It’s hard to think of a nonprofit that does not have volunteers as an important component in fulfilling its mission. So I thought in the spirit of International Volunteer Day (December 5, 2015), I should share three volunteerism topics that inspire me.

Volunteerism is Alive and Well

The Corporation for National & Community Service  has very insightful statistics on the volunteering and civic life. In 2013:

  • 6 million of us volunteered 7.7 billion hours that delivered an equivalent of $173 billion of service.
  • I am heartened by the fact that that 62.5% were “informal volunteers” such as doing favors for neighbors. (Hmm, I wonder if pet sitting or shoveling driveways was included?).
  • Top volunteer activities were fundraising (25.4%); collecting or distributing food (24.2%); tutoring or teaching (18%) or mentoring youth (17.3%); and lending professional/managerial expertise (15%).
  • It was also insightful to note that volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate as compared to volunteers. 79.2% vs. 40.4%.
  • Religious organizations (33.9%) are by far the most popular, followed by educational (26.2%) and Social services (14.8%)

(As a sidebar, the Volunteering and Civic Life website has a great set of infographic, online tools  and widgets that you can use for internal meetings or promoting volunteer opportunities).

Volunteerism is healthy – but is there anything we should be concerned about? Unfortunately, the overall rate of volunteering has seen a dip down to 25% from a peak of close to 30% in 2005.  Maybe the next couple of items can present opportunities on that front!

Volunteering for Wellbeing

We are all well aware of how volunteers further the mission of NPOs and the altruistic benefits for volunteers. But what if it went further? How about a community based volunteer program that trained participants as volunteers to help them out of social and economic isolation?

If: Volunteering for wellbeing is a 16 week volunteer training and placement program delivered by Imperial War Museum North, Manchester Museum and Museum of Science & Industry that does that. The volunteer case studies are inspirational and seeing them engage visitors shows how this program benefits all!

We are familiar with volunteer programs as a part of structured educational programs (high school and college courses), however I am impressed how this community based learning program has added another layer of engagement and opened museums to a new audience in an innovative manner that benefits all. I recommend the program’s good practice guide to get started on your own program!


As one can decipher, micro-volunteering relates to small, very specific tasks completed by a volunteer. Ben Rigby, has a great TED talk on the concepts around micro-volunteering.

While some may suggest that micro-volunteering is a sign of our “short attention span” times, a la “groupon volunteer”, I consider it as leveraging volunteerism in a manner convenient for volunteers. It could also be a “gateway” of sorts.  It is only natural for those disposed to volunteering to deepen their engagement with time. Besides, an online platform allows volunteers to engage where in-person engagement may not be practical (distance, time schedules).

Micro-volunteering resources such as Skills for Change or Help from Home  have developed online tools to help match volunteers with opportunities of interest – a critical component for satisfaction and long-term volunteer relationships. Along with typical online options such as design, copywriting, fundraising, I found some intriguing “micro-opportunities” (yup, I made that term up!) from transcribing historical records for the Carnamah Historical Society in Australia, to researching students in the Lodz Ghetto school for the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Side note: I love Help from Home’s pajama ranking for online volunteer opportunities!

While social media interaction is also an opportunity, micro-volunteering need not be purely online. A Royal Albert Memorial Museum partnership with Exeter University recruited students as micro-volunteers to engage with visitors to their Gilbert and George exhibit.  I recommend their learning and marketing review to glean some interesting insight.

I hope these statistics and stories on the every-changing world of volunteerism encourage your institution to explore new opportunities. If you have a story – please do share!  We would love to hear it!



Devendra Shrikhande is a senior consultant in the arts and culture division at Blackbaud. Prior to Blackbaud, he has over ten years’ experience partnering with numerous non-profits across a variety of sectors launch new initiatives integrating technology with their mission. As an engineer turned photographer, Devendra is passionate about mixing “science with art” to deliver innovative opportunities for non-profits to better meet the needs of their communities. Connect with Devendra on LinkedIn.

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