In 2022, the Initiative for Strategic Volunteer Engagement, a joint effort of funders and nonprofits, commissioned first of its kind national research on strategic volunteer engagement in the social sector. 

The new reports “The State of Volunteer Engagement: Insights from Nonprofit Leaders and Funders” from the Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and “Investing in Strategic Volunteer Engagement: A Qualitative Study” from Dr. Sue Carter Kahl of Sue Carter Kahl Consulting are now available for download.

Initiative for Strategic Volunteer Engagement Releases Research—Together with the Do Good Institute and Dr. Sue Carter Kahl—to Revolutionize Strategic Volunteerism in the Nonprofit Sector

“Investing in Strategic Volunteer Engagement: A Qualitative Study”

By Dr. Sue Carter Kahl, Sue Carter Kahl Consulting

An investment in Strategic Volunteer Engagement helps strengthen and build organizational capacity, enabling funders to transform their goals into action. This study suggests that funders and nonprofits could benefit from a better understanding of what grant-making organizations value—strengthening relationships within their communities and the need by nonprofit organizations to fund capacity building.

When talking about strategic volunteer engagement, there are both tremendous opportunities and daunting barriers. The Initiative for Strategic Volunteer Engagement believes that the learnings and findings in this study will help you understand how to unlock the impact of volunteers as a vital asset of any organization looking to advance its mission and accomplish its goals.   

Highlights from Findings:

  • Grant-makers (funders) noted the lack of capacity, organizational maturity, and infrastructure to engage volunteers as the main barrier to funding. At the same time, nonprofits emphasized the lack of adequate funds and time as barriers to building the capacity to engage volunteers.

  • Funders worry about volunteer effectiveness, feasibility, and sustainability when awarding grants and prefer giving to programs rather than operations.

  • A lack of agreement regarding strategic volunteer engagement—what it is, and how one measures success—makes it difficult to show ROI clearly.

“The State of Volunteer Engagement: Insights from Nonprofit Leaders and Funders” ​

By Dr. Nathan Dietz and Dr. Robert T. Grimm, Jr., Do Good Institute at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy

As nonprofit organizations continue to face an increase in demand, limited resources and reduced staffing capacity in the wake of a global pandemic, new research finds that volunteer engagement has become more–not less–important to advance their work, but volunteers are now harder to find and engage. 

As COVID-19’s lasting impact on civic life unfolds, the Do Good Institute survey found more demand for nonprofit services. Nonprofits are challenged by finding and recruiting the right volunteer support as well as by the capacity and infrastructure needed to sustain volunteer engagement. Despite these challenges, nonprofits seem to be more convinced of the benefits of volunteer engagement compared to recent years. However, there is a gap between funders and nonprofits on the value and challenges surrounding strategic volunteerism.

Highlights from Findings:

  • Nearly two-thirds (64.4 percent) of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for their organizational services, with 51.1 percent increasing their delivery of services, and 48.5 percent increasing staff workloads to help meet demand. At the same time, 28.7 percent of nonprofits are operating with less funding and paid staff than they had before the pandemic.

  • Nearly half (46.8 percent) of CEOs say that recruiting sufficient volunteers is a big problem for their organization, with many sharing that their volunteers were doing less of any specific organizational activity today (ie. delivery of services, fundraising or advocacy).

  • 72.2 percent of nonprofit leaders felt that volunteers improve the quality of services or programs provided to a great extent, but only 25.2 percent of funders agreed.

What past research has shown about the impact of strategic volunteer engagement:

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Organizations that leverage volunteers and their skills to accomplish their missions are significantly more adaptable, sustainable, and capable of going to scale

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Organizations that effectively engage volunteers are equally as successful in accomplishing their mission as their peers without volunteers, but at almost half the median budget

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High net worth donors who volunteer give up to ten times more money than those who don’t volunteer, and most donate to the organizations in which they are involved

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Effective volunteer engagement has been shown in some cases to reap up to a $6 return on every dollar invested when considering the financial value of volunteer involvement