“I hope we get some new faces at the Annual General Meeting to fill some of these open positions.”
Have you ever heard that or said it? It is unfortunately common with not-for-profit and community organizations of all types. This is true whether you’re a larger economic not-for-profit organization or a regional softball association.
Where did all the volunteers go? (And how can we bring them back)
I have heard numerous explanations and they all make logical sense.
The basic answer from various articles and research I have done: In the past, there was more volunteer time in the home. This has a variety of reasons. Perhaps, only one parent worked in a two-parent household, or the individuals were retired and filling their time with volunteer work. Now there is really one main issue:
People are retiring later. There are more families that require both parents to work or are single-parent homes and may not be able to get away (physically). People are also doing more in their retirement. They are traveling which leaves less time around the home front to contribute to their local community.
And many are also just prioritizing themselves and their family to destress. Burnout is higher than ever before which then requires people to scale back on any extras. Each and every person has their own unique circumstances (no judgment here).
But we are all limited by the same constraining factor: Time. We need to choose wisely where it goes and all while balancing work, family, friends, health, and community contributions.
Now, time just feels tighter. Maybe it is just me. I am in a dual-income household with three busy kids and lots of activities. I constantly feel guilty that I am not doing more on the volunteer scene but often feel with the limited time I have outside of building my business, I need to make hard choices. Should I volunteer for that function, or should I go for a bike ride or to the gym? Or do I take away from family time for a volunteer position? We have to balance it all and our choices have real consequences for our own life and health as well as the people around us.
Personally, we take it waves as a family and do what we can when we can. For example, my husband is currently coaching our son’s hockey team so other than some weekend-specific dance recital volunteering we are keeping it at that for the family (for now). As life evolves, so will our approach and time.
In my work with a variety of not-for-profits (as a CPA and advisor) it is a common theme across organizations. I wanted to share what has worked for some of them and what I have seen personally as well. Hopefully, you can use some of these tools in your own organizations. The goal is to bring the volunteers back! To do this we need to focus on not making the commitment seem so arduous.
Open Up Meetings Virtually (with in person if possible)
The parent advisory committee at my kid’s school holds meetings once every two months or so. There are additional volunteer roles in between like cafeteria volunteering etc that is outside those meetings. But the meetings are largely where those other roles are discussed and filled. During covid the meetings went virtual and to be honest it was the first time I attended one as it was easy to join via Zoom and listen in. I could clean up the kitchen while listening to updates on what was going on. Now, the meetings have gone back to in-person. They are at 7:30 at night on a school/work night and I haven’t made a single one.
I get it. I have a client who I chatted with on meeting attendance for their not-for-profit, and she said that the volunteers at their organization largely do it for the social aspect. So, they intentionally keep the meetings fun, and in-person is a part of that. But when you limit it to in-person you will limit it to people who are able to attend. That means you may leave the single mom (or dad) out who can’t get there because they can’t leave the house.
I know some volunteer organizations have babysitting options for that purpose but then you still have to be careful about timing. Too late and you’re getting into bedtime. Too early and you’re infringing on work hours or the desire to eat dinner that we all suffer from.
The goal is to try to meet in the middle so that you can have more in attendance at the meeting. When there are more people there (even just listening in) you will have more involvement.
Stop the Cheques!
One of the most time-consuming roles on a board is the Treasurer role. This can be expanded to the finance team in general. Why? Well, sometimes it is that no one wanted that position so the person who fell into it does not have any background in it. This can result in a learning curve that takes extra time for the lucky volunteer.
The other is that most not-for-profits require a dual authorization approval process for any payments. This is very important for transparency and avoiding fraud and is a necessary control in any organization. The issue is that most not-for-profits still use cheques as a form of payment in order to meet this dual authorization requirement. This means that two people have to be in or go to the same place to sign the prepared cheques.
There is now technology that can help us solve this problem.
I have a client that ran into this issue as they grew. They covered a larger geographical area in their operations, but their finance directors were limited to one town. They were limited to this town for the finance role because when the entity ran cheques a director from the finance team was required to be a signer on the cheques. The organization itself was large enough to have an Executive Director so they only needed one additional signature. Every two weeks, one of the finance committee directors would stop by the organization’s physical location and run through payables to sign the cheques for payment.
Implementing a payable processing technology was a game changer for them. The organization/our firm now handles the payables and bi-weekly the executive director (staff) and board directors receive an email where they can digitally approve the payables and payment. Only one director is required to sign off, but we are able to easily have multiple in the system in case one is unavailable due to sickness, vacation, or just other obligations.
All suppliers are paid electronically (with a cheque option that is mailed), and the directors do it right from their homes. Since this has been implemented, I have noted that the reach of the board has been extended. They are no longer limited to one area, so they have been able to attract PhDs (again its an environmental board) and other really smart people from across the whole geographical region. When you are not limited geographically to a single location then you can expand your reach which then expands your options.
Small technologies that make the directors be able to choose how and when they volunteer will make a big difference. Not limiting the geographical region allows individuals to be able to volunteer and contribute to organizations that matter to them the most. Shout out to our payables provider Plooto for all that you do.
Hire for Administrative Positions
I can think of at least two sports associations that have had one person at the helm juggling 80% of the administrative work of the organization for the past five years. Can you think of that person/association? The problem is that person will move on. They may do so because they burn out. Or because their kids were playing that sport and have aged out. The real problem = no one will want to volunteer for that role when they leave. It just asks to much of any one person.
Society as a whole seems tired lately, doesn’t it? There is so much going on in life and the world. Individuals do not want to take on a second job. Moreover, when most people look at the finances of the situation, they would rather pay a little bit extra to have a paid position organizing at least a portion of the administrative aspects rather than volunteering more themselves. We can’t depend on a single person willing to sacrifice their life for the organization. It’s just not sustainable.
Some will balk at this as yes, I may in some cases be advocating for membership fees. However, one offset is that when you have a paid position you can also look for funding sources for that position which then can open up more grant options to reduce those costs to members. Different entities can also deal with low-income members in different ways (subsidies etc) to further promote inclusion.
Not-for-profit organizations should be considering hiring administrative roles either as an employee or in some cases a contractor would suffice. This gives employment to individuals looking for a part-time position and also de-stresses the organization. The board then can be in charge of the decisions and oversight and not the day-to-day operations. That change in focus will allow the organization to attract more people to its board and increase the impact they are able to make. This is then a self-fulfilling prophecy as the board will do more, and members will feel good about being part of it. When people feel good about what they are doing, they will want to keep going and keep volunteering.
My prediction is that in the coming years we will see a consolidation of not-for-profit organizations with similar missions. The reason will be the desire/requirement to be large enough to hire administrators. This way the volunteers can make more impact while still contributing to society and also can provide employment at the same time.
If you are hiring for an administrative position, consider using payroll software like Wagepoint to make the process smooth and easy (payroll calculations, direct deposits, automated source deduction remittances and T4 filing all in one). Or you can hire an accountant to take care of it for you!
Time is Valuable – Give your Volunteers back more time
All the above recommendations really have one focus. Refine your organization’s processes to be able to be more inclusive and give more time back to your volunteers.
Non-profit organizations are an essential component to our society. They contribute to the health, wellness, and economies of our communities and environments. When you let people come to the organization on their own terms and their own schedules everybody will win.
And, together, we can make the world a little bit better.
Virtual Heights Accounting is a CPA firm that operates in the virtual world. We provide virtual bookkeeping, accounting, and tax services to small and medium-sized businesses. Contact us at www.vhaccounting.ca/contactus or follow our blog on your chosen social media source.