Volunteers are in the news for actively working in communities hard-hit by natural disasters and political unrest. We have seen so many amazing examples of the impact that volunteers can make, and it’s worth learning more about what that impact looks like for ourselves and in our communities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that a quarter of Americans volunteered through an organization in 2015, the last time BLS conducted a comprehensive study. In the Dallas-Fort Worth market, where I live, we have a slightly higher volunteerism rate at 27.5%. The American city with the highest volunteer rate is Minneapolis at 37.1% and the lowest is Miami/Fort Lauderdale at 13.4%.
So why should we care? There are a couple of important reasons. First, there are not enough paid staff to address all the needs of our communities. Second, the well-being of people is positively impacted when they volunteer. In other words, we all win. It’s as simple as that.
What does the organization get? It runs! It can accomplish its mission. It has the people it needs to do the necessary work and provide its services to those who could not otherwise access them. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, many organizations run with no paid staff at all, which makes volunteers essential to their mission.
As volunteers, what do we get out of it? I began to think more about this after organizing a volunteer day at a local food pantry for my Toastmasters group several years ago. There were three leadership skills that stood out to me after this experience. The first is flexibility, a skill that serves volunteers and leaders well. When you volunteer, the supplies, the number of people who are there to help out and the funding can all change rapidly, though the mission remains the same. The second leadership skill that shows up in volunteering is problem-solving. I found in an elementary school where I volunteered required a lot of problem-solving just to be able to help the kids with math that didn’t look like any math I learned at their age. Finally, our ability to take initiative grows when we volunteer. Seeing what is needed in the moment and acting on that need is essential as a volunteer and as a leader.