Goodness Report

Creating a Community of Good: Tips for Encouraging Local Volunteerism & Engagement

May 22, 2024

In this week’s edition of the Goodness Report, Senior Account Director Meghan Webb discusses how to combat declining volunteer numbers amidst the landscape of competing priorities and a multigenerational volunteer pool who all look for something different.   


Volunteerism In Decline

Non-profits nationwide, especially those who rely heavily on volunteer support to achieve their missions and provide services to the community, are struggling with a unique issue: they cannot find enough volunteers. A 2024 AmeriCorps research survey revealed that almost half (46.8%) of nonprofit leaders regarded recruiting sufficient volunteers as a “big problem,” twice as many as similar surveys found in 2017 and 2019. 

This recruitment issue is significantly impacted by an overall decline in volunteerism. Research shows that the number of people volunteering, and the amount of time spent in volunteer roles by individuals who volunteer is declining year-over-year. From September 2020 to 2021, less than one-quarter of Americans age 16 and older volunteered for an organization or association. That’s down from 30 percent in 2019 and from 27.6 percent 20 years earlier. What’s more, the volunteer rate among parents of school-age children dropped more than that of parents with no children at home. Additionally, a 2023 report shows that volunteers give approximately 26 hours of their time each year a steep decline from 52 hours in 2022. 

A Multi-Faceted Solution

Creating a more involved volunteer base will require a multi-faceted solution – one that can be powered by support from both the non-profit and corporate sectors. For non-profits, creating a strong connection with current and potential new volunteers and offering opportunities that fit with volunteers’ values and lifestyle will be key. Corporations can look for ways to encourage and support volunteerism among their employees. Here are four insights to consider as non-profits and corporations look to address this issue together.

  • Everyone Is Stretched Thin: People today have more competing priorities – from time and emotional bandwidth to finances – than ever, regardless of their stage in life. Parents are more stressed – with nearly half of parents reporting that their stress level has increased as compared to before the pandemic. Fifty-seven percent of Americans who are of retirement age expect to work following retirement.  And more than half of Gen Zers are having trouble making ends meet. Non-profits must offer volunteer opportunities that create value and connection for their volunteers and account for time and financial constraints. At the same time, corporations can find ways to make volunteering more accessible to employees. In 2009, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported that only 15% of organizations offered volunteer time off (VTO) as part of their benefits package – meaning that employees can use paid time off (separate from vacation or sick time) to pursue volunteer interests. Less than a decade later in 2019, nearly 1 in every 4 organizations offered VTO. Offering these types of opportunities to employees not only encourages volunteerism among the workforce but also makes it feasible for employees.


  • Mission Understanding Is Fundamental: According to a 2021 survey by McKinsey, nearly two-thirds of respondents said the pandemic caused them to reflect on their life’s purpose. In short, people want to find purpose in their work and extracurricular activities, including their time spent volunteering. As a result, non-profits must ensure that their volunteers – both current and potential – understand how their time and efforts contribute not only to the non-profits’ missions, but also to the greater good. What’s more, ensuring that this connection is prevalent and relevant to volunteers may even help to produce additional financial donations. According to a report by Fidelity Charitable, 62% of charitable donors are also recent volunteers, and 39% of volunteers support a non-profit by giving their time before making a financial donation. Time and again data reveal that giving time and giving money go hand in hand and that meaningful volunteer opportunities can enhance the relationship between a donor and a non-profit. 



  • Speak Their Language: People want to contribute to the greater good through causes they support and in ways that fit into their lifestyle, schedule, and communication preferences. To attract the number and quality of volunteers necessary to fulfill their missions, nonprofits must communicate clearly and openly with volunteers about opportunities and their impact – which means understanding each audience’s communications preferences. For Gen Z, that may mean sharing raw, unfiltered information via social media with a clear and concise call to action. Baby Boomers typically prefer structured communication with an emphasis on personal connection.


  • Create Curated Opportunities: One size fits all volunteer opportunities no longer work. There are too many organizations and too many people competing for individuals’ time to offer only one way, time commitment, or opportunity to engage as a volunteer. Successful volunteer recruitment will need to include several different engagement mechanisms – ranging from one-off events to long-term, recurring opportunities – to develop and sustain volunteer relationships. Several Orange County non-profit organizations (who also happen to be Idea Hall clients) have begun experimenting with this idea and are seeing success. For example, Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County offers several different volunteer avenues, including individual, family and group settings across opportunities, including helping in the distribution center, working in the farm fields and supporting special events. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County and the Inland Empire (BBBS) is also exploring new avenues outside of its traditional, long-term mentor model to engage volunteers. This past year BBBS launched Sports Buddies, a program that connects mentors and youth through sports. This program requires a once-per-month commitment and offers facilitated sessions – attributes that may lower the barrier to entry for some volunteers.  


Each of these insights into volunteer engagement can begin to be addressed through a targeted communications plan and strong, clear messaging. By offering flexible, meaningful, and well-communicated opportunities, non-profits can effectively engage and retain a diverse volunteer base, ensuring their missions continue to thrive amidst the demands and challenges of modern life. 

If you’re interested in increasing volunteer engagement to create success for your organization, or to explore how your organization can partner with Idea Hall, please contact Michelle Ruiz-Ponce at or Rebecca Hall at   

This week’s Goodness Report comes from Idea Hall Senior Account Director, Meghan Webb, who serves as the lead for a variety of clients, helping to streamline and ensure the effectiveness of their communications, branding and marketing initiatives. A public relations and marketing professional with experience across the non-profit, government, finance, real estate, technology, energy, public affairs and corporate fields, Meghan focuses on branding, communications and digital strategy, thought leadership, event planning, media outreach, project management, and research and analysis.