5 insights from our webinar: Volunteer Screening 2016 Research Results and Insights
Posted Thursday, November 5th, 2015 by Verified Volunteers Staff
I recently presented a webinar around Verified Volunteers’ research study around the state of volunteerism and volunteer screening in America. I discussed key findings, insights, and trends from the report – and gave tips and best practices for attendees to put into action immediately. Toby Chalberg, Senior Advisor to the CEO of Points of Light, joined me on the webinar and had some very interesting thoughts and insights of his own. I wanted to reiterate the 5 (arguably) most interesting insights he gave.
1. It’s getting harder to attract dedicated volunteers
In the research report, we asked about volunteer frequency and I was quite surprised and delighted at our findings. We heard that 61% of volunteers are frequent volunteers who return regularly to assist the organization they volunteer with. Respondents also reported that these frequent volunteers contribute an average of 29 hours per month. More than 1 in 50 volunteers dedicates more than 40 hours per month.
I was walking on sunshine, but Toby shed some light on these results, opining that these stellar results likely have a lot to do with the sample of survey respondents. According to Toby, the fact that more than half of respondents reported at least a 3:1 ratio of volunteers to paid staff suggests that these are programs and organizations that are intensively volunteer-driven. As such, they have likely designed very clear and recurring volunteer roles and put in place the necessary systems and supports to maintain that level of intensity: from recruiting, to placement, to ongoing training and reinforcement. That’s terrific, but here’s the bad news: Many nonprofits, especially ones that rely on intensive commitments of volunteers, are finding that more and more people are actually unable to make this level of commitment and are looking for other ways to more flexibly make a difference.
2. A simple trick for recruiting volunteers: ASK!
During the webinar we talked about recruiting and retention, which is consistently a hot topic for volunteer programs. It’s important to always be finding and attracting new volunteers – and to keep them engaged with your organization so they keep coming back. In our research we found that the top communication channels used for recruiting volunteers are in-person events at 77.8% and e-mail at 76.7%. Websites came in third at 74.7%. These same three channels were used most often for volunteer retention.
Toby chimed in that his favorite adage is that “the #1 reason people volunteer is because they were asked”. What a concept!
3. An even simpler trick for retaining volunteers: THANK THEM!
In the same conversation Toby talked about some interesting experimentation on the power of the “thank you” done by NY Cares. They wanted to understand how important communicating thanks and gratitude, via email or otherwise was. They picked two groups of volunteers and systematically thanked one group for their dedication and purposefully did not thank the other. Thanked volunteers completed four more projects during the year, on average, than the people NY Cares left alone. Volunteers in the recognition group volunteered 15 times during the year; unrecognized individuals just 11 times. Sixteen percent of the total 97,000 volunteer opportunities filled just because people were thanked. Moral of the story? Thank your volunteers!
4. Screening is no longer just for vulnerable populations
Of course I have long believed that screening should be conducted on everyone – not just those volunteers working with vulnerable populations. But Toby did an eloquent job of talking about this topic based on the conversations he’s had with folks across the country. He puts a whole new perspective on it for me.
According to Toby, there seems to be an overall trend of more and more organizations realizing they need to do some sort of diligence on their people. It’s no longer just the mentoring sector, or even vulnerable populations overall. There are lots of things driving this and part of it is that background checks do more than protect people – they protect an organization’s assets, reputation, and brand.
Unfortunately, only 15% of those in back office and administrative positions are currently getting screened. These are individuals who are often handling finances or making important decisions on behalf of your organization. Think about the risks one is taking by not screening them.
5. When budget gets in the way, ask for help
Our research shows that budget is a major and concerning challenge for many organizations. And these organizations might be cutting corners on their screening because of it. During our webinar I talked about the fact that screening should actually be viewed as a way to save organizations money. It:
- Lowers insurance premiums due to decreased liability
- Protects the organization’s brand and reputation
- Maintains credibility and ability to fundraise
- Improves volunteer retention rates and therefore decreases recruiting and training costs
- Prevents fraud and theft committed by volunteers
But Toby chimed in with a great point. It’s one I like to remind clients of again and again: If finding space in the budget is still problematic, another option is to reach out to volunteers for help. Verified Volunteers, for instance, offers the option to have volunteers contribute towards the cost of the check – and many volunteers are happy to do so. In most cases, volunteers care deeply about the organization they devote their time to so covering the cost of a background check isn’t going to deter them from volunteering. On the Verified Volunteers platform, nearly 40% of volunteers pay for all or part of their check.
Those are just a few select insights I pulled from the webinar, but I encourage you to watch the recording with your colleagues at any time. Get the recording now.
And make sure to get your free copy of the report for complete results, insights, and best practices: Volunteer Screening Trends & Best Practices Report 2016.