Blog Post

68% of Nonprofits Say This About Donations vs Volunteers – “Show us the money!”

Published November 8, 2022 | by Jake Wood | 7 mins read
woman holding money make a change through donations instead of volunteers

Recently, leaders have stopped organizing employee volunteer events and shifted towards gifting and matching programs for good reasons.

That’s because company leaders have discovered that they’re not the only ones that think volunteering isn’t the best place for highly-skilled employees to spend their limited time. In fact, two-thirds of nonprofit leaders agree that donations are often better than organizing and overseeing volunteer events.

A recent poll conducted by Groundswell of 500 nonprofit leaders indicated 68% preferred receiving monetary contributions over facilitating a corporate volunteer event.

If you’ve considered putting together a volunteer event for your employees or setting up a corporate gifting and matching program, you’re in the right place.

This article helps you decide what programs are best for you and your organization, what benefits and drawbacks come with organizing volunteer events, and why companies are moving away from sending their employees out and moving towards offering employees a gifting and donation match program that sends money directly to nonprofits.

Volunteers or Donations?

Volunteering is at the heart of many charity and nonprofit organizations. Without people willing to volunteer their time to support the causes they care about, some nonprofits would fall short of their goals.

However, while the act of volunteering is noble and well intentioned, not all volunteers and volunteering activities are created equal. Most organizations that rely on volunteers to deliver services strive for volunteers who are willing to show up consistently, complete training, and execute tasks according to standards.

For example, the Boys and Girls Club’s lifeblood is community members who sign up to mentor at-risk youth. Mentors who consistently meet with, coach, and encourage their mentees can have a profound impact on that child’s life. Conversely, a volunteer that quits after two meetings can devastate a child’s self-esteem.

Similarly, Feeding America – the largest network of foodbanks in the U.S. – relies substantially on volunteers to help operate its food warehouses. But, just like any Amazon fulfillment center, maintaining an efficient operation requires effective human capital management, including volunteer scheduling and training on tasks like storing, packing and shipping different types of food items. Having dedicated volunteers that commit to consistent work shifts allows FA operations leaders to plan effectively.

There are countless examples of how committed volunteers can make a difference, but anyone considering a day of volunteering should ask themselves important questions about what the nonprofit they’re aiming to support needs most: time or money?

The Truth About Why Companies Love Corporate Philanthropy

Corporations love sending employees to help nonprofits because they see it as a win-win-win:  nonprofits get support, employees get engaged, and the company burnishes its reputation.. 

It’s clear that an army of employees adorned in color-coordinated shirts emblazoned with the company’s logo, deployed out into the community with rakes or paintbrushes, makes for a great photo op. The activity sends a message to the community that the company cares, and that’s a good thing as corporate stakeholders increasingly demand that company’s focus on social impact.

There’s also no doubt that the activity engages employees. It often gets them out of the office and mingling with one another in a low-stress, lighthearted way. Many will return to the office grateful that their employer prioritized making a difference. 

But what about the nonprofit? Have they received the resources they need most to execute their mission best?

The Pros and Cons of Hosting Volunteer Events

Corporate volunteer events are events organized by nonprofit organizations at the request of a company, often through a corporate social responsibility (CSR) team.

These events generally last a few hours, typically around the same time as an employee all-hands conference or retreat. They can be hosted at the company’s headquarters or at the nonprofit’s location. Often, employee volunteers are untrained, and despite wanting to make a difference, likely have no direct tie to or passion for the nonprofit’s mission; meaning most will conclude the event with no intention of volunteering with the organization again.

If coordinated with the nonprofit effectively and resourced appropriately, corporate volunteer events can create value.

Here are the pros and cons of corporate volunteers.

Benefits of volunteering:

  • Positive employee experience – employees that volunteer often walk away with a good experience and positive outlook on aiding others.
  • More hands on the project – some projects benefit from more people on a project, like with community clean-ups.
  • Positive company image – Employees that volunteer contribute to the philanthropic values of a company and improve its public image.

Drawbacks of volunteering:

  • Additional work for the nonprofits – Organizing an event, training new volunteers, and managing an unfamiliar person can take a lot of effort and resources away that could have otherwise been used on supporting the organization’s cause.
  • Reduced efficiency – The best nonprofits build efficient systems to do their work. Oftentimes, corporate volunteer events operate outside these systems. This can happen geographically, by dictating the location be at the corporate office, or otherwise by having to accommodate volunteers unfamiliar with the established system or process.
  • Volunteering isn’t always equitable and inclusive – Not every employee can participate in a volunteer activity. For example, if you’re cleaning up a beach employees with mobility issues could be left out.
  • Smaller return on investment – Volunteer events take a lot of work to plan, coordinate and execute, and sometimes – especially absent an additional monetary contribution from the company – the effort doesn’t yield sufficient impact.
  • Unpredictable effort and labor – The skills of volunteers can range from amateur to expert, which can make it tough for organization leaders to get high-level contributions.
  • No time — Businesses are busy. Not all employees, executives, investors, and board members have the time to commit to volunteering, making it easier to donate money instead of time.

While volunteering can have a handful of benefits, it can sometimes come with a great deal of unnecessary administrative duties that take valuable resources away from an organization’s limited resources.

Four Valuable Insights From Nonprofit Employees

Along with uncovering the reality about corporate volunteer programs, our poll revealed important insights into the truth about how nonprofits leaders felt about shifting trends in corporate philanthropy.

According to our research, 79.4% agreed that corporate volunteer events are often more focused on employee experience than generating desirable outcomes for the organization’s causes.

Notably, 56.2% experienced a corporate volunteer event that didn’t lead to efficient outcomes for the organization’s cause.

Perhaps in light of that, 72.2% believe corporations should make monetary contributions to offset the effort required to facilitate corporate volunteer events.

Finally, a remarkable 42.2% believe planning volunteer opportunities for companies is actually a distraction to their core mission.

Here’s Why Donating Is Better Than Volunteers.

Just like any business, having working capital is crucial for charities to deliver consistent outcomes.

For nonprofit organizations, donations help fuel campaign initiatives, purchase supplies, pay for employee salaries, cover the cost of insurance and support efforts made by the entity. Even volunteer events cost money! Who do you think covers the cost of those bottles of water, ham sandwiches, and cans of paint?

In other words, donations support nearly every facet of an organization, from supporting their infrastructure to facilitating initiatives and backing campaigns.

In nearly all cases, donations are much more flexible than volunteering. Donations can be used for anything related to the organization’s operation while volunteering is limited to labor-specific tasks. Volunteering is also limited by the volunteer’s level of expertise, whereas donations can be used to hire experts to accomplish the same task using less effort and resources.

Have You Launched Your Company Gifting and Matching Program?

Since donations generally contribute directly to the organization’s central mission while providing them with ultimate discretion in how to deliver impact, corporate leaders and their employees are realizing their contributions can go a lot further when donating money instead of time.

If you’re curious to learn more about how corporate gifting and matching programs work, you’ll find more resources on our blog.

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