Where Have All the Volunteers Gone?

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we're not as big on volunteering as we used to be. While still roughly a quarter of the population is willing to put their hands up to help (22.2 percent for me and 28.4 percent for women), the overall volunteer rate in 2013 was the lowest it has been since the supplement was first administered in 2002, says the BLS. While the bureau didn't break down the numbers into different forms of volunteering, one has to assume that, in addition to religious, social, and cause-related volunteer activities, this also trickles down to meetings, especially association meetings, which tend to rely on volunteers for everything from holding up signage to registration help to substantive content committee and planning work. Ouch.

And, while your stalwart existing members—those in the 35-to-44-year-old group—are still willing to work voluntarily at a relatively high rate (30 percent), your newest, youngest members, those 20—24-year-olds, were the least likely to raise their hands, at 18.5 percent.

Just think of what the Sochi Olympics would have been without the huge turnout of volunteers working tirelessly behind the scenes to make all that magic happen. Then think about your next meeting without the helpful folks the CVB rounds up to help with city information and all-around welcoming, without your volunteer planning committees, without all those unseen and all-too-often unsung volunteers who make the wheels on your meeting bus go round and round.
 
What can we do to encourage existing volunteers to keep up the good work, and nudge newbies to get involved? I know some organizations hold conferences just for volunteer leaders to give them the skills and knowledge—and networks—they need to do their gratis work more efficiently and effectively. For me, I got involved in volunteering for one professional association when a board member personally reached out to me after some back and forth over another issue and invited me to bring my specific skills to the table. And I did. This is one of the strategies Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, outlines in this article on working with volunteers.
 

I also kind of like this video (if you give them food and swag, they'll be happy—sounds like working with journalists :o)).

Are you ready for a potential decline in volunteers (or already experiencing one)? How are you bringing them back into the fold, finding fresh faces to pitch in, and/or finding other ways to get that work done?

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

on Mar 4, 2014

I have volunteered for many events, nationally and internationally. I stopped being interested in attendance when many of the non-profits started "selling" the podium to vendors, and being a room monitor volunteer was more than I could endure.

Second, why volunteer for a commercial seminar or conference organizer? I have a cost of doing business, part of that is staffing. Is it not unfair to expect commercial conference organizers to pay their speakers (their inventory) and pay their staff? Why volunteer for that?

Third, many not for profit organizers of conferences are now acting just like the commercial organizers, - even worse - because they are not paying taxes on the seminar and conference revenues. Unfair competitive advantage for the ones that have to pay taxes. Volunteer for them? Why? They are a sellout.

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