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.


You Grow, We Know: How Partnering with Volunteer Maryland Could Work for You

Here at Volunteer Maryland, we are in the midst of receiving applications from potential partners for the coming year.  Each year, Volunteer Maryland partners with about 30 organizations, each one unique in what it does and how it operates.  Going to meet next year’s partners has been exciting and inspiring for me.

What I’m learning is that nonprofits evolve into a role, and the pieces of the nonprofit grow organically with it.  If one division of the organization discovers a need for volunteers, maybe it will start recruiting.  And then maybe another staff person may have started recruiting from their own network to fill a different volunteer role.  Now, as they move forward, they need to bring all of that together and figure out key items such as which staff member do volunteers report to?  What is the written description of the volunteer role?  And who’s tracking how many volunteers there are and how many hours they give?

As the organization grows in size, the methods that may have served it once now are no longer enough.  The staff may have an intuitive sense of what is working or not working for their organization, but they may have not had a chance to check in with staff members, the volunteers, and the community they serve to really assess that all needs are being met.

Volunteer Maryland fits in here as a means to take a step back, review the entire situation, and look at what changes might make the volunteer aspect of your program thrive.  And the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator comes in providing new eyes to the problem, often providing extra manpower, that can provide new and novel solutions.  Whether our partners are responding to a new or shifting need, or are improving on what is already in place, they do so to better engage and serve their community.

Spring is a time of renewal for the world around us, and it can be a time of new beginnings for your organization too.  If you are thinking about partnering with Volunteer Maryland, do not hesitate to be in touch.  You can even join us on May 9 for a lunch & learn and have any questions answered.  It’s a relationship that can benefit both you and your community for years to come.


Thinking about investing in your Volunteer Program? Come talk to us!

It continues to be an interesting time for the nonprofit sector and for AmeriCorps.  With the economy continuing its struggle, we all seem to be living with a bit more of the unknown than we did a few years back.  Still, there are some things we know for sure – and right at the top of that list is an increased need to serve our communities.

If that’s you, then you might think about investing in your volunteer program as one way to help meet those community needs.

Volunteers aren’t free and they never will be.  It takes a tremendous amount of time, energy, and expertise to run a successful volunteer program.  But I don’t need to tell you that.

What I can tell you, simply, is how we may be able to help.  Are you looking to start a new volunteer program and need someone to come in and set up the structures?  Is your volunteer program struggling and in need of someone to update and re-energize things?  If so, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Each year we partner with about 30 different organizations to help them with their volunteer programs.  It takes energy on all sides and it’s no easy feat.  We provide intensive training to the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and make training available to the staff at our partner organizations.  We work to conduct needs assessments, develop program structures, recruit volunteers, and evaluate everyone’s efforts.  Sometimes we’re helping to start up a brand-new volunteer program.  Other times we’re coming in to grease the wheels.

It takes a real investment from all parties but we know that it works when that investment is solid.  It’s an investment of time, commitment, and money.  An organization commits one – three hours a week to working directly with a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, plus attends mandatory trainings three times over the year and optional online trainings every other month.  Add in a cash match ranging from $4,750 – $9,750, and you have a full-time person working on your volunteer program.  Commit to an ongoing investment in their success and you can have a sustainable volunteer program – one that meets your increasing community needs – for years to come.

Marie McSweeney, VMC at Digital Harbor High School
Marie is the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at Digital Harbor High School

If you’re interested in thinking more about how we can help you with your volunteer program in the upcoming year, there are a few ways to learn more.


Want to learn more about what we do? Register for one of these!

Want to know how to submit a successful application? That’s right here!

For the application and other supporting documents about the application process, check out our web site


When: Monday, February 6, 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Where: Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore

1324 Belmont Avenue, Suite 401 – Salisbury, MD  21804

When: Tuesday, February 7, 10:30 am – 12:00 noon

Where: Prince George’s County Public Library – Hyattsville

Conference Room

6530 Adelphi Road – Hyattsville, MD  20782

When: Wednesday, February 8, 10:00 am – 11:30 am

Where: Maryland Nonprofits – Silver Spring Office

8720 Georgia Avenue, Suite 303 – Silver Spring, MD  20910

When: Thursday, February 9, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Where: Queen Anne’s County Public Library – Kent Island Branch

200 Library Circle – Stevensville, MD  21666



Finally, never hesitate to get in touch! Here’s our contact information.