Executive Director, Christian Relief Services
Interviewed by Wallet Hub.
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Where should people look for opportunities to volunteer in their community?
How about “Where to look? I would say “where not to look?” There are so many opportunities out there it can be overwhelming. Start local: try local schools, even police and fire departments, or the courts are all in need of volunteers. Your place of worship is a great place to start and if they have an “Outreach” committee or some such then you can volunteer with local groups via that effort. And, certainly wherever you already donate is a good place to inquire after volunteer opportunities.
How should people consider the trade-off between volunteering their time versus working more and donating extra money to charity?
Money vs. time? Age old question. I often wondered if I could have done more good with my own life if I had gone into the private sector and made lots of money and then donate more to charity.
From the charity perspective money often trumps volunteering, but not always. For example, the board members must be volunteers. You cannot buy board members! If one has a skill set that is quite costly if you had to pay for it, like in IT or law, it can be cheaper to volunteer that expertise to the charity rather than to make a donation. Better is to do both! And, most volunteers do do both.
The other issue, and the reason we don’t have tons of volunteers, is that often it is jobs folks need that the charity provides in difficult to find job regions like on Indian Reservations, for example. I remember when President Clinton asked us to help set up a huge volunteer effort on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to build homes. That would have been great but there were a lot of good carpenters and builders already living on the Reservation that just needed a job. Sending volunteers there would be like sending coal to Newcastle in a sense, as it isn’t workers that are needed, but the houses were. Unfortunately, it is not as “sexy” to send money to employ folks to build homes as it is to get excitement about volunteering to do so. There were a host of logistical problems too and the costs associated with the volunteers, which is another issue with volunteering: it isn’t always cheaper to have volunteers. And, often you get what you “pay” for and its harder to “fire” a volunteer too. There are liability issues, insurance costs, vetting costs, travel costs, food and housing… it’s endless.
You need real professional staff to run the program too. I think that the London Olympics were about the best way in which to incorporate a big volunteer effort with an existing program in that: a. it was going to happen no matter what and you needed the workers; b. it generated a lot of enthusiasm; and, c. it did save money due to the huge number of volunteers. But make no mistake, it did cost money to handle all those folks too.
How can young people be motivated to volunteer?
Young people do volunteer and don’t seem to lack motivation to do so. Make it fun and include other young people. Those are two critical ingredients for them. Free food and WiFi probably help too.
How can charitable organizations retain volunteers over time?
To retain volunteers, I feel you need to reward them, keep it interesting and make it challenging. Their income is of the “emotional” kind as they don’t get paid. Charities do a great job with volunteer recognition events and other types of recognition. Keeping it interesting and challenging is more difficult because what you want them to do is stuff your own staff may not be so keen to do, like lick stamps and answer the phone or something quite mundane. But, if you give them an hour of stamps, two on the phone and three on something that uses their skills like editing, writing, analyzing, etc… And notice my math? It only adds up to 6 hours. It’s best to not overwork volunteers. 6 hours a day is more than enough.
Since persons who volunteer have higher odds of finding a job than those who don’t volunteer (due to developing new skills and expanding personal networks), should public policy promote volunteering as a labor market strategy?
I don’t think that the charitable sector needs help finding volunteers so I am unsure what public policy changes are necessary but it never hurts to promote it as long as there is an equal push for monetary and in-kind donations.
We are blessed to live in a great nation of volunteers and financial supporters… so many generous Americans out there helping others in need, giving of their time, talent and treasure. God bless them all.