The Volunteer Perspective – Industry Insights 2019

Posted Friday, March 15th, 2019 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

Each year, we report on the volunteer and nonprofit industry, asking the people who run volunteer programs about their operations and the challenges they face — particularly in regard to volunteer onboarding and background checks. This year, we turned our focus to volunteers themselves, offering the people who give their time an opportunity to share their perspective.

Alongside partner, VolunteerMatch, we conducted a survey in the fall of last year and more than 7,000 volunteers shared their thoughts on a wide range of topics. Most respondents were female and over 35 years old, living throughout the U.S. in mostly suburban areas.

Sterling Volunteers Executive Director, Katie Zwetzig and VolunteerMatch CEO, Greg Baldwin recently teamed up to present the findings from the survey. If you didn’t catch the webinar live, watch it on-demand here.

Volunteer Insights

We asked volunteers about their volunteering habits and preferences and gave them a chance to voice their opinions about why they volunteer. We found that people choose to volunteer for a variety of reasons, most commonly to contribute to a cause or to help improve their community. We also found that the motivation for volunteering isn’t always selfless – many volunteer to pursue a hobby or career, or even just to socialize with peers. But some have much deeper reasons.

“My husband and I volunteer in honor of our daughter … she was extremely involved in the community and we know it is what she would want us to do.” – Anonymous volunteer

We also noticed a number of trends that, together, paint a picture of today’s volunteer.

  • 89% of respondents agreed that they care about more than one cause
  • 84% volunteer at least a few times a year
  • 83% are at least somewhat more willing to donate to an organization where they volunteer
  • 80% give 2 to 5 hours of their time when volunteering
  • 78% say that understanding their impact keeps them engaged
  • 75% volunteer at one or more organizations per year

Most volunteers also expressed interest in a way for organizations to reach out to them online. More than half said that they’d “love to keep on top of what’s available in [their] area!” and only 3% said they weren’t interested at all.

Volunteering in the Digital Age

As the volunteering landscape evolves alongside new technologies and trends, it becomes increasingly important to innovate with online volunteer communities. More volunteers are now finding new opportunities online (57%) than through friends (44%), and volunteers increasingly prefer online training. Organizations must be prepared to develop the tools and resources volunteers are looking for.

Sterling Volunteers and our partners have begun building an online volunteer community; we took the opportunity to hear what volunteers themselves would want most in the new community. They most commonly selected:

  • Volunteer opportunity search
  • Ability to be recruited by organizations with opportunities
  • Networking with contacts at nonprofits/organizations
  • Networking with likeminded volunteers
  • Access to online courses related to volunteering
  • Ability to track volunteer hours

Volunteers are also interested in a way to share volunteering experiences.

“Volunteers sharing their stories with others that want to volunteer could be meaningful.” – Anonymous volunteer

Volunteer Screening and Background Checks

The majority of volunteers said background checks have a positive effect on their volunteering experience, with around 95% viewing background checks positively, or having a neutral stance toward them. This shows that volunteers prefer an organization committed to safety.

“I strongly believe in background checks when volunteering for organizations with people who are in vulnerable situations …”- Anonymous volunteer

Volunteers are mostly unconcerned when it comes to background checks. More than half said they aren’t concerned about them as long as their data is secure. Respondents did have some concern about sharing their social security number – almost two-thirds of volunteers said that sharing their social security number was their primary concern – but many are surprised to find out that volunteers often don’t have to disclose their social at all. The records Sterling Volunteers searches are filed by name, not social security number. We only request social security numbers when necessary for specific types of searches.

We also introduced respondents to two ideas: a portable background check, owned by volunteers and accepted by many organizations, and a volunteer ID/credential that proves their identity, verifies that they’ve been screened and more. More than half of volunteers are interested in the volunteer-owned background check and about two-thirds are interested in the volunteer-focused ID.

Thank You, Volunteers

The volunteers who responded to our survey are helping shape the future of the volunteer and nonprofit community by helping us better understand the volunteer’s perspective. They offered insight into their volunteering preferences, told us what it’s like to volunteer in the digital age, gave their stance on screening and background checks, and more.

As we keep an eye toward the future of volunteerism, we want to thank the volunteers who participated in this survey for providing such valuable insights.

Stay Tuned for More Volunteer Screening Insights

Stay tuned to our blog for more insights into the “Volunteer Perspective: Industry Insights 2019” report. Did you miss the webinar? You can watch it on-demand at any time. Additionally, you can download a copy of the research report as well.

What did you take away from our Volunteer Perspective research? Did the results surprise you? Let us know what you think! Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.