Panel Discussion on Championing Volunteerism: The Invisible Arm of the Philanthropic Sector

Greg Baldwin, President and CEO of VolunteerMatch, shared findings from VolunteerMatch’s latest report on volunteerism during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that while 72% of surveyed organizations were experiencing heavy volunteer cancellations in March, these nonprofits also showcased resiliency and innovation. Nonprofits have pivoted to previously unimaginable forms of virtual volunteering, from reading programs to senior citizen yoga groups, shifting virtual volunteering from a mere side show to the spotlight. Read the full report and find more resources on VolunteerMatch’s COVID-19 Resource Hub

Jane Justis, President and Volunteer Engagement Program Director at The Leighty Foundation, shared her lessons learned from grantmaking and national trainings in volunteer engagement. She noted that effective volunteer engagement almost always directly correlates to organizational health, reflecting that “organizations that strategically engage their volunteers are significantly more adaptable and more sustainable and do the same amount of work on a smaller budget.” As a funder, The Leighty Foundation prioritizes stewardship of human resources as a means to maximize an organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Jane shared The Leighty Foundation’s guides for strategic volunteer engagement for funders and for nonprofits

Mike King, CEO of Volunteers of America, shared insights from his organization’s journey in diversity, equity, and inclusion over the past three years. Volunteers of America worked to achieve not only greater diversity within its leadership and staff, but also a culture of empathy, transparency, and anti-racism. After a transformational, data-driven presentation on the anti-racist movement in the social justice world, board members began to engage in, as Mike coined them, “appropriately awkward conversations,” shifting the culture of Volunteers of America. Mike reflected, “there’s not a day goes by that I don’t have to acknowledge that I have signed up for a class from which I will never graduate.” 

Jerome Tennille, Manager of Social Impact and Volunteerism at Mariott International, drew on his experiences in social good programming to consider the role of strategic philanthropy in addressing equity. Jerome framed volunteering as a form of civic engagement and method of “exercising one’s individual democracy,” in line with the right to vote. He drew attention to the economic and social barriers that prevent those with less privilege, mainly from black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, from volunteering. Jerome noted that “as we look at making a more racially just philanthropic environment, we have to think about how to make the act of service accessible by not just funding minority-led organizations, but also providing funds to organizations so that they can remove the cost burden for would-be volunteers that have less privilege.” Jerome highlighted The National Alliance for Volunteer Engagement as one organization leading this work.  

Noel Landuyt, Director of the Institute for Organizational Excellence, shared information about the forthcoming Index of Volunteer Engagement (IVE), a tool developed collaboratively with Rehnborg, and based on her research in the field, that will soon be ready for beta testing. The tool aims to expand data on organizational capacity to include the often- overlooked work of volunteer engagement, allowing nonprofits to measure the return on investment for their volunteers. The tool will allow organizations to assess their capacity to effectively and strategically engage volunteers and community groups. An earlier version of the tool, the Service Enterprise Diagnostic, is currently licensed to the Points of Light Foundation, a partner in the IVE development.  .   


Audience members shared additional resources with the group: 

The Hard Truth: Diversity and Inclusion from the Volunteer’s Perspective 

Connecting the Cause, volunteer engagement consulting group led by Breauna Dorelus 

MAVA Conference on Redefining Volunteerism: Dismantling Inequities 

Strategic Volunteer Engagement: A Guide for Nonprofit and Public Sector Leaders, developed by Rehnborg and associates through funding from the Volunteer Impact Fund.