Episode #001: Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation podcast, bringing you practical tips and advice on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity cause or movement stay tuned, I made this podcast just for you.

Well, hey there everybody. It’s Tobi Johnson from VolunteerPro and Tobi Johnson and Associates. And I want to welcome you to our very first episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. Woo-hoo!

I am so excited to have you here with me. I’m going to share eight reasons why volunteers are important in today’s world. I think we all need a little extra inspiration and I have it for you today. Also, I’m going to kick off with a little story about how a bad thing can be transformed into a catalyst for a better way.

So, I’m looking forward to having you join me today. Let’s get started. You may be familiar with the time and talent podcast that I do with my co-host Jennifer Bennett, where we interview leaders of volunteers and researchers. It’s been a ton of fun to hear from volunteer managers around the world and share their best and brightest practices.

However, volunteer nation is a little bit different in this new podcast, which I’ll be releasing every week. I’ll be sharing proven and practical tips for building growing and scaling a successful volunteer program in less time, and with more joy.

I think we all could use a little more joy. Everyone needs the support of community to get things done – causes charities, movements, congregations, membership, associations, and public sector programs all rely on volunteers to help them move the needle on their missions.

If this sounds like you, this podcast is specifically designed to help you level up your practice. So, if you would please subscribe like comment and share where you get your podcasts with your help, we can kick this off, right, and help as many people as possible, successfully engage volunteer talent to meet their missions.

I can’t kick this off without acknowledging the significant impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the rates of volunteerism around the world. We just can’t start a podcast in the middle of a pandemic without talking about that elephant in the room.

And you know, in our Volunteer Management Progress Report survey, we do a survey at VolunteerPro every year where we survey thousands of volunteer managers from around the world. And this year, we really wanted to see what was happening in the world of volunteerism in particular, where is our capacity at?

And so, here’s some stats that we just pulled from this year’s report and the survey place in the fall of 2021. So, these numbers are from then. And we’re about to release that report out in January of 2022. So, here’s some interesting stats on how COVID has really impacted how much volunteering is going on around the world.

First of all, there has been a huge decrease in volunteering opportunities, significantly decreased. Twenty-nine percent of our respondents said that their volunteer opportunities that were available had significantly decreased. Another forty-one percent said they had just decreased. So, both combined that’s seventy percent of all of the folks who took our survey said they had decreased or significantly decrease their volunteering opportunities. So, we have a lot of volunteers who are not involved right now.

The average number of active volunteers before COVID usually used to run about 101 to 250 volunteers per organization. Last fall, the average was fifty-one to a hundred volunteers. And in fact about thirty-one percent (or one third) reported only one to twenty-five active volunteers that month. We cannot deny the impact of COVID. The average number of volunteer hours per month, zero to ten hours fifty six percent reported and 10 to 20 hours per month, twenty-three percent.

So, we’ve seen a decrease in the number of volunteering opportunities, a decrease in active volunteers, and a decrease in average number per hours per month. So, we cannot deny that COVID has had a huge impact. And if you’re a leader of volunteers and you’re listening at home

or in your car or taking a power walk or whatever you’re doing, you’re probably nodding your head and saying, yeah, that happened to us too.

And it’s been really challenging. It does worry me a little bit about, you know, are we going to be able to be resilient and bounce back at this has been a really difficult time. Is it going to significantly impact volunteerism and an interest in volunteerism in the future, both by our communities, but also by our organizations Are they going to be less open to engaging volunteers, for example?

I want to tell a little story because I also think that a bad thing, difficult time, a challenging happenstance can be a catalyst for a better way. Years ago. I used to live in San Francisco in the city, in the mission district. The part of town I lived in, the Mission District, was a pretty rough area. And I went to work every day on the subway doing my same thing, my same routine day in, day out without questioning it at all. And one day I was commuting home. It was early in the evening, light out, walked out of the 16th street mission, stop and watch across the street, got a little money from the cash machine and started heading down towards my home.

And I was immediately hit in the face and knocked to the ground. I was basically mugged in broad daylight. Nobody did anything, nobody stopped. Luckily the person that was trying to take my money, I was being a little stubborn telling them I didn’t have any money, which was probably stupid, but there you go. He, at some point stopped, you know, hammering my head against the sidewalk. It was pretty intense.

And I don’t want to share a horrible story and ruin this, this great podcast, but I want to talk to you about what happened after that. That was a pretty awful experience for me, but when I got home and in the weeks that followed, I really started to reflect on what I could do to protect myself and to become more resilient.

It took me a long time to walk down that street again, without feeling well, to what first of all, to walk down that street at all, and then to walk down that street and feel comfortable. But I decided that I would take a self-defense class and I decided this is the last time somebody is going to mug me.

And then I got so interested in self-defense that my teacher said, you know, you should study judo. And so I joined a women’s judo club in Noe Valley, and I used to walk up to my judo club every day up and back and through a very, my neighborhood, which is a dangerous neighborhood, which there was a lot of cat calls going on, a lot of business going on that was dangerous in my neighborhood.

And I became more and more confident. And in fact, after a while, after studying judo for a few months, people stopped saying things to me on the street, particularly men stopped doing cat calls and whatnot. I have to hand it to my feeling of confidence, increased feeling of confidence. The way I walked, the way I felt about myself and the way I felt confident in taking care of myself.

And so, you know, I needed to change how I went about things to keep both myself safe, but also to feel more confident in the world around me. I share that story because sometimes adversity can actually make us stronger.

With COVID, as volunteer organizations I think it has the potential to make us stronger in that we are pushed to do things in new ways. We are pushed to notice things. We are pushed to strengthen ourselves, whether it’s our digital maturity, whether it’s the way that we engage and retain our volunteers, whether it’s the way that we move from just a transactional relationship with our volunteers to a transformational relationship.

There are so many different ways that we can emerge from this pandemic even stronger. And you know, it’s not that volunteers have gone away. I think they’re just waiting for the right time for us to invite them back.

So with this, I want to talk about why volunteers are important. What are the reasons why volunteers are important in today’s world? Why we want to defend and strengthen our practice around mobilizing and engaging volunteers?

Why does it matter at all? We could just hire staff. Well, certainly volunteers help us with our agency budgets right with our FTEs, but that’s not the real reason. That’s not the number one reason. I think people in the community need to be involved in our organizations. First of all, I’ll say my number one reason why volunteers are important.

Number one, nearly all charities, causes, and movements were started a hundred percent by volunteers. Most nonprofits around you would not exist. If volunteers had not started them ask around, you’ll find out. Most organizations were started by a small group of passionate people, even one passionate founder, and they built their sustainability, and they built their programs over time and added paid staff, et cetera, and scaled more and more to help the community. So nearly all restarted by volunteers. So that’s a pretty important thing. Volunteers are entrepreneurs.

Second thing that I think is really important. Second reason why volunteers are important. They are a part of our societal fabric. They are absolutely part of how we exist as a society in the U S approximately sixty-three million Americans. This was prior to COVID about twenty-five percent of the adult population volunteered their time, talents, and energy to making a difference. That is a huge, huge workforce. I think it’s often the silent workforce.

It’s something that people don’t realize sixty-three million. I mean, if you just stop for a minute and think sixty-three million people. In Australia, six million people. Nearly one third or twenty-nine percent) of adults volunteer in Canada, 5 billion hours to volunteer activities, their volunteer activities equal 2.5 million full-time year-round jobs. And seventy-four percent of Canadians volunteered informally, forty-one percent formally. So, there’s a lot of volunteering in Canada as well. In the UK, sixty-two percent have volunteered in any way, formally seventeen percenter, informal volunteering, thirty three percent.

And what I mean by informal versus formal is informal volunteering is being neighborly. It’s helping out a neighbor. And if you think about during COVID, there may not be as many people involved in formal volunteering activities with organizations, but think about informal, how many people are helping people out during this pandemic, tons, tons. So just those stats alone, it’s easy to quickly gloss over them. But if you think of how much impact that has in the community, and just imagine if all of that were gone. Volunteering is what we do as a society.

The third reason I think volunteers are important is that volunteerism is a key driver and support to the nonprofit economy, both in the workforce, as I mentioned, but also as financial contributors, you know, if you think of the workforce, the average volunteer hour in 2021 was valued at $28.54 per hour, which if you figure that out as an annual annualized full-time equivalent employee, that’s $59,363. So, if you think about the financial impact of that workforce on a nonprofits ability to scale its programming, it’s pretty significant. So, and then we also know volunteers or donors and donors are volunteers.

The volunteers are also offering both time, talent, and treasure. The fourth reason I think volunteers are important is that volunteerism improves our mental and physical health. There have been numerous research studies that show a positive correlation between service and positive health outcomes. And I think in today’s world with COVID mental health is really top of mind to a lot of people.

Many of us are struggling with it, both mental and physical health. And so, volunteerism can be a way to heal. I think in a pandemic, we’ve all realized the importance of our mental health. Many of us are still struggling with our both mental and physical health through this pandemic. So, we know how important this is to maintaining a healthy and joyful lifestyle.

Volunteering can help with that. So that’s our fourth reason why volunteers are important.

I’m going to cover the next four after the break.

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Reason number five as to why volunteers are important, volunteer work prepares our workforce. If you think about nonprofit staff, many staffers came up through the ranks as a volunteer or national service member and students around the world participate in internships and service-learning opportunities for school credit to build skills and explore career paths. And

so, there’s this pipeline of talent that is coming to our nonprofits that comes from the volunteer workforce and the service workforce.

We also know that there’s just a lot of service learning going on in the world, both at the college and secondary post-secondary. You know, I have a niece who started volunteering and brownies. So, she likes to let people know, well, now she’s a young adult in college, but she said, you know, I’m a teen volunteer. When I interviewed her a few years ago, she said, “I’m a teenage volunteer, but volunteer managers need to understand that I’ve been volunteering for over 10 years. I’m not new to this.” And I said, “Yeah, I think people need to know that!” So it’s a way that we prepare our workforce. And so, I don’t think we can deny or forget that much of our workforce comes from volunteers. I think that’s a real, real positive reason why volunteers are important.

The sixth reason I think volunteers are important is that volunteerism really breaks down divides and builds empathy in the community. And I don’t know about you, but I think we need to break down some walls lately. And I think we’ve got to be more understanding and more inclusive in the ways that we engage people in our organizations, you know, for both those served by nonprofits and their fellow volunteers, volunteers through the act of volunteering, often rub elbows with people they’ve never would in their regular lives.

We get outside our comfort zones, our personal bubbles when we volunteer. And this really makes us more informed citizens. You know, all of our biases can be called to the carpet. We begin to question, well, I thought people were this way or that way. And we come in contact with them and realize, oh no, they’re not. There are different people. And maybe they’re not the way I thought they were. And so, I think there’s this quiet sort of revolution of people questioning sort of the way they see others. And I think that volunteerism can play a part in that.

It’s not something we build into our programs necessarily, but it’s something that I think is really important in today’s world. We have got to learn to understand and support one another so that we have a more equitable society. The seventh reason I think volunteering and volunteerism is important is that it is available to anyone regardless of their personal means. So yes, if folks are of limited means and need to work, two, three jobs, then their availability for volunteering is going to be pretty limited.

However, virtually anyone can give a little time and participate in their community in some way, even if they don’t have the funds to make financial contributions, you know, being a donor, actually a lot of research on donors actually reveals that, you know, a lot of the donations, personal donations to our, of individual donors are small donations to nonprofits.

My grandmother at 101 years old when she passed away had with her small social security check had given to many organizations on a regular basis, had purchased a piano for her church, made dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies every year for sea Scouts. She lived in

low-income senior housing. She lived off her social security check, and yet she wasn’t active citizen and an active philanthropist in a really fantastic way.

And so, volunteering, it’s open to anyone. In fact, in today’s virtual world, you don’t even have to be site to volunteer. So, I think that is a fantastic way. Volunteering is important.

The eighth thing I want to say it is how big things get done. It really is. Volunteerism is how big things get done in the world. Imagine all of the major movements around the world, the social justice movements, the peace movements, you name it, how were they accomplished? They were accomplished by masses of volunteers, helping out masses of volunteers, helping out and next, think of all the single acts of kindness, extended to neighbors and friends, the informal volunteerism I talked about earlier, it all happens because community members are willing to step up.

Now, we like to think about all those big civil rights movement, et cetera, but you know, there’s also those small acts of kindness that are really big for that person in that moment. And so, volunteerism is super helpful to people for that reason.

And so those are eight reasons why I think volunteerism and I’ll just re reiterate them a little bit. All charities, causes, movements were started a hundred percent by volunteers. That’s my number one. Number two, it’s part of our societal fabric. Number three, volunteerism is a key driver in support of our nonprofit economy. Number four, it improves our mental and physical health. Number five volunteer work prepares our workforce. Number six, volunteerism breaks down divides and builds community. Number seven, volunteering is available to anyone regardless of means. And I think that’s super awesome. And number eight, it’s how big things get done.

And so those are my key eight reasons why volunteerism really matters. As you’ve probably picked up on now, I really believe that volunteers are awesome.

The they bring about in the world has tremendous potential. Some of which actually I believe is being untapped. Imagine a world without volunteers. Now imagine a world where nearly everyone gives their time, talent, and treasure. We do not want to lose these valuable community assets when I’m speaking to you out there in the world.

My listeners, first of all, thank you for joining me in our first episode, I’m speaking to you as executive directors of volunteer driven organizations and speaking to you as volunteers who are leaders in your organization. I was speaking to volunteer managers and coordinators who are responsible for creating exceptional experiences for those in our community. I’m speaking to all of you because you are facilitators of this potential for change in volunteers, as nonprofit leaders, you set the stage for volunteerism to happen and for change to become a reality.

But in order to tap this immense potential of volunteers to be a catalyst for change, we really do need to rethink how we view resource and support them as our volunteer involving organizations. This is what this podcast is all about.

So if you’d like where we’re headed, please subscribe like comment and share where you get your podcasts and share with a colleague, want to make sure that everybody around the world is equipped to grow scale and enjoy their volunteers.

And here’s one thing to think about as we close out our podcast today, just remember volunteers are out there. They’re just waiting for you to invite them back. So, thanks for joining me. I’m Tobi Johnson, the host of the volunteer nation podcast, and I hope you’ll join me in episode two.

Volunteer Nation is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate review and follow the show on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts for more tips and notes from the show. We hope to see you next week for another episode of Volunteer Nation.