Nonprofit Uses of Technology to Engage Millennial Volunteers

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July 19, 2016; Columbus Dispatch

Reliable volunteers can make all the difference for nonprofit organizations. Volunteers are not only cost-effective, but the different viewpoints and skillsets, energy, and intelligence they bring to an organization can help improve the nonprofit’s processes and encourage growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report “Volunteering in the United States,” the volunteer rate is right under 25 percent, with 62.6 million people volunteering for an organization at least once between September 2014 and September 2015. But when looking at volunteering by age, those least likely to volunteer fall into the millennial category, aged 20–34.

In studying how Millennials participate in giving, the Millennial Impact Report found that while Millennials are considered the most generous generation, the ways they give stray from tradition. For instance, most Millennials do not participate in workplace giving or volunteering, but rather are influenced by their peers to give both time and money. Moreover, 75 percent of millennials indicate “they’re more likely to volunteer when they can use their specific skills or expertise to benefit a cause.”

Seeing this discrepancy in volunteer rates versus nonprofit need, Matthew Goldstein created Besa, a nonprofit organization in Columbus, Ohio that uses technology to specifically recruit Millennials for service projects. Goldstein, formerly a professional in market research, uses his background to create a culture that encourages volunteers to continue to give back through Besa.

For instance, users receive badges once they hit milestones such as five hours per year, 40 hours in the last two years, or top-ten volunteer. While Goldstein admits that other platforms offer a similar service, he says, “What we do really well is look at the community. There are a lot of working professionals out there who want to give back, and they’re not sure how to give back. This platform is built for them. All of these projects happen in the evening and weekends, because we tailor our experience to professionals who are working all day.”

So far, the platform seems to be working for the Columbus area. Besa has secured over 50 nonprofit partners, matched volunteers for 350 community projects, and has donated $250,000 in goods and services to the community. Besa is only in Columbus for now, but the success the organization has experienced has encouraged the nonprofit to look into expansion methods potentially through licensing or franchising.

While platforms such as Besa make it very easy for volunteers to find projects, as well as for nonprofits to find volunteers, a question arises as to how effective they are at finding those high quality volunteers that can drive nonprofit growth. The NPQ article “Volunteer Management: Once More with Meaning” suggests that nonprofit organizations do not have the correct priorities when it comes to volunteers. Organizations tend to focus on quantity over quality. Specifically, in stark contrast to the purpose of volunteer recruitment platforms, the author suggests,

Instead of developing job descriptions and then recruiting to fill these volunteer positions, managers define roles and responsibilities in a more fluid way. Someone who wants to share his skills can approach a needy organization with a proposal for volunteering, and the job description can be written spontaneously. […] Perhaps new programs and activities are born from volunteer talents.

Taken together, Besa and similar platforms make it easy for nonprofits to fill current volunteer voids and for professionals to give back at their convenience. However, nonprofit organizations must also keep an eye on the future by engaging volunteers in a more fluid and constant way that ensures high quality volunteers are connected with the organization on an ongoing basis. This is especially true for Millennial volunteer recruitment, as their professional skillsets are expanding and they are eager to use these skills for projects that are meaningful to them.—Sheela Nimishakavi

  • FredT

    What I have found with dozens of NFP’s here in Denver, is that they seem to be afraid of individuals with professional skills. There are hundreds of volunteer positions to sort papers, staff or setup a booth, but none to train the booth staff, or design the literature etc. Boards seem to be looking for people that “don’t ask questions”. and often are not provided copies of past board minutes or financials. A method of control. TOO many boards and organizations talk about mission and growth, but may be afraid that the organization will outgrow their skills.