Volunteering is a good way to become involved in a community and make a difference.
According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, 77.4 million Americans volunteered the equivalent of 6.9 billion hours in 2018. And though volunteering may not have a direct correlation to monetary support, the same report detailed the hours had an estimated value of $167 billion.
Joy Banish, executive director at Greater Cleveland Volunteers, and Bob Cohen, certified small business mentor and incoming vice chair at SCORE, both in Cleveland, said the choice of where to volunteer is a very personal one.
“They need to look at their interests in terms of what it is they are good at, what they like and what they can contribute to society,” Cohen said. “You need to start there, and then research organizations that match up to that criteria.”
Cohen said the search can seem overwhelming, but many resources are available.
“There are organizations out there that will help you network and find opportunities,” he said. “Most of them are mission driven. You need to look at that mission and see how much you match with that.”
Banish said volunteers are a big part of a nonprofit organization.
“Most nonprofits, if not all, rely on volunteers, whether that is board members or committee members, or otherwise,” she explained. “It is super important for organizations to engage with their volunteers. It helps nonprofits tell a story in how the community is supporting them. Donors and funders also want to know who is involved in the organization. So, it gives credibility to a nonprofit to have a lot of volunteers engaged.”
Banish said volunteers are just as important as other gifts to an organization.
“Every nonprofit really values their volunteers and many talk about their volunteers in annual reports,” she said. “It shows that you’re a worthwhile organization when you have community support. It is really important because volunteers can also be great ambassadors for an organization to help get the word out.”
Banish added volunteers can also inspire planned gifts or other monetary donations.
“Once someone has been involved with an organization for a while and is really passionate about what they’re doing, that is a really great planned giving potential donor, and an important piece of every nonprofit,” she said. “To have their volunteering and fundraising departments to keep track together – those are definitely good candidates for financial gifts or to be more involved.”
Cohen said volunteers are more important for smaller, less established or newer organizations.
“Time is every bit as important as a monetary gift as time is a very valuable thing,” he said. “Obviously, you need the monetary part to sustain the organization, but you’d be surprised that smaller organizations can sustain themselves very well on a minimal budget. With a smaller organization, the majority of your time is used to sustain. You can do that on a small budget if you’re able to get in-kind services like volunteering.”
Both organizations have robust volunteering recruitment and retention programs.
“SCORE serves seven counties around the Cleveland area from as far east as Ashtabula and as far west as Sandusky, so you can imagine it takes a lot of volunteers to help those coming to us for mentoring,” Cohen said. “We’ve got a good internal network, particularly on our website. This year, we’re strategically looking to grow (organically) in order to sustain the clients we get over a period of time.”
Greater Cleveland Volunteers goes directly to the community.
“We do a lot of public speaking and community events, talk to people in the community and do a lot of local advertising,” Banish said. “We get a lot of people through social media. But one of the best ways we get new volunteers is through current volunteers by referral. But, we try to engage with people in a way that works for them.”
But if someone is unsure of where to start in finding what they want to do, there are options.
“What you need to do first is match up your needs and desires with a potential mission based on your experiences in life and work,” Banish said. “If you go online and look up nonprofits in Cleveland, you’ll come up with pages of them. It’s a matter of either wading through those pages or going into the process with a clear idea.”