Volunteer Engagement


“Overall, 64.3 million Americans (more than one in four adults) volunteered through a formal organization last year, an increase of 1.5 million from 2010. The 7.9 billion hours these individuals volunteered is valued at $171 billion.”
Corporation for National and Community Service, 2009

“As investors in the nonprofit sector, grant makers, businesses, and government must ask: How can we do more to support and build capacity within the nonprofit sector? How can we achieve a greater yield on the dollars and efforts we are already investing in the sector? A critical and often overlooked response to these questions is to build greater capacity by supporting volunteerism and the infrastructure that sustains it.”
Points of Light Institute. A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio

The Leighty Foundation is a small family foundation committed to investing our limited resources in ways that provide the greatest impact and ensure the most valuable return on our investment. Our nation is currently faced with shrinking resources and growing needs which will require a dramatic increase in the number of people willing to give their time and skills as well as their financial resources. However, the challenge may be less about increasing the number of people who want to volunteer, and more about building infrastructures to connect people with worthy opportunities and empower them to make a meaningful difference.

There is a growing awareness that even if Americans respond to the myriad of calls for service, charities may not be prepared to utilize them. A recent survey found that more than 30% of charities do not currently have the infrastructure to effectively deploy volunteers, and that more than half could not make good use of a new influx of volunteers.

During these tough economic times one of our foundation’s best opportunities for impact lies in providing the staffing, training and resources needed to support the effective management of volunteer efforts within a community. Volunteerism and civic engagement are not programs in themselves, but cost-effective strategies to assist all organizations and community groups to accomplish their missions. As funders, we can seize this unique opportunity to offer the financial support needed to equip leaders to cultivate and empower these valuable human resources.

Our foundation has been active in a local initiative to build the capacity of the community to engage volunteers effectively. It is still a work in progress but we are enthused about the results we have seen thus far. In partnership with Reimagining Service, we have created a case study of our key actions and outcomes.   In 2014, we completed an update to this case study.

The Bottom Line:

Funders invest in volunteer and community engagement infrastructure.

Volunteer managers are empowered through increased training, resources and time.

Staff is educated in best practices for recruiting, training, placing and retaining volunteers.

Volunteers are engaged in mission-critical work.

Organizations experience exponential growth of resources: services, donations and community advocates.

Communities benefit from engaged citizens, and increased capacity for impact.

Much of the Foundation’s vision for grantmaking in volunteer engagement has been shaped by the career experience of Jane Leighty Justis, Program Director and a trustee of The Leighty Foundation. Thanks to many who continue to play pioneering roles in the field.  Among them are: Susan Ellis, Betty Stallings, Jill Freidman-Fixler, and Sara Jane Rhenborg.

Jane Leighty Justis recently became Chair of the Board, and continues her role as Program Director.   She leads The Leighty Foundation program:  Promotion of Volunteer Engagement and Philanthropy.
Before retiring as our Executive Director, Jane explained The Leighty Foundation’s focus on building capacity of organizations like Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA), as one of the Twenty-five Faces of CASA.  CASA effectively utilizes community volunteers.
The Mother Moon Service Scholarship was created by Ike Leighty and Jane Leighty Justis, directors of The Leighty Foundation.  It is available in Macomb, Illinois  and in Waterloo, Iowa .
Nick Rafferty, one of the Waterloo West High 2014 scholarship recipients, gave an especially good acceptance speech.  Nick shares his volunteer experience, and recounts the history of Mrs. Sadie “Mother” Moon:  Service Above Self .

Frequently Asked Questions

Why has the Leighty Foundation chosen capacity building and Volunteer Engagement as one of its major funding areas?

Like many family foundations, we began by funding “good causes”. As we evolved, we chose to leverage our small grants by focusing our giving where we had time and talent to offer, along with our treasure.

I spent 20 years prior to the creation of our foundation in the field of volunteer management – both as a practitioner and national trainer for organizations and communities. I saw this as an area where we could offer grantees experience and capacity building expertise, as well as financial resources.

In addition to experience, I had passion. I had seen firsthand the impact that well placed and equipped volunteers had on the accomplishment of the missions of many nonprofit organizations across the country. They delivered direct services, offered consultation and leadership, opened doors in the community, served as ambassadors and raised funds.

I had also experienced how poorly many organizations managed this resource, and the negative impact it had on all facets of their work. The leadership of these organizations often considered volunteers “nice but not necessary”, and therefore not worthy of investing resources in their recruitment, nurture and retention. In addition, I spoke with many funders who understood the immense value of community volunteers, and the importance of a solid infrastructure, but failed to appreciate the skills, planning, and support needed to harness their full potential. As a result they were reluctant to provide the financial support necessary.

Highly successful and sustainable organizations are most often ones whose board and executive leadership recognize the valuable role volunteers play in accomplishing their mission, and are willing to invest in empowering them. The return on investment in effective citizen engagement will impact not only individual programs but the sustainability of the whole organization – including its financial health. In this field we continue to see that engaged volunteers share their circle of influence and give financial support to the causes where they give their time. The result is value added to organizational sustainability, mission accomplishment, and community strength.

In these difficult economic times, we simply cannot meet the growing and diverse needs we face without expanding the involvement of citizens, all of whom have a stake in their communities. It requires expertise and creativity to turn the good intentions of volunteers into great impact. Foundations and nonprofits will be required to engage communities in new ways. We must be willing to ensure that the costs necessary to build innovative new infrastructures are covered. Join us in taking advantage of this rare window of opportunity. The return on investment will be great!

Please contact Jane Leighty Justis if we might be of assistance to you.

How are volunteerism and civic engagement connected?

Service and volunteering are a pivotal part of the broader tapestry of civic life. Though they are not an alternative to the duties of citizenship, they often serve as the starting point for Americans to become strong and productive members of a democratic society.
Strong infrastructures like the ones necessary to support volunteerism at the community level are also needed for broader forms of civic engagement, e.g., voter registration, disaster relief, and advocacy.

The National Council on Aging has a newly formed network of organizations, Age4Action, committed to engaging adults over 50 in their communities. Age4Action defines civic engagement to include volunteering, working, learning, serving, active citizenship, social action and advocacy. This inclusive view helps to create a broader perspective of the many facets of community involvement. Contact Sabrina Reilly at the National Council on Aging for more information.

Reimagining Service, also newly formed, is a community of some of the foremost leaders from government, corporations, nonprofits and philanthropy who are seeking to increase the impact of volunteers and their ability to address our country’s most pressing social issues. One of their conveners, Evan Hochberg, National Director of Community Involvement, Deloitte, said, “Our country’s current call to service is as powerful today as at any time in our nation’s history. But a successful solution requires asking the right question. It is no longer enough to ask, “How do we get more people to serve?” We must ask ourselves, “What can service achieve and how can we mobilize volunteers to pull off those results?”

What are the costs involved with utilizing volunteers effectively?

Empowering people to give the best that they have to offer is neither free nor easy.

Volunteer engagement, like fundraising, connects organizations with mission critical resources. Investing in raising financial resources is accepted as necessary. Investing in raising human resources and talent management – paid and volunteer – is not only necessary, it is essential.

“The CEO is the chief volunteer engagement officer and all of the staff should have a role in volunteer engagement in addition to having a designated volunteer engagement professional. When volunteer engagement is seen as an essential and integral organizational capacity building strategy, and not just a department or program, nonprofit organizations can survive and thrive regardless of the economy because they are strategic about cultivating and accessing the abundant resources within their circle of influence.”
Friedman Fixler

“Having a staff member who can devote 30 percent of his or her time to volunteer management is essential to an organization’s taking on more volunteers, adopting best practices, retaining those volunteers, and producing greater benefits for the organization and the community. What’s more, Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations, A Briefing Report, clearly shows a correlation between the amount of time a staff member can devote to volunteer management and the organizational benefits that charities report in terms of improved services, cost-savings, and public support.”
David Eisner, 2005

How might we as funders support capacity building in Volunteer Engagement?

Our funding will have great impact by strengthening community engagement through recognizing and supporting best practices in volunteer management. The value and impact of a grant will be multiplied by increasing an organization’s efficiency and effectiveness in utilizing volunteers.

  • Invite proposals for general operating support to fund the organization’s volunteer resources infrastructure:
    • Support the creation of a Director of Volunteer Services position for current grantees who do not have one,
    • Offer support to allow a current staff person to devote additional time to volunteer resources oversight,
    • Provide support and encouragement for board and staff leadership to articulate their vision and commitment to the value of volunteers within the organization.
  • Fund local training sessions / consultations for volunteer resource managers and the staff who will work with them:
    • 30% of paid volunteer resources managers have had no training in volunteer resource management.
  • Fund Volunteer Centers and Hands On Affiliates, as well as local training through state nonprofit organizations, community foundations and other resources.

What could we include in our grantmaking process to raise visibility and determine the best opportunities for investment?

  • Request information in grant applications about:
    • organization’s commitment (financial, staffing, training) to its volunteers and the staff who work with them,
      internal support structure for volunteers,
    • person responsible for oversight: professional training, position of influence within the organization,
    • volunteer involvement in the project, and the impact expected.
  • Request information in reports and evaluations about successes and challenges of involving volunteers, and the resulting impact from their participation.
  • Request that the Director of Volunteer Resources and perhaps a key volunteer participate in your site visit.
  • Convene Executive Directors and their Volunteer Resource Managers to discuss ways to effectively involve more citizens in meeting the needs in your community.


What Others are Saying

Bruce Esterline, Vice President for Grants, The Meadows Foundation.

“Some of the most cost effective dollars we can invest may be in a volunteer manager, who can generate far more value from volunteer hours than we ever invested.”

David Eisner, Former CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE). Building Democracy through Service. May 2005.

“What is the condition of democracy in America, and what is philanthropy doing about it?” I’ve seldom met anyone who doesn’t agree that the state of democracy would be stronger if more Americans were civically engaged. What I wish more of us were “doing about it” is building and modernizing the infrastructure that supports that civic engagement at a community level by, first, modifying the channels of participation to suit the work, time, and social preference of today’s Americans and, second, lessening the barriers to participation.”

“The economic realities we face mean two things: that it is critically important to increase the level of volunteering in our nation, and that it is also critically important to operate as cost-effectively as possible. As funders, we must find more and better ways to work together to support the nonprofit infrastructure as well as the more than 64.5 million Americans who volunteer each year through formal organizations. The resources of each sector must be leveraged the most effective way to broaden and strengthen the traditions of volunteering and civic engagement.”

Urban Institute. Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations: A Briefing Report. Washington, DC, 2004.

“At least six in ten charities indicate that their volunteers provide substantial cost savings and greatly increase the quality of services or programs provided, public support for their programs, and the level of services they can provide.”

“The study indicates that those with paid staff members who dedicate a substantial portion of their time to management of volunteers experience fewer recruitment challenges and demonstrate greater adoption of volunteer management practices. Funders and organizations that invest in staff volunteer coordinators and training will produce charities and congregations with a greater capacity to their use of volunteers. This report finds that investments in volunteer management and benefits derived from volunteers feed on each other, with investments bringing benefits and these benefits justifying greater investment. We conclude that the value that volunteers provide to the organization they serve should make the effective management of volunteers a key priority.”

Jill Friedman Fixler & Jennifer Rackow. JFFixler & Associates. The Volunteer Asset in an Uncertain Economy.

“The current economic reality demands more strategic stewardship of volunteer resources. Need for nonprofit services – and for the social and economic impact and safety net they create – is on the rise, even as donations decline. As volunteers and donors are forced to choose where they will spend time and money, nonprofit leaders must inspire ownership and loyalty, and deepen their current relationships. The good news is that volunteer rates continue to increase. With thoughtful investment, nonprofits can use trends identified through research and successful progressive programs to engage volunteers in meeting community needs and to get beyond what staff can do alone. We must examine where nonprofits fit into the economy and apply the most innovative volunteer engagement strategies we have. Volunteers are an untapped and vital resource to cultivate as they can be the resource for sustaining and expanding service delivery. Volunteer programs then become a solid nonprofit investment in this challenging economic climate.”

Rehnborg, Sarah Jane. Strategic Volunteer Engagement, A Guide for Nonprofit and Public Sector Leaders. The University of Texas at Austin, 2009.

“While it is true that volunteers operate without receiving market-value compensation for the work preformed, any serious organizational initiative – of any type – requires a strategic vision and an outlay of time, attention, and infrastructure. Someone needs to be assigned the important task of overseeing the venture, of facilitating community involvement, of preparing volunteers for the task at hand, of supporting their ongoing involvement, and of thanking them for the time given. The organization needs to know what it hopes to achieve and how that end product will help meet the overall goals of the group. The organization’s staff and leadership need to be committed to working with volunteers and, in many cases, offered staff development opportunities to learn how to work well with the community. In short, a credible effort needs a vision and plan, resources sufficient to the task at hand, and a dedicated, skilled, point person to assure that tasks run smoothly and reach completion.”

Trends and Statistics

Preston, Caroline. “Americans Cut Back on Volunteerism as Job Losses Rise, Study Finds.” The Chronicles of Philanthropy, September 17, 2009.

Seventy-two percent of Americans say that in the past year they have cut back on the time they spend volunteering and performing other civic activities, according to a study by the National Conference on Citizenship.

Sixty-six percent of those surveyed said that, as a result of the recession, Americans were more concerned with looking out for themselves.

His group’s study found that people were doing more informal, local volunteer activities during the recession.

The Corporation for National and Community Service. “Volunteering in America Research Highlights”

Volunteers are much more likely than non-volunteers to donate to a charitable cause.

The volunteering rate held steady between 2007 and 2008, while the number of volunteers slightly increased, however 72% of Americans say that in the past year they have cut back on the time they spend volunteering and performing other civic activities. (Preston, 2009)

Young adult volunteerism rose from 7.8 million in 2007 to more than 8.2 million in 2008.

As the economy slows and nonprofit organizations struggle to provide services on smaller budgets, volunteers become even more vital to the health of our nation’s communities. Between September 2008 and March 2009, 37% of nonprofit organizations report increasing the number of volunteers they use, and 48% foresee increasing their usage of volunteers in the coming year.

2008 Civic Health Index

The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) created America’s Civic Health Index to assess how the American people were performing on a wide array of indicators of civic health.

Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey

The 2009 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey was commissioned to better identify and understand the barriers that are preventing corporations from contributing and nonprofits from seeking more skilled volunteer and pro bono support.


Eisner, David. “Building Democracy through Service” Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), May 2005.

Friedman Fixler, Jill. “The Volunteer Asset in an Uncertain Economy”.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “The Leighty Foundation Information Sheet: History & Volunteer Impact Initiative”, Spring, 2013.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “The Leighty Foundation Case Study: Pikes Peak Volunteer Engagement Initiative” Reimagining Service, Nov 2012.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “Philanthropy and Volunteer Engagement: A Dynamic Force for Social Change”, Oct 1, 2012.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “Volunteer Energy: A Renewable Resource”, Spring, 2013.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “12 Ways to Help Grantees Use Volunteers”, Spring, 2013.

Justis, Jane Leighty. “High-Impact Volunteerism: Colorado’s Most Valuable Renewable Resource” Colorado Nonprofit Association, Jan/Feb, 2011.

Stallings, Betty, and Justis, Jane. “Support Strategies for Funders; Involving Volunteer Resources: Questions to Assess Organizational Capacity.” Presented at National Conference on Volunteering & Services. June 26-July 1, 2010. New York, New York. Adapted from Points of Light Institute. A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio.

Stallings, Betty. “The Hallmarks of High Impact Volunteer Engagement.” May 27, 2010.

The Corporation for National and Community Service. “Volunteering in America Research Highlights”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Nelson, Tom. “Use Them or Lose Them: Keeping Volunteers Happy and Committed.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2009.
Preston, Caroline. “Americans Cut Back on Volunteerism as Job Losses Rise, Study Finds.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 17, 2009.
Hochberg, Evan. “It’s Time to Focus on Volunteers’ Results.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October, 26, 2009.
Gose, Ben. “Can the Nonprofit World Handle a Flood of Helpers?” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October, 26, 2009.
West, Maureen. “Volunteers Can Cause Friction with Employees.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 26, 2009.
Perry, Suzanne. “After Two Tough Years, New Points of Light Charity Emerges.” The Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 26, 2009.


Points of Light Institute. A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio.

Rehnborg, Sarah Jane. Strategic Volunteer Engagement, A Guide for Nonprofit and Public Sector Leaders. Austin: The University of Texas at Austin. 2009.

Stallings, Betty. Leading the Way to Successful Volunteer Involvement: Practical Tools for Busy Executives.

Stallings, Betty. 12 Key Actions of Volunteer Program Champions: CEOs Who Lead the Way.

Urban Institute. Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations: A Briefing Report. Washington, DC. 2004.

Volunteering Reinvented, Human Capital Solutions for the Nonprofit Sector. Corporation for National and Community Service. Washington, DC. 2007.

Websites & Links

2008 Civic Health Index – The National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) created America’s Civic Health Index to assess how the American people were performing on a wide array of indicators of civic health, including volunteerism.

A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio.

Association for Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (ALIVE) – ALIVE is a membership association for professional volunteer resource managers. ALIVE serves to enhance and sustain the spirit of volunteering in America by fostering collaboration and networking, promoting professional development, and providing advocacy for leaders in community engagement.

Betty Stallings – Betty Stallings, M.S.W., is an international trainer, consultant, author and keynote speaker specializing in volunteerism, nonprofit fundraising, board development and leadership (55 Minute Training Series).

Case Foundation – Case Foundation expands giving, promotes everyday philanthropy, deepens civic engagement, and broadens the use of new technologies to make giving more informed, efficient, and effective.

Corporation for National and Community Service – CNCS plays a vital role in supporting the American culture of citizenship, service, and responsibility. CNCS is a catalyst for change and champion for the ideal that every American has skills and talents to give. The Corporation is the nation’s largest grantmaker supporting service and volunteering. Through Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, the Corporation provides opportunities for Americans of all ages and backgrounds to express their patriotism while addressing critical community needs.

Council for Certification in Volunteer Management (CCVA) – CCVA advances the profession and practice of volunteer resource management by articulating core competencies for the profession of volunteer administration, certifying individuals who demonstrate knowledge and competence in the leadership of volunteers, advancing standards of ethical practice, and promoting professional development and education.

Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey – The 2009 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey was commissioned to better identify and understand the barriers that are preventing corporations from contributing and nonprofits from seeking more skilled volunteer and pro bono support.

Energize Inc – Energize, Inc is an international training, consulting and publishing firm specializing in volunteerism.

E-Volunteerism – E-Volunteerism is The Electronic Journal of the Volunteerism Community.

Governor’s Commission on Community Service – The Commission serves as the state’s leader in promoting Civic Engagement, Community Service, and Volunteerism, along with its charge in the administration of the Colorado AmeriCorps State programs.

Grant Makers for Effective Organizations (GEO) – GEO is a coalition of grantmakers committed to building strog and effective organizations.

HandsOn Network – HandsOn is a network of more than 250 Action Centers, where people can find volunteer projects and programs that align their passion with real needs in the local community.

Independent Sector – Independent Sector is the leadership forum for charities, foundations, and corporate giving programs committed to advancing the common good in America and around the world.

JFFixler & Associates – Consulting and resources for nonprofits in the areas of: Volunteer Engagement, Strategic Planning, Board and Organizational Assessment/Development.

Metro Volunteers – Metro Volunteers helps individuals, families, and corporate and community groups find volunteer opportunities at diverse service organizations throughout the metro Denver area.

Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA) – MAVA provides a forum to engage people involved in volunteerism across Minnesota to exchange information and ideas, and to link resources to build capacity. With over 800 members, MAVA is a powerful resource for the volunteer community. MAVA provides news, information, professional development and training opportunities to its members.

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) – PACE is a learning community of grantmakers and donors committed to strengthening democracy by using the power, influence and resources of philanthropy to open pathways to civic and community participation.

Reimagining Service – Reimagining Service is a community of leaders from the government, nonprofit, and corporate sectors seeking to increase the impact of volunteers and their ability to address the country’s most pressing social issues.

Rose Community Foundation – “Boomers Leading Change” is a long term initiative of the Rose Community Foundation to engage people over 55 in opportunities for ongoing employment, community service and lifelong learning.

Strategic Volunteer Engagement, A Guide for Nonprofit and Public Sector Leaders. Sarah Jane Rehnborg. – Strategic Volunteer Engagement provides a strategic framework and offers critical management directives for working effectively with both skill-oriented and mission-focused volunteers serving on either a long term and episodic basis.

Taproot Foundation – Taproot is the largest nonprofit consulting firm in the country. They seek to strengthen nonprofits by engaging business professionals in pro bono service.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy – A newspaper publication for the nonprofit world.

Urban Institute – Volunteer Management Capacity in America’s Charities and Congregations: A Briefing Report. Washington, D.C, 2004.

VolunteerMatch – VolunteerMatch offers a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement.

Volunteer Pikes Peak – Volunteer Pikes Peak is a collaborative program of Pikes Peak United Way and the Center for Nonprofit Excellence which promotes and facilitates volunteerism in the Pikes Peak Region.