(Are) Volunteers Needed?

Are corporate volunteer service projects helping nonprofits and the people they serve, or are they just busy work to make corporations look good?  That’s the question posed by Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer yesterday in “Corporate volunteers can be a burden for nonprofits.”

At United Way, we work with both corporate partners and nonprofit partners year-round on a regular basis to recruit volunteers to help in the community.  We firmly believe that volunteers bring great value to the community – together, we can do more than any of us can alone.  We also believe that volunteers want to feel like they are having a meaningful impact, and that only happens when the volunteers are filling a legitimate community need.

Our constant dialogue with both corporate and community partners ensures we match company volunteers and nonprofits effectively. We recently surveyed our 180 community partners on their need for volunteer support.  

Some of the most frequently-cited needs for volunteers by nonprofits include:

  1. Ensuring children and youth succeed in school: Our partners are in need of volunteers to be mentors and tutors for young people in their after-school programs, conduct mock job interviews and teach vocational skills. Serving as an e-coach to a student headed off to college, or helping a team of youths develop and pitch a social entrepreneurial business plan Boston’s business community for funding, are other meaningful ways to connect with young people.
  2. Helping low-income families achieve financial stability: Right now, an army of volunteer tax preparers are helping low-income working individuals fill out their tax forms, ensuring they claim the Earned Income Tax Credits and other refunds they deserve. Last year these volunteers helped more than 4,500 families claim average refunds of $2,050 – funds that can help them climb out of debt, add to their savings, or put toward a first home down payment or start a business. Volunteers are also regularly needed to help teach English as a second language, conduct mock interviews and advise on resume writing.
  1. Helping nonprofits operate efficiently and effectively: For example, we enlisted over 400 volunteers across many sectors last year to rigorously review funding applications and help determine where our dollars can have the greatest impact.Our partners cite needs for volunteers to help fundraise, serve on their Boards of Directors, help expand their use of social media, answer help hotlines, staff the front office and, yes, help with property maintenance projects and clean ups.  They also seek volunteers on a regular basis to help them put on community events that engage families and residents, from holiday events to region-wide youth summits.

What are our corporate partners looking for?

They’re seeking opportunities to learn more about the communities where they live and work, team-building activities, and ways for their employees to tangibly help both nonprofits and more importantly the people they serve.  Our experience tells us that donation drives and projects that volunteers can do on site at their companies are just as meaningful as taking a group out to the nonprofit.  Drives for school supplies, housewarming kits for homeless families moving into permanent housing from a shelter, or baby basics for new parents are huge community needs.  Activities like putting together fleece blankets or building life-sized Scrabble or Candyland games for family nights are both fun and easy.

The bad news is that there is no shortage of community need. The good news is there are plenty of ways that volunteers – from corporations, schools or neighborhoods – can make a real and critical difference.

For more information about volunteer opportunities that are right for you, contact Samantha Zito at United Way at szito@unitedwaymassbay.org or 617.624.8288.