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  • Michael Lucivero

Measuring the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on volunteering



The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly hurt how nonprofits interact with their volunteers and the opportunities they offer. In a recent survey of over 1,800 volunteers by Fidelity Charitable, 66% of volunteers indicated that they have decreased or stopped volunteering due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Among the volunteers who have continued volunteering, 65% have shifted to virtual or remote volunteering opportunities offered by nonprofits. However, 64% of the same group surveyed indicated that they did not know where to access virtual volunteer activities.


Even VolunteerMatch, a website that connects nonprofits and charities to potential volunteers related that volunteer opportunities listed on their site decreased by 93 percent in March 2020, although it has since recovered to a 48 percent cancellation rate.


A report by The New York Times indicated that factors facing individual volunteers have also created challenges for organizations trying to recruit or retain volunteers. For example, a health clinic volunteer in Salem, Oregon was reluctant to return to his role due to his underlying health conditions. Other volunteers talked about missing the interpersonal connections they usually made while volunteering.


Does this mean that short-term adjustments to volunteer programs will force more long-term changes to be considered? One analysis of the Fidelity Charitable’s report indicates that the, “…findings signal the decrease in volunteerism might be temporary, with nearly three-quarters of donors saying they plan to return to pre-pandemic volunteerism levels when it is safe to do so. But as social distancing continues, nonprofits may need to look to new models for the long term.”


Adjustments made to volunteer programs during COVID-19 may have created unanticipated financial losses for nonprofits not able to deploy volunteers as they normally would. Amy Pirozzolo, head of donor engagement for Fidelity Charitable reported that “‘Charities essentially lost access to millions of dollars in volunteers’ time based on Independent Sector’s determination of $27.20 as the average value of a volunteer’s hour’”. A New York Times article indicated that nonprofits have incurred costs “…to pay for the workers who have replaced the lost volunteers.”


Nonprofits can adjust to limitations forced by the COVID-19 emergency by reviewing and adjusting their strategic plans to ensure that their programs are serving their communities while also complying with social distancing and other safety practices.


Volunteers also have the opportunity to continue helping nonprofits, whether their regular volunteer roles have been suspended or they are inspired to help out for the first time. Ms. Pirozzolo suggested that, as indicated by the findings of Fidelity Charitable’s report, “‘…nonprofits have found creative new ways that people can safely engage, and we strongly encourage donors to explore how they can continue giving both their time and much-needed financial support. This can be as simple as reaching out to a nonprofit you care about and asking how you can assist, even if that looks different than it has previously.’”

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