Tag: volunteer

Top 4 Things your Organization needs to know about Millennials

Organizations need to pay attention to the way Millennials think and behave. They do not trust or respond to traditional media, marketing or advertising the way their parents did or do. For nonprofits dependent on donations and volunteers Millennials are transforming philanthropy and volunteerism. If you charity wants to learn how to be better at engaging or attracting this demographic -the video below gives four important considerations for your leadership team.


Why doesn’t your charity track its volunteer time?


           I used to think every nonprofit that was supported by volunteers in some way tracked their volunteer’s time. Last week I was on the phone with a colleague from another charity and I asked how they reported the value of their volunteer’s time. “Well we don’t really count or record our volunteer’s time”. This surprised me but I guess there are lots of things that small, often under-resourced nonprofits might not track or measure just because they don’t have the people power to do it. However I was able to find a good post on the Blue Avocado site that provides some good rationales for why your charity might want to start tracking its volunteer’s time.  In the post Walsh (2011) suggests:” Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability”.  Some grants that are available from our provincial government are matching programs. These programs will often allow calculations of volunteer time contributed to a project to be treated as expenses and are thus eligible for matching. That means plain and simple your volunteer’s time is worth double, the value of their time plus the revenue granted to match the investment.

          One of Walsh’s rationales that resonates with me on a philosophical basis is;” We volunteers appreciate appreciation. We count what we value, so tracking is recognition that volunteer time is important. Recognition is a good investment; it pays off spectacularly.” The article goes on to describe:” Funders and donors want to know what resources your nonprofit already receives and from whom. “Our funders see volunteer inputs as a measure of effectiveness,” In some way not reporting the value volunteers contribute to your organization and delivery of your mission, is underrepresenting the value that your charity creates in your local community. The organization I work for does track volunteer time and the number of actual volunteers. In part we do this to be able to report these numbers, as well as to measure how effective we are in mobilizing people to deliver our services.  We also have other very practical reasons to track these hours (and the number of volunteers) some of our insurance coverage covers our volunteers personally and our clients if there were a case when a volunteers actions caused damage. To have this coverage we need to report the number of volunteers we engage and how much they do for us. To further consider tracking volunteer hours, you could also think of this exercise as a risk management activity. Walsh explains;” Documenting volunteer time can help protect volunteers and the nonprofit. Requiring volunteers to log activity creates a record that may become important evidence in defending the nonprofit or volunteers from allegations of misconduct” The article lists an example in which a charity was able to defend itself in a lawsuit based on its volunteer tracking records.

             All of the rationales provided in the Walsh article are good reasons to track volunteer hours, however probably one of my favorite reasons for volunteer tracking is not specifically described. Volunteer tracking can be a continuous improvement activity. If we deploy more volunteers who invest more time than we did last year, we are getting better at figuring out ways to deploy more resources towards delivering our mission. It is hard to get better at something that you don’t measure your outcomes on, and having the support of volunteers is a outcome.


Walsh, D (2011) Tracking Volunteer Time to Boost Your Bottom Line: A Complete Accounting Guide: Blue 

          Avocado: as retrieved from:  http://www.blueavocado.org/node/330

Not everything that counts can be counted.


“Not everything that counts can be counted. And not everything that can be counted, counts.” — Albert Einstein

           It is National Volunteer week and last night we were honored to be at the Propellus Volunteer Awards Event last night. We were honored because one of our amazing volunteer families was the recipient of the Volunteer Family of the Year Award. It was awe inspiring to hear Donna talk about her family’s investment making a difference in their community and specifically in making a difference for the children and families we serve. When you nominate a volunteer or a family of volunteers for an award like this it does not take long to itemize the number of amazing things they do for your cause but it is hard to measure and quantify the value or the impact of their investment.  Last year for the 2013 National Volunteer Week economists tried to describe the value of volunteer’s investment of time in Canada. They used the International Labour Organizations definition of what volunteering is. They quote :”[the] (ILO) has defined a volunteer as an individual who performs unpaid, non-compulsory work either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.” Good definition but it does not really capture the emotional or social nuances of the impact of volunteers.  TD Economics goes on to describe;” In 2011, researchers at Johns Hopkins University estimated that almost one billion people in the world volunteer their time every year.” At a big picture level or a worldwide level the impact of volunteer’s generosity is immense. Even at a national level the impact is staggering. These same economists make projections on the value created in Canada alone. This value they estimate to be a least $50 billion dollars of value to Canadians. The author suggest: “Although individual volunteers may earn more during their regular jobs, they may not use these highly-paid skills in their volunteer activities. In turn, the average wage is a reasonable benchmark to use for our exercise. Based on the hours volunteered and an imputed average hourly wage, the economic value of volunteering in Canada is in the ballpark of an astounding $50 billion each year. This figure, though undoubtedly impressive, is likely a conservative estimate that does not include any capital investment, nor improved skills and attitudes.”

          Assigning a dollar value to volunteer work makes it quantifiable and easier for the average person to come to an understanding of how important volunteers and the volunteer sector is to our nation and in fact our world. But it is unlikely that fiscal calculations will ever fully estimate the true value. Imagine Canada describes;” Counting hours doesn’t show the impact of the volunteer work. And as a result, it gives an incomplete picture of the value of volunteers. For some, the idea of putting a dollar value on involvement belittles the volunteer’s efforts. Many feel the passion and commitment of volunteers is priceless.”  We do count hours in our organization and try to measure the impact of our volunteer’s contribution in as many ways as we can. Heck we even count and record on spreadsheets the number of cookies our volunteer bakers bake for our kids. For example in our Calgary House on average our volunteer bakers bake 10 dozen cookies per day for our families.

          We definitely could never repay our volunteers for what they do for our families but measuring it and reporting it, seems like a small effort to describe the impact. In the summer of 2005 when I started with the organization we had an excel spreadsheet with the names and addresses of 35 volunteers who helped us in the House. Last year when we created our annual report it was staggering to realize that within the year over 1400 people had volunteered, in our House and at our events. Yesterday Donna was writing her acceptance speech (which was amazing) she emailed me to find out how many volunteers had volunteered for the Calgary House in the past year. I almost emailed back 1400 because I figured it couldn’t have changed that much since last year. I asked our volunteer coordinator to do a quick query in our volunteer database. We were both amazed when the database told us 3694 people had volunteered for us in some capacity over the recently ended fiscal year. We are a relatively small charity so realizing in total how many people were helping is a little humbling.

           It is hard to quantify and hard to describe what a difference our volunteers make, but our families and our kids know. At our own volunteer awards night all of our volunteer awards are named after kids who have used our House(s). Each year for each award named after a child, the parents come and give a speech at our event about exactly what the volunteers meant to them. This is a metric that is hard to quantify but like the man said:”… not everything that can be counted, counts”



Imagine Canada (2014) Assigning an economic value to volunteering: company website; as retrieved

          from: http://volunteer.ca/content/assigning-economic-value-volunteering

TD Economics (2012) An economists case for volunteering,  as retrieved from:


Triple Threats: Volunteers who donate.


              Around here we talk about a group that is pretty special to us, we refer to them as our Triple Threats. These are the individuals who give us their: time, treasure and talent.  For example our board members are triple threats. We recruit members to our board who have specific skill sets that we need (talent) ,they all donate in various ways and they devote their time to board meetings, committee meeting and events. However fortunately we also have other volunteers beyond our board members who are triple threats. Most research I have read about volunteers is that they are more likely to donate to charity and in general they donate more.

          Turcotte (2012) in his report, Charitable giving by Canadians describes: “It is well-known that giving, volunteering and helping others are all strongly associated: people who participate in one of these activities are also more likely to participate in another. In addition to having stronger pro-social values, people who do volunteer work are more likely to be solicited for a donation in the course of their activities and to experience social pressure (especially if this pressure comes from people they know well).Thus, in 2010, among people who had performed 60 or more hours of volunteer work in the previous year, 91% made donations, giving an average of $784 In comparison, 79% of those who had not volunteered during the year had made donations, averaging $288.” Even though volunteers are more likely to donate they may not necessarily donate to the organization they volunteer for.  There can be a number of reasons for this, but for our organization for a long period of time we held a view point that our volunteers gave us their time- we should ask them for their money too.  However reading research that had the same conclusions as the Turcotte study, made us realize that besides being foolish this notion was not helping our fundraising efforts.  Some of our volunteers were volunteering in our House and donating to the charities across the street (literally).

           There are 14 Ronald McDonald Houses in Canada; according to the national charity 5000 volunteers support those Houses. We have more than our share of good luck as over 1300 of those volunteers (or 26%) support our two Ronald McDonald Houses in Calgary and Red Deer.  Each year more and more of our volunteers become triple threats and we have employed a few tactics to make our volunteers aware of how they can financially support us. However one of the things we are launching this year is a new way we are thanking and recognizing our triple threats. The photo above is of a lapel pin that we had made for our volunteers. The three stars represent family members in the families we support but as well they represent: Time, Treasure, and Talent.  We have already presented our board members these, but as well at this year’s volunteer appreciation event we will be giving out these pins as well. They will be given to volunteers who both give their time as well as participate in our monthly giving program. If you don’t understand why we would focus on the monthly giving program you can read this blog post that explains why a charity might focus on this program:



Turcotte, M (2012) Charitable giving by Canadians, as retrieved from:


Do you know how you are helping your corporate donors?


            Probably a better question than the one in the title is: can you articulate to your corporate donors how supporting you is good for their business? In an article titled Why giving is good for business Blake Mycoskie of TOMS describes:” I also saw that TOMS didn’t need conventional advertising; it just had to focus on giving and doing so in a sustainable a way—in other words, on our story. In the process, we would turn countless other strangers into our most vocal marketers.” Working with your charity may offer a strategic or market advantage to some of your corporate supporters. If you are aware of ways that companies benefit by helping you-get good at telling that story. 

          Our charity is supported by a lot of oil and gas companies. Some of these companies are more concerned about an internal or inward message given by their community support instead of an outward message. That is they view a lot of their community investment activity as a human resources activity, they are marketing inward instead of outward. This makes sense. In the same article Mycoskie suggests:” When you incorporate giving into your business in an authentic way, you attract amazing employees. You can only grow and keeping growing if you hire great people. We have employees who have left impressive companies and with generous perks to work in a warehouse without air conditioning or heat. And the reason certainly isn’t because we pay them more. It’s because they want to be part of something bigger. In fact, the greatest competitive advantage you have is to allow your employees to feel they’re making a difference.”

       Our Ronald McDonald Houses runs a program we call Home for Dinner. In the program groups of 3 to 12 people bring in groceries and cook a meal for all the families staying at the House. All sorts of groups now do these dinners but 9 years ago we only had three groups a month who would make these dinners.  The dinners reduce costs for our families and free up time so they can spend more with their child who is seriously ill. We wanted to increase the number of groups making dinners for families, because it was a benefit for our users. We started talking about the program to all of our corporate supporters as a potential team builder for some of their staff. We knew that many of our corporate donors were interested in ways to engage their employees in the charities the companies were supporting. Little did we know how doing something that was good for families would also be good for our fund development program. I could tell you countless stories of how companies continued to give larger gifts as their employees became more engaged with our program. One of our presenting sponsors of our biggest fundraising events had supported us for three years. At the end of the term they thought it was time to support another cause, so their community investment team sent an email to all staff encouraging them to vote between three other charities as the company’s charity of choice. Instead of votes the employees emailed back we love Ronald McDonald House- we know those families we ate dinner with them. Ultimately the company signed on as presenting sponsor for three more years. 

         Encouraging their employees to volunteer or become engaged with nonprofits is good business. In the United Health Care/ Volunteer Do Good Live Well study they found;” Encouragement from the workplace strengthens volunteers’ relationships with their employer and colleagues. This research shows that company involvement in employee volunteer opportunities can lead to employee well‐being and positive attitudes towards employers.”  In the study the researchers found that 81% of the respondents said that volunteering with work colleagues had strengthened their relationships with colleagues.” Most of the companies we work with are pretty concerned about having strong, productive teams. Most invest money in activities and events specifically directed towards team building. Getting back to the intention of some of our corporate supporters to create a positive message to their employees about the company through their community investment, the same study found that 76% reported feeling better about their employer because of involvement in their volunteer activity.

Nine years ago we had three groups a month, now we have a dinner group almost every night of the year. Everyone wins with this program our families, our organization and our corporate donors. Now that we are booked for dinners usually a month or two in advance, we prioritize staff from corporate groups who are significant and repeat donors to our charity. We offer this as a benefit to corporations who support us. When we are courting companies that we want to become donors we describe this program as an opportunity that they will be entitled to as a corporate donor.   Years ago we asked companies to have their employee’s help us with this program from what we thought was a place of need. Now we know the program can function as a donor stewardship activity for our current donors and as an added incentive for corporate prospects. What is really great it is it is a volunteer activity that makes it even more likely that the company and its employees will become even more engaged in what we do.


 Mycoskie,B . (2014) Why Giving is Good for Business as retrieved from: 



Volunteer Match (2010) UnitedHealthcare / VolunteerMatch Do Good Live Well Study: Reviewing the

          Benefits of volunteering; as retrieved from: