The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 2013 had the lowest volunteer rate since the study was first conducted in 2002.
Why the decline of volunteers? The answer is simple: we don't ask them to.
Think about your first experience volunteering. I would wager a bet to say that either you have a personal connection with the institution and wanted to help, or someone you know asked you to get involved. For the past eight years, I've been a professional volunteer administrator at Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. And, in the past two years, I have been elected to the board of the New York Association for Volunteer Administration. Like most of my NYAVA colleagues, I serve on the board because someone asked me to run. I work with volunteers for a living -- yet even I didn't take the first step toward volunteering at NYAVA.
We cannot be afraid to step up and ask people to volunteer. And when we do, it helps to be specific. Asking for specific donation dollars is an effective tool in fundraising. When was the last time you went online to donate and the site didn't give you dollar suggestions? We now need to translate this idea of "the ask" into volunteerism. Few non-profits have full-time volunteer staff and therefore lack the personnel to do the asking. When budgets are tightened, volunteer departments are often the first to go.
Whether or not you have the luxury of working with a volunteer coordinator, human service agencies need volunteers to provide additional services agencies can't provide on their own. Here are a few tips to help you make "the ask":
- Make a personal request. Don't send out a handful of canned e-mails. Pick up the phone, schedule a coffee, or at the very least write a personal and individualized e-mail.
- It's a numbers game. Keep asking as many people as possible. Even if you only need two volunteers for a project, you will probably need to ask ten people. Don't get discouraged. Keep going. You will find your volunteer.
- Persistence pays off. Many people will say no the first time, but when you continue to let them know they are wanted and needed, they will say yes once they have had time to think it over and understand the project.
- Say yes. When you make your ask, be positive with your answers and in the way you pose your questions.
Volunteers are critical. We hope this is a wakeup call to the industry to not be afraid to ask and get more volunteers.