Sterling Live: Check-in on the State of Volunteerism

Posted Thursday, June 17th, 2021 by Sterling Volunteers Staff

Building communities of trusted and safe volunteers is our mission so that volunteerism can thrive. Sterling Volunteers does that largely through partnerships with great organizations like Points of Light.

We deeply value Points of Light’s mission to promote and advance volunteer engagement through an affiliate network of about 250 organizations in major metro areas in the United States and about 30 other countries. They support a number of products and platforms around the theme of volunteer engagement — connecting people who are interested in helping with the organizations that need their help.

Recently, Katie Zwetzig, Executive Director of Sterling Volunteers, and Toby Chalberg, Chief Digital Officer at Points of Light, joined Sterling’s Social Media Manager, Katelyn Brower, to discuss the state of volunteerism on an episode of Sterling Live. They shared their thoughts on topics including trends in volunteer engagement and recruitment, Covid-19 testing, and trusting your volunteers as the public begins to reopen.

Following are a few key highlights from the live conversation. Feel free to watch the full show recording below (or on our YouTube channel).

On the general state of volunteerism…

Katie: I’m happy to report that we are seeing an uptick in volunteerism! I think we would all like to forget parts of last year, but this year we are seeing kids get back on soccer fields and basketball courts, while food delivery continues its ramp up. People are trying to figure out what volunteering looks like in 2021, and it certainly looks different than it did in 2020.

I’m also excited that schools are ramping up again. In particular, we are getting highly involved with our K-12 school clients, who are looking for ways to engage and efficiently onboard volunteers safely as well.

Toby: What occurred over the past year was unprecedented when it comes to volunteering. Even prior to the pandemic, there was a bit of a natural disparity between what nonprofits needed from volunteers and what they were available to do. I think that was exacerbated by the pandemic. People were not able to join volunteer projects in person, but still had an interest in helping the causes that they care about virtually. I think that virtual volunteering and [working from home] for volunteer organizations is here to stay.

As things return, we have noticed that many companies are looking at volunteer engagement as one of the first things they can do to bring their teams back together. Companies are having conversations about racial justice as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

Increasingly, Points of Light is working with companies on their employee engagement programs — where employee volunteerism is an important part of a company’s employee retention and engagement strategy. We are working more with nonprofits to build their capacity to recruit and manage volunteers focused on a wide variety of issues, from homelessness and hunger to the environment, to social justice issues in local communities.

On engaging with hybrid volunteer communities…

Katie: Over the last year, organizations have worked hard to retain volunteers, upping their social media outreach and incorporating them into their networks — and it’s really starting to pay off. There are also many programs that have not lagged despite the circumstances.

One of the things I love about virtual volunteering is that it breaks down barriers, geographical and otherwise. It has really opened things up and that has been great for volunteers. For example, Big Brothers, Big Sisters really made the best of the situation last year and rebuilt their platforms so they could host mentoring online and keep track of it.

We’ve also partnered with Beth Steinhorn, President of VQ Volunteer Strategies, to develop webinars and resources for organizations interested in tracking and recognizing impact of a hybrid volunteer community.

Toby: Points of Light has seen phone banking become popular for nonprofits to engage with their volunteers in meaningful and valuable ways. It gives organizations an opportunity to engage, get feedback, and ask about barriers to volunteering.

A lot of volunteers have been invited to support Covid-19 vaccine and testing delivery rollouts, and our affiliates are supporting some of those non-skilled volunteer positions, as well as emergency food delivery, and other in-person opportunities that are coming back.

Our virtual volunteering resources (notably, the Points of Light Engage platform) have been some of our most visited webpages over the past number of months. Interest remains high, and people are searching for opportunities, not just for themselves, but on behalf of family, friends, congregations, and other groups. They want to find a way to support a cause together, and it’s a really hopeful sign.

On nonprofit involvement in testing and vaccine distribution…

Katie: Sterling has worked with our network and customer base to connect with affiliates and volunteer centers to deliver vaccines. We have worked with some Volunteer Management System partners and, obviously, for the health systems of hospitals.

We are also starting to see a shift in Covid-19 health testing toward in-home testing capabilities. For instance, the state of Colorado now offers in-home testing for teachers, which they recently mailed out.

Toby: In addition to the large-scale vaccine distribution operations, Points of Light has helped many smaller nonprofits that are focused on the health, safety, and wellness of their constituents right now. They have been scheduling vaccinations, helping people get to their appointments, walking people through the process, etc.

I think that requiring volunteers to be vaccinated or tested is going to be up to individual organizations. As of now, self-disclosure is fairly standard.

On the state of volunteer recruitment…

Toby: Points of Light is committed to answering the question, “How can I help?” Our recent internal research shows there is a ton of goodwill and interest out there, but there are also some common barriers to connecting those interested with opportunity.

Digital discovery is an important component of any nonprofit’s recruitment strategy. We have been working to improve a potential volunteer’s ability to find opportunities via Google search without having to go directly to the Points of Light search for local postings.

Not every organization can make adjustments to their volunteer roles and opportunities to account for shifts in volunteer interest. The Girl Scouts are a good example of a successful volunteer engagement model. They know how many volunteers are needed in order to deliver their services and programs to their girls, and right now they’re creating more episodic engagement opportunities that will transform some of their more traditional roles.

On building trust and safety among volunteers…

Katie: Many of Sterling Volunteer’s clients run background screening packages that entail a Department of Justice sex offender check and a criminal check. Our service solution offers monthly updates and alerts, and we’re adding products to help people transition to a virtual environment. We want to make sure all are volunteering in a safe and healthy way.

Sterling offers Covid-19 Health Testing and has partnered with quite a few nonprofits over the last several months. We also recently rolled out identity verification in partnership with, which helps confirm that the people you’re screening are who they say they are.

Working with partners, including Points of Light, brings in other resources and services that help build out volunteer communities, grow pools of vetted volunteers, and fill in gaps.

Toby: Every nonprofit has fewer resources than they need to achieve their mission and change the world in the way they aspire to. Partnerships are a great way to divide the work and get things done — and that always provides for the best possible volunteer experience.

Right now organizations are thinking about reopening and re-engaging volunteers, and, as they do, they should consider what is it about their volunteer programs that people love, and lean into that great component of the volunteer experience — that asset — to remind folks about how meaningful it is. I think that’s what resonates with people.

A few final thoughts…

Toby: Points of Light welcomes all volunteer interest! We can help you answer the question — How can I help? — for individuals, groups of friends, and families, as well as companies looking to engage their employees, and nonprofits looking to build their capacity to engage more volunteers in this coming year and beyond.

Katie: The world certainly needs more volunteers. There are plenty of opportunities out there on Points of Light Engage and even through Google search to find where to get engaged and plugged in.

I’m so grateful for the nonprofits that weathered the challenges of the pandemic over the last year. We have seen incredible collaboration among nonprofits, corporations, communities, governments, and more. I’m really excited for the uptick we are seeing. I’m happy they are coming back!

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