COVID Is Crimping Volunteer Time

Two-thirds of surveyed volunteers decreased or stopped contributing time due to the pandemic. Of those who continued to volunteer, two-thirds turned to virtual or remote opportunities, compared to 81 percent of people who volunteered in-person before the pandemic.

Those are among the findings of a survey done for Fidelity Charitable, the donor-advised fund arm of investment firm Fidelity. Artemis Strategy Group, an independent research firm, collected data about how donors engage in volunteerism. The firm surveyed 1,842 U.S. adults during March 2020. In August 2020, a survey was conducted among 491 Fidelity Charitable donors about how volunteerism was impacted by COVID-19. 

Some 64% of those who hadn’t tried virtual or remote volunteer activities weren’t sure how to find them. “This lack of awareness has hurt nonprofits at a time when they are already suffering,” said Amy Pirozzolo, head of donor engagement for Boston-based Fidelity Charitable. 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, she said via a statement.

Many nonprofits include information regarding current volunteer needs on their websites, and organizations such as VolunteerMatch, local United Way chapters and Points of Light offer listings of volunteer opportunities at multiple charities. The report’s data shows nonprofit leaders should be proactive about informing supporters of ways they can continue to safely offer help, as they adapt their volunteer programs.

The report 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.
Volunteerism has always been a valuable way to cultivate donor engagement. Before the pandemic forced many to curtail their volunteer activities, nearly two-thirds of financial donors recently volunteered their time to a charitable cause. Most donors offer financial support first, but 40% are more likely to donate their time before committing their charitable dollars.

As nonprofit leaders consider how short-term and long-term trends shape their approach to engaging volunteers, the study can help them better understand key differences between Millennial volunteers and prior generations. Significantly, the study data shows:

• Millennials have a stronger preference for skills-based volunteer opportunities—while other generations prefer to serve in less skilled roles by lending a hand, such as serving in a food kitchen.
• One-in-three Millennials said they give more to the nonprofit they volunteer with than they would if they didn’t volunteer — compared to less than a quarter of Gen X and only 12% of Baby Boomers.
• Some 35% of Millennials recently volunteered for three or more organizations, compared to less than a quarter of Gen X and Boomers.
• Pre-pandemic, nearly half of younger donors said the amount of time they volunteered increased in the last two years — compared to a quarter of Boomers and 29% of Gen X.