The Most Disappointing Volunteer Management Trend of 2018 – Budgets

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We just released our 2018 VolunteerPro Volunteer Management Progress Report. We discovered that while there are promising volunteer management trends in the field of volunteer administration, there are also missed opportunities. The most disappointing was the consistent lack of knowledge about (or existence of) agency budgets allocated for volunteer programs and engagement.

1,241 leaders of volunteers from 12 countries participated in our third annual survey.  They represent all kinds and sizes of organizations and causes including nonprofits, government agencies, associations, congregations, and businesses that involve volunteers in communities.

Volunteer Management Trend –  Nearly One-Third of Managers Don’t Have or Don’t Know Their Budget

In the US, with the highest number of survey respondents, one-third (32%) reported annual budgets of $1-$5,000 set aside for the volunteer program (not including staff salaries and benefits). The median program budget was $5,001-$10,000.  

A consistent volunteer management trend across countries has been a lack of knowledge about the financial status of programs. About one in five (21%) of respondents did not know their own volunteer program budget. Nearly one in ten (8%) of programs had no budget set aside for volunteer resource management.  46% of respondents were in the dark about both their organizational budget and their program budget.

volunteer management trends


salary by program budgetThese results have remained fairly consistent over our three years of research, even with new survey participants joining each year. In our 2017 survey, 22% didn’t know their budget and 6% did not have a budget.  In 2016, 23% did not know and 9% had none.

It may not be surprising that program budgets strongly correlate with annual salaries — the higher the budget, the higher the salary.  The same trend appears with organizational budgets — the larger the budget, the larger the salary.  

But what is striking is that there appears to be no correlation between overall organizational budgets and budgets dedicated to the volunteer program, except for organizations with budgets of more than $100 million per year. In other words, larger organizational budgets do not necessarily mean larger volunteer program budgets.

The Precise Resource Needs for Volunteers Remain Elusive

volunteer management trendsPerhaps the reason budgets don’t exist or aren’t known is because they are difficult to estimate. The Grantmaker Forum on Community & National Service’s report, The Cost of a Volunteer: What It Takes to Provide a Quality Volunteer Experience concluded “While we have not been able to quantify the specific cost of a volunteer, we are able to identify the nature of those costs. To the extent that the nation rallies behind a vision of an engaged America—an America where each of us recognizes not only the opportunity but the obligation we have to give back—it will be necessary to build up the community capacity to accommodate our gifts of time and service.”

Often the funds used to support volunteers are buried in a larger departmental budget. Sometimes, they are shared with key staff a “need to know basis,” and for some reason those who lead volunteers don’t have that status.

Why Volunteer Program Budgets Matter

Despite these challenges, actively managing the finances needed to support volunteers is worth it. Even if the volunteer budget is embedded in a larger department account, coordinators can and should estimate and track revenue and expenses. Without a budget, leaders of volunteers find themselves unable to make informed decisions or advocate fully for their needs. It’s an unfavorable position, if growth is the goal.

Without a Budget, Volunteer Resource Managers Can’t …

  • Make it clear that volunteer involvement isn’t free
  • Make transparent the actual resources that are needed to support volunteers (office supplies, equipment, background checks, travel reimbursements, training materials, software fees, technology upgrades, outside consulting, snacks, volunteer appreciation, recruitment costs, etc., etc., etc.)
  • Calculate and improve the ROI of volunteer involvement over time
  • Proactively reallocate line time funds when the there is a surplus or shortfall
  • Make strategic decisions (because every program action has a budget implication)
  • Make the case for additional funding or resources
  • Analyze present expenses and adjust them to align with initiative that get traction
  • Be part of strategic conversations about the agency’s plans for the future
  • Proactively plan for and have a say in how their professional development progresses

While not having a budget puts leaders of volunteers in a disadvantaged position, having one can empower them and make it clear that they are, indeed, a part of the management team.   

Get Your Copy of the VolunteerPro Volunteer Management Progress Report

Download your free copy of our 45-page “state-of-the-industry” report from our web site here —

You can get the 2016 and 2017 reports there, too.