On Philanthropy: Volunteers a Growing Challenge for Milwaukee-Area Nonprofits

people with volunteer shirts posing with arms around each otherProject Pivot study documents nonprofit concerns across the region

Contributed by AFPSEWI
Milwaukee Business Journal
March 13, 2020 issue

In a recent survey of Milwaukee area nonprofits, 50% of the 250 responding organizations said that volunteers were either essential or very important to their mission.  That’s not surprising, given that 52% of the responding organizations had fewer than 10 paid staff – and fully 25% had only one staff member, or none.

Project Pivot, sponsored by the Helen Bader Institute for Nonprofit Management, recently documented a growing need for volunteer assistance among Milwaukee-area nonprofits. The region’s community organizations reported increasing challenges in recruiting, orienting, organizing, and retaining volunteers.

That’s concerning. Nationwide, nearly 100 million people volunteer each year – a work force that represents more than $150 billion in free labor.  Volunteers help nonprofits deliver programs, tap critical skillsets, fine-tune programs, reach new audiences, raise vital funds and set organizational strategy.  Volunteers bring a continually renewed passion to the hard work of nonprofits, and most organizations could not survive without them. 

And the benefit apparently goes both ways.  According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering reduces stress, increases social connection, decreases the risk of depression, sustains a sense of personal purpose, teaches valuable skills and is associated with longer life.

Recognizing all this, many socially responsible companies free up time for their employees to volunteer, or even organize them to do so as part of a company teambuilding event.  Community-oriented companies encourage talented employees to serve on nonprofit boards, or even set up loaned executive programs to ensure a pipeline of expert help.

Volunteerism brings value to the volunteer, the organization, the community and the entire economy.  It’s a virtuous cycle we need to fuel, and Milwaukee-area nonprofits are more than ready.

On Philanthropy appears monthly in the Milwaukee Business Journal for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. This month’s column is contributed by Doug Diefenbach.