Volunteering has declined sharply in the pandemic, which puts a huge financial burden on the nonprofits that have long relied on free support.
Now leaders in many nonprofits are looking for new ways to generate something Donations – to pay for both the increasing demand for their services and the work of lost volunteers.
Steve Hill is one of those lost volunteers. As soon as he retired, he began volunteering at a free medical clinic at his church in Salem, Oregon.
“I retired on a Friday and started there on a Monday,” said Hill, 65. For four years he spent a day or two a week helping the doctors and nurses with their diagrams and medical instructions, and planning visits.
That all came to a standstill when the pandemic hit the Pacific Northwest in March. When the clinic reopened in June, Mr. Hill stayed home worried about infecting the virus or bringing it home to his wife with chronic asthma.
“It’s got a big hole in my schedule and my heart,” he said. “I just loved it so much.”
A study published Wednesday by Fidelity Charitable, a nonprofit founded by Fidelity Investments, found that two-thirds of all volunteers had either scaled back or stopped volunteering due to the pandemic.
A small number became interested in virtual volunteering – remote counseling, speaking to people back home, or writing letters – to help the people served but not the nonprofits themselves. According to the Independent Sector, a nonprofit membership organization, the average is Value of a donor’s time $ 27.20 per hour.
“A lot of the nonprofits think, ‘We’re in for the long term and we need to think about different ways we can use our volunteers,” said Amy Pirozzolo, fundraising director for Fidelity Charitable Serving food, encouraging their volunteers to cook the meals at home and bring them in, she said.
Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to the elderly in their homes and senior centers, has helped 47 percent more customers and provided 77 percent more meals since the pandemic began as many elderly people feel less comfortable walking to a grocery store, said Ellie Hollander, the organization’s president and executive director.
At the same time, it lost about half of its two million volunteers. Three quarters of them were over 55 years old, which puts them in a high-risk category for the virus. Compensating for this sudden loss was not easy.
“We had to hire more paid drivers,” said Ms. Hollander. “That was a huge increase in costs for Meals on Wheels volunteers who used their own cars and paid for their own gas.”
Volunteer Match, a website that connects people with volunteer opportunities, has also reported a decline in volunteers, greater demand for services, and the need for significantly higher donations so the organization can replace the missing volunteers.
“We found that 93 percent of all volunteering was canceled in March,” said Laura Plato, chief solutions officer at Volunteer Match. “We are now still heavily canceled at 48 percent.”
While some nonprofits have never reopened or gone out of business, Ms. Plato said one positive comment was an increase in organizations addressing the needs of the pandemic. “We’re seeing opportunities we’ve never seen before,” she said. “Nobody had masked parties in 2019.”
The Salem Free Clinic, which Mr Hill volunteered at, had about 350 volunteers before the pandemic and lost about 10 percent of them.
Now “only the patient can get in there,” said Mr. Hill. “But at least they’re open to helping patients who don’t have health insurance.”
Judy and Janet Fireman, sisters in their 70s who volunteer at Sister José’s sister center in Tucson, Arizona, said many of their fellow volunteers have left, but they continue to cook for the homeless women they have met over many years at the center .
At the same time, the number of women cared for by the center has doubled to 70. And Janet Fireman said she and her sister didn’t have the same level of interaction.
“We haven’t had a chance to speak to women since the pandemic protocol went into effect,” she said. “They were kept separate from us and from everyone else.”
However, the biggest difference for the sisters is that it takes almost two days to cook a meal as they have to cook everything at home and then bring it to the shelter.
“We fried 90 chicken legs today,” said Janet Fireman. “We boiled 25 pounds of potatoes and used a liter of olive oil. The third dish we made today is a salad made from frozen vegetables – peas, corn, cauliflower, and peppers. “
The salad “looks beautiful and that is important,” she added. “We don’t want to open a can of green beans and drop it on the plate.”
The sisters said they each increased their direct financial donations by 50 percent. While a protein – ground beef, pork, or chicken – is typically donated by local grocery stores, the Firemans said they paid for the extras out of their own pocket.
Changing the way people volunteer has been difficult for nonprofits and the volunteers themselves. At the center of the change is the need for money to pay the workers who replaced the lost volunteers.
Ms. Plato of Volunteer Match said 57 percent of nonprofits surveyed in May were working on a smaller budget than before the pandemic began. In July, when virus numbers declined in many parts of the country, these nonprofit groups were still struggling. 63 percent worked with a reduced budget.
“Some companies have stepped up their financial commitments instead of volunteering,” she said. “But the financial situation of many of the non-profit organizations we interviewed has not improved.”
Some nonprofit groups have relied on volunteers to help cover some of their running costs, as did the fire nurses.
This was also true of Kathy Wentworth, who has volunteered for guide dogs in Boring, Oregon for two decades. She mainly worked in the kennel kitchen, but also gave tours of the campus.
In March she was asked to take a guide dog home with her to save the foundation the cost of grooming and feeding. Other volunteers were asked to do the same. The dogs stayed longer than expected when forest fires near Portland in September shut the foundation down.
“I really missed the human community,” said Ms. Wentworth, 67, who left the golf business six years. “I got to know some of the trainers and the people who worked on campus. I really enjoyed the job out there. “
The trainers could still work with the dogs to prepare them for the blind. “If anything,” said Mrs. Wentworth, “my donations may increase this year because there is so much need.”
Even so, it is difficult to balance the volunteer time. Nobody knows when they will feel safe enough to return. But organizations strive to make their volunteers feel connected in the meantime – and increase their donations. It was’nt easy.
Mr. Hill said he and his wife continued to donate the same amount of money to the clinic. And he enjoyed keeping in touch with his director to hear how things are going. But there is only one thing that would make him return as a volunteer, he said, “A vaccine.”