Members in Action! – Mallory

“In the face of critical need in our communities, many of us feel concern: but when does that concern move us to act? At the story telling workshop hosted by Project Change and CASA, we tackled the challenge of telling our stories of service. Mallory’s story of service and engaging the community’s compassion compelled listeners.

Mallory Jones is the ​AmeriCorps member serving with Volunteer Maryland as a ​volunteer coordinator at The Samaritan Women, a shelter in Baltimore City for women rescued from domestic sex trafficking. She shared that when she gives presentations about human trafficking to the community, it sometimes elicits a response of sympathy or emotion. What resonated with participants at the storytelling workshop was Mallory’s goal to turn that sympathy into action. Mallory’s task at hand is channeling the community’s sympathetic feelings into actively serving the community.


According to Mallory, this is what true compassion looks like: Service and Action.
​In her role a​s​ a ​volunteer coordinator, she knows the impact one individual can make in the fight against human trafficking, and wants potential volunteers to know that if you act on your concerns, you truly can make a difference.
Mallory reminds us of how important it is to get our own story out there and inspire our community to act.”




The Shorter the Better?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had a few interesting pieces concerning volunteerism. In the January 22, 2015 issue titled What’s Next, I noticed a small piece concerning volunteer retention. New York Cares, one of the largest volunteer management organizations is offering eight week, web tutorials, in-person workshops, and one-on-one counseling to help groups develop high quality programs.  Gary Bagley, executive director of New York cares stated that, “The lack of excellent experiences is the biggest reason people don’t volunteer.”

Flipping a few pages, an article by Megan O’Neil, “Volunteerism and Trust in Public Institutions Are On the Decline”, discusses the drop in volunteerism across the country. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the volunteerism rate fell to 25.4 percent in 2013. This is the lowest level since this data collection began in 2002.  What is happening here? Why are fewer folks volunteering? The data is a bit confusing, so let’s look at a few indicators. A report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) states that 62.6 million adults (25.4 percent) volunteered through an organization in 2013, and more than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) also engaged in informal volunteering in their communities, helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting. Wendy Spencer, CNCS chief operating officer noted that the share of Americans that participate in formal volunteering has remained steady, at about one in four for many years. So does this mean that volunteerism is doing kinda okay? Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of indicators. In Megan O’Neil’s article, she quotes Greg Baldwin, president of VolunteerMatch stating that nonprofit sector and volunteers are as vulnerable to the economic swings as other sectors. He further states that, “Strong volunteer programs are coordinated by healthy, strong organizations that are well resourced.” So it’s the organizations fault? Not exactly.

Right now VM sees an amazing shift in how folks want to volunteer. Over the past four years, our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators report that they are recruiting more episodic volunteers. These are folks that volunteer for a shorter duration then the stereotypic, long-term volunteer that most organizations dream of. Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are consistently reporting volunteers that provide less than one hour per week, and serve for shorter durations. But here is the really interesting thing; volunteer satisfaction has risen with our sites as they are able to offer a more tailored approach to engaging volunteers. Providing opportunities for volunteers to engage in a less structured way has not diminished the experience or the productivity of the programs. So is the answer short term all the way? Not completly. Circling back to Greg Baldwin’s comment concerning strong volunteer programs; I think we also need to keep in mind what the volunteer market is telling us. If volunteers are looking for short-term, meaningful opportunities, how can we meet that demand? The simple and not so simple answer is start identifying opportunities where a shorter commitment would work. Engaging volunteers on projects with a very specific end date, or being open to one and done volunteers. Meeting the market in terms of opportunities offered is not only good for volunteers, but good for organizations as well.

The Value of a Volunteer Hour

The estimated value of one hour of volunteer time is $22.14. This dollar amount has huge implications on how Volunteer Maryland reports the value of a volunteer’s time in relation to the organization or service site they serve. But what does this figure really mean?  First, let’s get the details on where this number comes from. Independent Sector determines the value of a volunteer hour and provides this information as one measurement of a volunteer’s impact.

The Independent Sector methodology for calculating this is pretty simple, “The value of volunteer time is based on the hourly earnings (approximated from yearly values) of all production and non-supervisory workers on private non-farm payrolls average (based on yearly earnings provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Independent Sector indexes this figure to determine state values and increases it by 12 percent to estimate for fringe benefits.” Got that?  Not really rocket science as it uses BLS information to determine value.

In 2013, one in four adults volunteered through an organization. This amounted to 7.7 billion hours with a value of $173 billion. That is a huge number, but is misleading in telling the value of a volunteer to an organization and a community. At times this number is viewed as money saved by the organization. There may be times that a skilled volunteer provides professional services which do have a value in terms of dollars saved through the use of a volunteer, but in most cases a volunteer supplements rather than substitutes paid staff.

So why does this number matter? The matter of determining a volunteer hours worth is tricky for most of the organizations Volunteer Maryland works with. The reason being is value has multiple facets that a volunteer program should factor when determining and showing its volunteer forces impact. Beyond the hours, there needs to a clear method of determining that impact on the client that they serve, and how their service made a difference.

Each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator works with their site to determine a way of measuring the impact of the volunteer. Some examples are an increase in reading fluency for early readers, or a decrease in invasive plants with an increase in native plants in a pre determined plot of land. This measurement gives value to the $22.14 because it shows the significance of the one hour of service. Knowing how the volunteer provides impact to your community in real, tangible improvements not only speaks the language of funders, but the language of potential volunteers as well. With the perception of less and less time, it is on the organization to prove that that a volunteer’s time has true value to the shared community.

Independent Sector –

What’s an Hour of Volunteer Work Worth? –

Oh Canada!

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are always interested in other entities that look to better volunteer program development.  It is a bit refreshing to know that developing, investing and promoting volunteer programs is not only a Maryland things, but an international one as well.  Take our friends to the north, Canada.  Volunteer Canada recently published a study entitled, Bridging The Gap that looked at volunteer trends based on some observations made in 2010.  The key observation centered on seeing a growing gap between what volunteers look for and the opportunities organizations offer.  They wanted to verify this observation to develop strategies to help organizations utilizing volunteers, and people who volunteer or are looking to volunteer.

The research looked at four volunteer groups: youth, families, baby boomers and workplace volunteers.  The study provides a great snapshot of these four groups looking at characteristics of each, along with interests and barriers to volunteering. These are integral pieces as an organization looks at needs, and develops long term recruitment and retention plans.  A few commonalities occurred when looking at these four distinct volunteer groups:

  • Today’s volunteers have goals.
  • They’re driven by results.
  • They’re mobile.
  • They’re self-directed.
  • They have multiple interests.
  • They often seek short-term opportunities that use their skills.

Sound familiar?  It does to Volunteer Maryland.  The value of a volunteers time and the need to see impact in there service rings very true for most of our partnerships and definitely within the group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators we work with each year.

There are of course differences within each of the groups concerning needs, but a few of the gaps cut across all volunteer groups:

  • Many people are looking for group activities BUT few organizations can offer them.
  • Many people come with professional skills BUT many professionals look for volunteer tasks that differ from their work.
  • Organizations are expected to define the roles of volunteers BUT many volunteers want the flexibility to create their own opportunities and schedules.
  • Many organizations want long-term commitment BUT many more volunteers are looking for short-term opportunities.
  • Many organizations focus on what they need BUT many volunteers come with their own goals to be met.

This may appear to be a cage match pitting volunteer needs versus organizational needs.  The study participants gave some advice on how organizations can improve the way they engage volunteers.  Some were basic but important and play a big role on how Volunteer Maryland works with organizations.  Items such as building meaningful relationships with volunteers, and understand where volunteers are in their lifecycle are indicative of a strong volunteer system. Organizations should invest in learning a volunteer’s goals and skills looking for ways to engage these in there service. Beyond this, volunteers recommended the following:

  • Human resources should include volunteers. Some policies and benefits apply equally to volunteers and paid staff.
  • Today’s volunteers have erratic schedules. Volunteers of all ages have multiple demands. These include work, school and family. Organizations benefit from being flexible and accommodating.
  • Organizations should be sensitive to gender, culture, language and age. A welcoming and inclusive environment attracts volunteers.
  • While many organizations use technology and social media, volunteers want to find more information online.

The information contained in this study served to solidify two key pieces of Volunteer Maryland’s work.

  • Volunteer programs are not static, and need to have planned revision to continue to serve the needs of the community served.
  • Volunteers are not static and continue to change and present new recruitment and retention nuances that speak to specific generations and motivations.

My last blog focused on talking with staff concerning the volunteer program.  Now I am going to recommend asking them to read.  This study could just be the spark that leads to those great conversations on how volunteers engage, serve and help define your organizations volunteer program.  Maybe even spark a study of your own.

Thank you, Volunteer Canada.