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Speaker shares advice on how to attract, and keep, volunteers

Speaker shares advice on how to attract, and keep, volunteers
By Jeff Bahr  Oct 23, 2018 Updated 16 hrs ago  
To hold on to volunteers, organizations should let those people know they’re valued, make their work meaningful, and make it easy and fun for them to stick around.
Those are some of the points stressed Tuesday by Victoria Graeve-Cunningham of Omaha, who spoke at a workshop presented by Heartland United Way.
Graeve-Cunningham said nonprofits should figure out people’s motivations for volunteering, and try to capitalize on them.
The training session, held at Home Federal Bank’s Stolley Park location, was aimed at helping nonprofits attract and retain volunteers.
Volunteering rates have been declining consistently since 2002, Graeve-Cunningham said. So more than ever, volunteers are important. Keeping them is harder than attracting them, she said.
Three-quarters of new volunteers discontinue their service within a year, said Graeve-Cunningham, who works at an organization called ThriVinci. The turnover is hard to believe, “because there are so many benefits of volunteering.”
One benefit of donating your time is it helps your job prospects. Twenty-seven percent of those seeking a job are more likely to land a job if they’re volunteering.
Volunteering also helps people forget about their problems, she said. Those who volunteer feel less lonely, she said.
Doing unpaid work often helps people advance in their careers and explore other career options. Service also helps people cultivate a self-identity, she said.
Graeve-Cunningham would like to see more people make volunteering a part of their everyday lives.
By number of hours, the people who volunteer the most in the U.S. are members of what she calls the Silent Generation — those older than 73.
Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are good at sharing their time. Generation Xers, born between 1965 and 1979, are also good at volunteering.
Millennials, born between 1980 and 1995, are the ones least likely to volunteer, she said.
Our culture originated as a collectivist society, in which the community is emphasized, Graeve-Cunningham said.
Being an individual is good, she said, and there are “some unique things that an individual brings to the table that we want to prioritize,” she said in an interview.
But, she added, “We also need to understand that it’s not just about me. Our culture has shifted into a me-oriented culture — more individualistic.”
Baby Boomers and older Americans understand the benefits of building a strong community “and how helping others results in getting help back in the end,” Graeve-Cunningham said.
Nonprofit agencies, she said, should cultivate a volunteer-centered culture. Among other things, they should allow flexible scheduling options, give volunteers a voice and listen to them. Activities could also be tailored to fit individuals.
In Nebraska, one out of 11 employees work at a nonprofit service provider, making it the third largest industry in the state, she said.
The estimated value of a volunteer hour in Nebraska is $22.
In talking about increasing the volunteer pipeline, Graeve-Cunningham discussed building a brand, which takes time. She also talked about use of social media. She recommends a soft approach. Rather than asking people to help directly, she suggested having an open house, so people can come “check you out.” People might also be attracted by pictures of volunteers having fun.
Now more than ever, she said, “volunteers are an indispensable anchor of every community’s infrastructure.”