According to Stats Canada, a large – and quickly growing – majority of volunteers are listed as “informal” (see study).
In other words, they are people helping people without being associated with a specific organization. And this non-profit trend can really hurt your organization.
For example, someone who is passionate about helping animals may post articles on social media to raise awareness about the growing feral cat population in their community. They may not, however, volunteer to help the SPCA with their spay and neuter clinics.
Nothing wrong with that, of course – the more people helping the better – but with fewer and fewer people actually volunteering with organizations, the less real impact those organizations will have.
It’s wonderful that people are aware of the feral cat population, but if the SPCA doesn’t have enough volunteers to run the clinics, the problem won’t go away.
If you’re with an organization that depends on its volunteers, you may find it harder and harder to achieve your mission as people turn away from the traditional ways of helping.
So what can you do?
First, take care of the volunteers that you do have.
Show your appreciation, provide them with learning opportunities, make sure that they are getting what they need from volunteering with you.
The happier they are the longer they will stay, and the fewer new volunteers you’ll need.
Recruit those people who are helping informally.
They are people who are passionate about your cause.
If you can offer them a way to work with you while still meeting their own needs, they may become your best volunteers.
By being flexible in how they can help you, you will become more attractive to them. Can you adjust hours or tasks to make it easier for them to help?
Leverage the informal volunteers.
Even if they won’t specifically volunteer with your organization, they can help you.
Create a list of those who regularly post about things that align with your mission and send them information that they can use.
Tell them about events that you’re holding, or tips on how the general public can make a difference.
Use them to raise awareness of your organization and the difference you make in your community.
The world is constantly changing, and so does the world of volunteer management.
Change with them.
By staying aware of the trends in volunteering you can keep your organization thriving.
Want help insulating your not-for-profit from damaging sector trends? Consider getting a Volunteer Management Assessment and Strategy Plan done.