September 14, 2011; Source: Abilene Reporter-News | Sometimes the national statistics that almost seven in ten Americans volunteer annually masks some of the difficulties some organizations have in finding volunteers who will work with them. In Abilene, Texas, for example, students at Abilene Christian University reportedly perform 40,000 hours of community service (sometimes for class credit) every year. Youth programs run by college students and Habitat for Humanity’s 1,000 local volunteers are frequently college kids, but not all nonprofits benefit equally.
For example, Meals on Wheels doesn’t seem to benefit at all from the college community-service boom. The volunteer base for Meals on Wheels, which recruits volunteers to deliver meals to seniors with limited mobility, is aging. According to its executive director, Betty Bradley, the organization is facing a really tough challenge recruiting new volunteers to replace those who are “getting too old to continue their service.” Abilene’s Meals on Wheels has 75 volunteer-staffed routes per day for a total of 375 routes a week, but 50 are currently open routes without volunteer drivers. Nowadays, the typical Meals on Wheels volunteer is an older person, not a young professional with a family, and apparently not generally a community-service-performing college student.
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Truth be told, volunteers are not fungible like money. Younger volunteers might like community service work with kids, but not packing and delivering meals to older shut-ins. Sometimes when the nonprofit sector celebrates its national achievements such as tens of millions of donors and billions of charitable giving, we overlook those nonprofits providing valuable services that aren’t sharing equally in this largesse of charitable money and time.—Terry Flanagan