resource, the greater the rewards for your community.


Angel Rutledge is the chief operations officer and chief marketing officer at SignUpGenius, the leading online sign up site for online volunteer and event management.

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