Episode #051: 10 Reasons Why Volunteerism is Important (Way Beyond the Fluff!)

Hey, welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas 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 membership or movement, I made this podcast just for you.

Well, hello my friends, and welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. We are just about to move into global volunteer month, which is April. I’m recording this a little bit before then, but this will post the day before and in celebration. I wanted to spend some time considering why volunteerism is important.

And I want to go way beyond the fluff. We all talk about, we’re all getting together, we’re working in community, we’re helping our nonprofits meet their mission. Those are all important things, but there is so much more power and volunteerism that I think we don’t often realize it, especially those of us who are working in the field day in day.

We usually don’t think deeply about this because we just don’t have time to do it. So in this episode, I just want to talk about 10 reasons why volunteerism is important. And in the show notes, I will have links because I have tons of research studies that I’m going to quote. And if you want to find these research studies you can link, we’ll I’ll link to them in the show notes, so if you can, you want to read them.

So let’s get onto it. Why volunteerism is important. It’s beyond free labor. It’s beyond a pair of extra hands. It’s way beyond nice people who lick stamps for us and do mailings. We have gone way beyond that when it comes to volunteerism. So let’s kick it off with reason number one. Most nonprofit organizations were started by community volunteers who cared.

According to data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics in the US, approximately 68% of nonprofit organizations in the US have no paid employees. These organizations are typically run entirely by volunteers. 68%. That’s a lot. So not only are the organizations that we all may be working in, they may have paid staff now, but they start, were started by volunteers way back in the day.

If you look in the history of your organization, you will most likely find that to be the case, but also even today, some of our smaller nonprofits are still run entirely by volunteers, so that’s pretty amazing.

Our sector is driven and fueled by volunteer talent, and I don’t think we should forget that, especially for global volunteer. Okay. Second reason why volunteers are important, volunteering breaks down biases and builds community. When we volunteer, we are meeting people who are different than ourselves.

We open ourselves up to the biases about others that we have inside of us that we may not even recognize. But these biases get challenged. And if we’re open to, we can create new interpretations and question some of our long-held beliefs. And that only happens when we’re out rubbing shoulders and rubbing elbows and getting work done with people that are not necessarily part of our daily life.

And this type of interaction becomes safer, I think, because we people are willing to get out of their comfort zone and be around people who might be a little bit different than them because they have something in common, and that is the passion for the cause of the mission. And so in the end, people who are very different or who may look different on the outside, find out that they are actually more alike than different on the insight.

And so that’s kind of a cool thing for volunteerism. The World Economic Forum has identified volunteering as a key component of building social capital. So volunteering can help build social capital by bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and promoting shared values and goals. In addition, volunteering can contribute to the development of social norms.

That promotes prosocial behavior and cooperation. And I got to tell you, I think the world needs a little more prosocial behavior lately. We got some people who are behaving badly. And so volunteerism can help us get back to some of the social prosocial norms that we need to have to have a functioning society.

So that’s reason number two. Reason number three, why volunteers are important is volunteers. Keep us honest. You know when volunteers are in the room and included in conversations and planning sessions in decision making, it forces us to speak with them, not about them. When volunteers aren’t in the room, I often hear people speak about volunteers, but when we have volunteers in the room, we speak with them and it helps us truly consider the contributions of our communities as valued partners in our missions.

So it’s really important to include volunteers as community delegates in a way, in our advisory groups, and help them understand more about our causes through in-service training. And even including volunteers and helping us deliver and develop training to deliver to volunteers and others. So volunteers can keep us honest and keep us grounded and connected in our communities.

Reason number four, why volunteers are important. Services provided by volunteers can sometimes be perceived as equal or better than services provided by paid staff. Yes, it has been proven through research at the very least, often volunteers are perceived as more quote unquote, authentic because the direct service recipient doesn’t believe that, they’re not getting a paycheck, they have no hidden agenda, et cetera.

There’s been research on user satisfaction with an online emotional support provided by trained volunteers, and they compared that online support from highly trained volunteers with psychotherapy. And in this research, they found that there was high end user satisfaction with the support provided by volunteers and.

They marked the support to be as helpful as psychotherapy. They rated it the same. The findings suggested that receiving support from volunteers makes it users feel that the support is more genuine. And I’ve read other studies like this in direct service environments and contexts where the volunteer services are actually seen as more customer friendly than those provided by staff.

And in some ways, you can see this as volunteers having more time to spend with clients. For example, to help with the patient experience, for example, if you’re working in a clinic environment. So I can see that, and I don’t think staff should feel slighted by that. I think community members, volunteers have a different attitude.

They’re not paid staff. They don’t have that sort of imbued authority. And I think sometimes people in the community like to be served by people just like them or that they perceive or just like them. So that, I think that’s the reason number five, why volunteers are important.

Volunteering is associated with positive outcomes. There have been numerous studies to this effect, both in physical and mental health. There was a 20-year study, 20 years midlife environmental volunteering was significantly associated with physical activity, self-reported health and depressive symptoms.

Not being depressed. This study offers the first epidemiological evidence for a significant positive relationship between environmental, volunteering and health and wellbeing. So this was volunteers who were volunteering in environment and an environmental organizations. There was another study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior that found that volunteering is associated with lower levels of depression, particularly among older.

It also can found that volunteering can support social support, provide a sense of purpose, which can also contribute to better mental health outcomes. And so, there’s numerous studies on volunteering and its impact on health. It is undeniable there. There’s so many, been so much research around this, and I don’t think this gets spoken about much either.

And I think now that you know the point we’re in, in a society where people are exhausted or feeling the effects of the Covid pandemic on their mental health, that volunteering can be a way to build resilience back. So I think that’s a great reason why volunteerism is important. So let’s take a quick break and I have five more reasons for you that I’m going to share after the break, so don’t go anywhere and I will be right back with five more reasons why volunteerism is important.

So don’t go anywhere. If you enjoy this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the VolunteerPro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. Volunteer Pro premium membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s working now volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward.

It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join. All right, gang. I am back with five more reasons why volunteerism is important.

Remember before the break I talked about reason number one, most volunteer organizations were started by community volunteers. Reason number two was that volunteering breaks down biases and builds community. Number three, why volunteerism is important is volunteers. Keep us honest as nonprofit organizations keep us.

Reason number four, why volunteerism is important is services provided by volunteers are sometimes perceived as better than those provided by paid staff. Reason number five, why volunteerism is important is volunteering is associated with positive health outcomes. So let’s get into five more awesome reasons and again.

I’m talking about reasons way beyond the fluff. We’re talking about pretty significant reasons why volunteerism is such an important activity in our communities, and I hope that maybe we can start to communicate these reasons more often in our communities and inside our organizations so that people really understand the value.

It is much more than free labor, way more, way more. There’s so much more going on in the enterprise of volunteerism that I think it’s helpful to talk about it and really promote it. So let’s get into reason number six, why volunteerism is important. Volunteers are donors. And donors are volunteers. So there is a real link between volunteerism and sustainability in nonprofit organizations.

If you think about just having enough talent and workforce to get your mission accomplished, especially to in today’s world where, service loads and numbers and needs and communities are only getting greater, we’re going to need to have a larger and larger workforce and volunteers can contribute.

But we also need, as nonprofits, we need financial resources as well. There’s things that is hard, hard costs. Our organizations need to be able to pay for and volunteers help. There was a study by Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund a few years ago that they uncovered significant connections between giving time and giving money, as well as deep investments in organizations.

As volunteers. So they found that most donors, about 79% of the folks they surveyed, volunteered in the last month. So they were all frequent volunteers. More than two thirds 67% committed, 50 or more hours to volunteering. Now these are all donors that were being surveyed. Nearly half, 49% volunteered for three or more organizations.

And I think when you start looking into the data, you will start to see there’s some recent data coming out from Volunteer Match that where they surveyed their volunteers from that use the volunteer match system, their database to find opportunities. And, and most of them volunteer, at least most of their respondents noted that they volunteered at least with two organizations.

And so we know that when people are volunteering, they’re often contributing to more than one nonprofit. 87% of volunteers said there was an overlap between their volunteer and financial support. And half said they give more financial support because they volunteer. So there is a direct connection between volunteering and financial contributions.

Donors are volunteers and volunteers are donors, and I don’t think we should separate them out folks, because they are one and the same. Reason number seven, why volunteerism is important. Today’s volunteers are tomorrow’s nonprofit work. And donors. And donors. We don’t want to forget that, but lots of folks, I have interviewed so many people and met so many people who joined National Service, became an AmeriCorps, or a civilian Conservation Corps member here in the States, which is a stipended type of volunteerism, and they end up working in nonprofits.

I have friends who started that way, started their nonprofit career. But not only national service members end up working in nonprofits, volunteers do too, especially students who are trying out different opportunities in different nonprofits. They may land on a charity or a cause that really speaks to them, and they may end up dedicating their career to volunteerism.

I know for me, I started and ended my career in not only volunteerism, but also in nonprofits and government and public service, and never left in 25 plus years because I was so passionate about the work I did and I got to work. In many, many types of organizations, from senior services to youth to employment and training, to homelessness, to arts and culture, to advocacy and grassroots organizing.

I basically had the opportunity to work in all kinds of organizations, in all kinds of contexts, in different cities around the country. And for many of us, we just love it so much that we just don’t want to leave and we. And so when people catch the volunteering bug, especially when they’re younger and they’re early in their career, sometimes it just sticks and they want to keep working in this context.

And so remember that every time you have young volunteers, younger volunteers, youth and young adults that you may be seeing in front, in front of your eyes, the next nonprofit executive. It’s kind of interesting to think about. Reason number eight, why volunteerism is important. Volunteer experience makes you more employable.

So this is similar along those similar lines. In 2019, LinkedIn’s global talent report highlighted that 41% of hiring managers consider volunteer experience as valuable as professional experience. Can you believe that organizations increasingly recognize the value of candidates who have a demonstrated commitment to social?

And so I’ve seen other research on this as well that people are more likely to find a job if they’re unemployed and they are volunteering. There are real connections between employment and volunteerism. There’s skill sets that people bring. People like to see people who are connected in their communities.

So that’s pretty cool. Reason number nine, why volunteerism is important. Volunteers can bring diverse skill sets and perspectives to nonprofits. Now, this is sort of similar to this, but it’s from the nonprofit side. How does the nonprofit benefit versus the volunteer benefit? Volunteers can help us see blind spots.

They can help us address challenges beyond our own capabilities or expertise. They can help us suggest new paradigms, offer access to new tools, come with ideas and innovations that can help our organizations get unstuck. The key is we have to be willing and able to listen and to bring those people. In the nonprofit world, there is a lot of talk about diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice.

And you know what better way than to invite volunteers from the community in and to give you ideas and perspectives that you may not have. These are gifts that people give you and they can really radically change if you’re willing to listen and willing to make adjust. They can radically change the quality of your services and your ability to attract more volunteers.

So volunteers have a lot of intel in the community, and we should tap that intel and that expertise. All right. Reason number 10, why volunteerism is important. Volunteers help bridge the divide between communities and nations. Yes and nations, between communities. So according to UN Volunteers, the 2022 State of the World’s volunteerism report, volunteerism can promote a culture of collaborative decision making by shaping and prioritizing issues.

So when the community comes with issues as advocates, as community advocates, and as volunteers, it can help people who are making policy make better policy. Volunteerism can alter unequal power relationships between communities and government, through activism, through advocacy, etc. Volunteerism.

Diverse pathways to civic participation, but they also found it still remains limited for some people. So there, it is not volunteerism at this point in time is not creating a level playing field. I don’t think volunteerism is that powerful. We need a lot of players to level a playing field, but there are a lot of ways for people to get involved with civic participation.

And this is something that nonprofits can help. And then volunteers build bridges and broker relationships between service providers and beneficiaries. And I kind of spoke to that earlier where in nonprofits, sometimes service beneficiaries want to see people like them delivering services or they want to speak to someone like them if they have an issue or want someone to advocate for their needs.

And so volunteers can be that connective tissue between communities and nonprofit. So the most recent six to recap why volunteerism is important is volunteers are donors, and donors are volunteers. Number seven was today’s volunteers are tomorrow’s nonprofit workforce and donors. Reason number eight was volunteer experience makes you more employable.

Reason number nine was volunteers can bring diverse skill sets and perspectives to our nonprofits. And reason number 10 is volunteers help bridge the divide between communities and nations. So I hope today’s episode helped you think a little bit differently about how we see and view the value of volunteer talent.

Certainly, volunteers are extra pairs of hands that we need to get our work. I don’t think we should be thinking about volunteers as solely free labor. I just think that’s a very minimalistic view and it’s not really accurate because first of all, it does take resources to support and grow volunteer teams and to make sure those volunteers efforts have an impact and to make sure that we’re bringing on all of those diverse skills and perspective.

That takes facilitation and resource. So I don’t think volunteers are a pair of free hands, frankly, but I think the investment into volunteerism, the investment into our community members and partnering with them in on our missions. Is absolutely worth the investment. Look at all of the things that I talked about.

These are all research based. You can go look at some of these studies. You can pop these ideas on. Just, just pop into. Why is volunteerism important? And you’ll just studies on why volunteerism is important and you will find hundreds if not thousands of research studies on the impact of volunteerism and volunteers.

So I hope this has given you, if you’re working in the field, it’s given you a little bit of inspiration to know how important and valued your work as is as volunteer involving organizations as facilitators of this fantastic enterprise we call volunteerism. As leaders of volunteers who are working and helping the helpers day in and day out.

All of your work is so, And I think that this research and these ideas are really important to continue to share with the world so that everybody understands the immense power of volunteerism to not only change lives, individual lives, but also to change communities and societies. So with that, happy global volunteer month.

We’re kicking it off. I hope you’re enjoying, and participating and celebrating with your volunteers. If you like this episode, I hope you will rate it and review it and also share it with a friend. All right, so that’s what I’ve got today. I hope you’ll join me next week. Same time, same place on the Volunteer Nation.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. Bring more tips and notes from the show. Check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.