urban institute nonprofit social and economic policy research

Volunteer Management Capacity in America's Charities and Congregations

A Briefing Report

Read complete document: PDF


PrintPrint this page
Share:
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Digg Share on Reddit
| Email this pageE-mail
Document date: March 01, 2004
Released online: March 01, 2004

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

This report served as the briefing document for a public meeting sponsored jointly by The Corporation for National and Community Service, the UPS Foundation, the USA Freedom Corps, and the Urban Institute. Since representatives from these organizations participated in the messages presented at the meeting and influenced the messages presented in the briefing report, no individual authors are named. Cite as Urban Institute, 2004, "Volunteer Management Capacity in America's Charities and Congregations: A Briefing Report." Washington DC.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Executive Summary

Major Findings from the Volunteer Management Capacity Study

Volunteers can boost the quality of services in charities and congregations while reducing costs. However, these organizations are not always fully equipped to make the most of their volunteers. In order to better understand the current state of volunteer management capacity, The UPS Foundation, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the USA Freedom Corps organized the first national study of volunteer management capacity. Conducted by the Urban Institute, the study draws on representative samples of charities and congregations. The study highlights the potential for charities and congregations to use more volunteers, some challenges in doing so, and capacity-building options to reduce the hurdles. Such efforts could go a long way toward meeting President Bush's Call to Service and his mandate that national and community service programs become engines of volunteer mobilization.

The Use of Volunteers. Many charities and congregational social service outreach programs use volunteers, and these volunteers play an important role in their operations. A large majority of organizations report that they are prepared to take on additional volunteers.

  • Four in Five Charities Use Volunteers. Of the approximately 215,000 charities that filed Form 990 or 990EZ with the IRS in 2000 (required of those charities with over $25,000 in annual gross receipts), an estimated 174,000 organizations use volunteers. One in three congregations manage volunteers in social service outreach programs. Of an estimated 380,000 congregations in the United States, 129,000 manage volunteers in such programs.
  • Volunteers Offer Benefits Associated with Investments in Management. A large majority of charities report their volunteers are beneficial to their operations in a number of ways. Further, the study concludes that investments in volunteer management and benefits derived from volunteers feed on each other, with investments bringing benefits and benefits justifying greater investments.
  • Charities and Congregations Are Ready to Take on More Volunteers. More than nine in ten organizations are ready to take on more volunteers at their present capacity, with a median of 20 new volunteers. Without any capacity enhancements, charities could take on an estimated 3.4 million new volunteers and congregational social service outreach activities could take on an estimated 2.5 million new volunteers.

Challenges to Mobilization of Volunteers. The greatest challenges that charities and congregations face is an inability to dedicate staff resources to and adopt best practices in volunteer management.

  • Devoting Substantial Staff Time Spent on Volunteer Management is a Best Practice. The percentage of time a paid staff volunteer coordinator devotes to volunteer management is positively related to the capacity of organizations to take on additional volunteers. The best prepared and most effective volunteer programs are those with paid staff members who dedicate a substantial portion of their time to management of volunteers. This study demonstrated that, as staff time spent on volunteer management increased, adoption of volunteer management practices increased as well. Moreover, investments in volunteer management and benefits derived from volunteers feed on each other, with investments bringing benefits and these benefits justify greater investments
  • However, Staff Time Spent in Volunteer Management is Low. Three out of five charities and only one out of three congregations with social service outreach activities reported having a paid staff person who worked on volunteer coordination. However, among these paid volunteer coordinators, one in three have not received any training in volunteer management, and half spend less than 30 percent of their time on volunteer coordination.
  • Most Volunteer Management Practices Have Not Been Adopted to a Large Degree. Less than half of charities and congregations that manage volunteers have adopted most volunteer management practices advocated by the field. For example, only about one-third of charities say they have adopted to a large degree the practice of formally recognizing the efforts of their volunteers.
  • Capacity-Building Options for the Future. Despite the willingness of charities and congregations to take on volunteers, challenges prevent them from meeting their full potential. A number of actions might improve the ability of charities to work effectively with and take on new volunteers.
  • Increasing Volunteerism During the Workday. The most prominent challenge to implementing volunteer programs among charities and congregations is recruiting volunteers during the workday, reported as a big problem by 25 percent of charities and 34 percent of congregational social service outreach programs. This suggests that groups interested in promoting volunteerism should explore ways to create more flexible workdays for potential volunteers who have regular jobs.
  • External Support of Full-Time Volunteer Managers. The most popular capacity-building option among both charities and congregations with social service outreach activities is the addition of a one-year, full-time volunteer with a living stipend (like an AmeriCorps member), with responsibility for volunteer recruitment and management. AmeriCorps members could be particularly useful in charities that are challenged in recruiting enough and the right kinds of volunteers, but also in those that do not have time or money to train and supervise volunteers.
  • Supporting Intermediaries that Recruit and Match Volunteers. Many charities and congregations struggle with finding a sufficient number of volunteers. Roughly 40 percent report that more information about potential volunteers in the community would greatly help their volunteer program, highlighting the important role that volunteer centers and other community information resources could play in linking people who want to volunteer with organizations that need them.
  • Developing Avenues to Help Train Staff. Training staff on how to work with volunteers could address a range of challenges, including recruiting volunteers during the workday.

Introduction

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush issued a call to service, urging all Americans to spend 4,000 hours serving others over the course of their lives. To help develop and strengthen volunteer opportunities, the president created the USA Freedom Corps. The mission of the USA Freedom Corps is to foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility in the United States. As a component of the USA Freedom Corps, the Corporation for National and Community Service directs programs that provide service opportunities and facilitate volunteerism. At the heart of these efforts is the belief that our nation's interests are best served when its citizens are engaged in providing service to their communities.

Because a 1998 UPS study indicated that volunteers do not always feel their volunteer experiences make best use of their skills and interests, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the UPS Foundation, and the USA Freedom Corps organized the first national study of volunteer management capacity to better understand the scope of issues confronting our charities and congregational social service outreach activities. The study, conducted by the Urban Institute in fall 2003, is based on a representative sample of 1,753 charities, drawn from the more than 200,000 charities that filed their annual paperwork with the IRS in 2000. It also includes information from 541 congregations, representing the 380,000 congregations (of all faiths) identified by American Church Lists. Because the organizations interviewed reflect the characteristics of these populations of charities and congregations, the results can be used to describe current overall conditions in these organizations.

As a companion to this study, the USA Freedom Corps and the Corporation for National and Community Service partnered with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2002 and again in 2003 to add questions about volunteering to the Current Population Survey (CPS) for the month of September. The CPS results provide context for some of the findings in the volunteer management capacity study. The 2003 CPS survey indicates that an estimated 63.8 million Americans (28.8 percent of the United States population) volunteered through an organization in the 12 months preceding the interview, up 4 million (6.8 percent) from the 59.8 million Americans who volunteered in 2002. Because of that growth and the continuing focus on increasing volunteering and civic participation among Americans, volunteer management capacity issues acquire greater significance.

We expect these studies to stimulate activity regarding the capacity of charities and congregations to work with volunteers, including strengthening volunteer management practices and raising awareness among private and public funding organizations regarding unmet needs. Through such efforts, we can help Americans, charities, and congregations answer President Bush's Call to Service and his mandate that national and community service programs optimize program design and serve as engines of volunteer mobilization.


Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).



Topics/Tags: | Nonprofits


Usage and reprints: Most publications may be downloaded free of charge from the web site and may be used and copies made for research, academic, policy or other non-commercial purposes. Proper attribution is required. Posting UI research papers on other websites is permitted subject to prior approval from the Urban Institute—contact publicaffairs@urban.org.

If you are unable to access or print the PDF document please contact us or call the Publications Office at (202) 261-5687.

Disclaimer: The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders. Copyright of the written materials contained within the Urban Institute website is owned or controlled by the Urban Institute.

Email this Page