Current Research and Implications

Putting Volunteer Engagement at the Core of an Organization

In 2009, Reimagining Service, a national cross-sector coalition dedicated to better understanding and promoting the power of volunteer engagement, conducted research on the state of engagement in the country. Through this research, the correlation between organizational health and sustainability and effective engagement of volunteers became clear. The term “Service Enterprise” was coined to describe an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills to achieve its social mission.

The Service Enterprise Initiative is a national program that provides training and certification to selected nonprofits committed to implementing exemplary volunteer engagement practices to achieve their missions. Certification signifies that organizations have the capability and management expertise to strategically engage volunteers to improve the performance of their organization. Service Enterprises are significantly more adaptable, sustainable and better resourced to do their work.

One of the best funder investments in the future will be supporting the certification of their grantees as a Service Enterprise. Locate the Service Enterprise Hubs in your city or state. 

Research conducted by TCC Group and Deloitte demonstrates that nonprofits operating as Service Enterprises outperform peer organizations on all measures of organizational capacity thereby allowing these nonprofits to more effectively address community needs and operate at almost half the median budget.

As funders, we pay great attention to how potential grantees steward their financial resources, but do we pay equal attention to how they lead and manage their human resources?

Both are critical to the success and sustainability of the organization. Compelling reasons to support and invest in volunteer engagement infrastructure include:



1. Leverages and increases the impact of grant making.

  • When engaged effectively, volunteers augment an organization’s financial and in-kind resources, producing greater value for each dollar invested.
  • Volunteers provide new or expanded services to increase the return on investment and add significant value to the objectives of grants received by organizations.

2. Is linked to stronger, more effective and more efficient organizations as a whole.1

  • All organizational capacities are significantly and markedly stronger for nonprofits with a strong volunteer engagement model.
  • When organizations engage any number of volunteers well, they are proven to be significantly better led and utilized as a whole.
  • Organizations that fundamentally leverage volunteers and their skills to accomplish their missions are significantly more adaptable, sustainable and capable of going to scale.
  • Organizations that engage volunteers are equally as effective as their peers without volunteers, but at almost half the median budget.

3. Occurs when there is strong organizational and community infrastructure.

  • The organization’s leadership (i.e. board, executive staff and funders) must consider support of the volunteer infrastructure to be as important as any other organizational resource.
  • Having a strategic volunteer engagement model requires strong and well-developed human resources management practices.2 The ability to engage and retain increasingly diverse volunteers requires highly competent leadership.

4. Occurs when board and staff at all levels are adequately trained.

  • Training helps board members—many of whom are corporate and philanthropic leaders—and executive staff members understand that well-supported volunteers can increase an organization’s service and fundraising capacity.
  • Training of volunteers and of the staff who support them is vital to successful volunteer engagement models.

5. Is directly related to increased funding for the organization – People give their money where they give their time. 

  • Volunteering can be an important way of evaluating an organization for future financial support, as a significant number of donors (2 in 5) volunteered at a charity before making a financial donation to that organization.
  • Half of volunteers say that volunteering leads them to give more financial support.
  • Nearly 70% of high net worth individuals give financially to the organizations with which they volunteer
  • Organizations that provide robust volunteer opportunities have an edge in creating a steady donor base and in growing their overall level of financial support.
  • Compared to younger volunteers, those 61-70 years old (65%) are more likely to show interest in opportunities that require a specific skill set. These same volunteers are increasing their interest in philanthropy.
  • According to a 2009 study by Fidelity Charitable, a majority of high-net worth donors who volunteer give up to ten times more than non-volunteers, and most donate to the organizations in which they are involved. Nearly half of the wealthy donors interviewed give financially to most of the organizations where they volunteer.3

VIDEO: The Volunteer Perspective: High Net Worth Donor Volunteers (12:06 mins) Speaker:  Claire Costello, Managing Director, U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management Resources:  The 2016 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy (PDF)

VIDEO: The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy (12:37 mins)
Speaker:  Elaine A. Martyn, Vice President, Relationship Management, Private Donor Group, Fidelity Charitable
Resources: The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy, 2014 Study by Fidelity Charitable and  Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary

(1 and 2)TCC Group, “’Positive Deviants’ in Volunteerism and Service: Research Summary,”
(3)Fidelity Charitable, “Fidelity®Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary” (4)Points of Light, “Where Should Nonprofits Use Volunteers?Everywhere.”