ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 8:45am
Stephanie La Loggia, M.A.

Manager of
Knowledge Resources
ASU Lodestar Center

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert from our academic faculty to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Recruiting volunteers is one of the most important jobs in most nonprofit organizations. But doing it right? That can be tricky. But, as it turns out, one of the most effective ways to reel them in is also the simplest: asking.In fact, the majority of people volunteer for an organization in response to being personally asked, as opposed to "walking in."[1]

A professor I know stated it beautifully: "I don't want to go to my HOA meeting because they will ask me to do something, and I might say yes." This is exactly why I avoided my daughter's school PTA meetings for months, despite a nagging little voice in my head urging me to go. Well, the voice eventually talked me into it (parental involvement is so important!), and I showed up for a meeting. You know how this story ends: Now, I'm the Treasurer!

In the Arizona Giving and Volunteering Report, we at the Center report the differences in the rate of volunteering across race, gender, educational attainment, and income. Consistent with other research on volunteering, being better educated, having a higher income, and being White non-Hispanic were all factors associated with a higher rate of volunteering.[2] Other research has shown that the elderly are less likely to volunteer, and women are more likely to volunteer.[3] Of course, this begs the question: Why do these factors affect the volunteer rate?


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Researchers are continuing to unravel the multitude of reasons, but one is crystal clear: They're asked more. As Marc A. Musick and John Wilson say in Volunteers: A Social Profile, "One reason, perhaps the only reason, why some factors are associated with volunteering is that they increase the chances of being asked" (293). Being asked more often explains why women, Whites, the educated, home-owners, parents, and younger people are more likely to volunteer (ibid.).

So, many of the social biases we see in volunteering actually occur at the level of asking, not the level of accepting. Remembering this crucial fact can help your recruit (ask!) new volunteers, especially when you're looking outside of your organization's typical network of people. Do you want younger people? Ask them. Older people? Ask them. A volunteer corps that is more racially or ethnically diverse? Ask them. More men? Well, we sure could use more fathers in our PTA — which means we should start asking them. Seems weird, but it would probably work.

Yet there's another reason to ask people to volunteer and not even blink an eye if the "yes" is sheepish or even downright reluctant: Because people learn what makes them happy and fulfilled by experiencing it. This is why children need to ride on fire trucks and dress up for Halloween, and this is why college programs have internships. (If you want to know more, an excellent book that summarizes research on this concept is Daniel Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness.)

When it comes to life experiences that provide fulfillment and happiness, service to others is an acquired choice. Most people don't know how it feels to, for example, read to kids at homeless shelter, until they do it.[4] If a friend asks you to volunteer for such a program, you're probably thinking of many things (the drive, other commitments, etc.), but you probably aren't hearing a child reading a word for the first time, and you probably aren't picturing the face of a kid who's excited to choose a book to take home. Only after we've done something are we qualified to decide if it's something we really want to do.

So, go ahead. Ask.


Stephanie La Loggia is the Manager of Knowledge Resources for the ASU Lodestar Center. Some of her past research projects include the Nonprofit Compensation & Benefits Report and Arizona Giving & Volunteering publications. Stephanie teaches undergraduate courses in the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, and she has also been a youth summer camp director for over 20 years.

Like this article? Get another!

Click here to read Dr. Lili Wang's "What Affects Hispanic Volunteering?"

^ [1] Volunteers: A Social Profile. Marc A. Musick and John Wilson.
^ [2] What Affects Hispanic Volunteering — Comparing Three Surveys in the United States. Lili Wang, Ph.D.
^ [3] Senior Arizona volunteers — how do they stack up against the rest of the nation? Carlton Yoshioka, Ph.D.
Three Surveys in the United States. Lili Wang, Ph.D.
^ [4] Interested in volunteering to read with kids? Check out UMOM's weekly Read to Me event by clicking here.


After reading this blog, I realized that the reason I haven't ever truly been a volunteer for something is because I have never been asked by anyone. Although it is a simple idea, I also think it is a little sad that people, such as myself, are too busy with our own lives to want to experience the happiness of helping out someone less fortunate than ourselves. It may seem silly, but this article has inspired me to start volunteering because I want to, instead of waiting for someone else to ask me.

Sarah Lucero

I think what you are saying in this post is very realistic. I know myself personally and many of my close friends have a hard time saying no to people. Especially if they are asking for my help to achieve somethings important. I think nonprofit organizations should send people out to the ASU downtown campus and simply ask the students for some help in their organization. I bet they would be surprised how many people would join, just like you are stating in your blog.
-Robyn Repp

Finding reliable volunteers can be hard. Since most people do not see what they will get out of helping especially for free. I have tried to recruit people that ended up not showing up and or at least even calling to let me know they can't make it. I have seen people I have volunteered for get stressed and upset because they end up short handed when the volunteer does not show up. It is hard for some volunteers to show up when they have nothing to gain from the gesture of volunteering.

I rarely volunteer unless someone asks me, or a professor sends out an email where some one is requesting help. I usually end up volunteering to get experience in the event field or sometimes just to get involved. Most people won't go searching for work where they will not be paid. People have a limited amount of time with their jobs and school. Most people need to work for money, especially college students with little income. It is hard to know who to really ask for help when it comes to a volunteer position. I do agree that networking and finding the right people with an email list or a phone list really does help.

Katie Dreifus

While reading this article I found myself agreeing with a lot of the statements. I personally have not gone out and searched for volunteer opportunities. This is because I have always been asked by someone to volunteer for one event or another. The company I volunteer with appeals to my interest in programming and operations of an event.

Raquel McKim

After reading your post, I realized that what you are speaking of is true in my personal experiences with volunteering. I have volunteered at a wide array of events merely because I was asked by someone. When someone asks me to help out, I feel included and welcomed into the group instead of a random person that just showed up. To me, it is like getting an invitation to a party, it would just be weird to show up without one!
-Greg DaVall

I really related to your point about people not even considering to do volunteer work until somebody asked them, thereby giving them an opportunity they hadn't considered before. When I was in 8th grade my sister asked me to help at a regatta. I had never experienced a regatta before. I found it so interesting and the sport so challenging that I joined a crew team and I have been rowing ever since. Volunteering becomes a hobby rather than a chore because of the enjoyment of it.
-Jamie Knowlton

After reading this blog, I have found shame in myself to say I have not done much volunteer work in my past, helping children is something I long for in my life. The ability to help and teach children read for the very first time is something that would be right up my ally. I have sat here while reading this, and thought to myself, Why haven't I done any of this volunteer work in the past? Well I think I have come to a conclusion. I'm simply, scared to ask, and more the less, I am lazy anymore because of the amount of school I have and after that I go to work. I would rather please a homeless shelter and help children in a way to benefit myself than hear about the children who need and want help daily. I would like to change this in my near future, so that I can not only help others, but help myself become more adapt to asking and Volunteering in the future.

I think that this article is 100% fact. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask a simple question. I realized that although I've been interested in volunteering and helping with things that I think would be something special, I never really feel like it's necessary until I am "asked" to do so. It takes life experiences to learn and grow from our mistakes, and that's something that I pride myself on. It's important to me to actually stop thinking and worrying about all of the mess I have surrounding my life, and to just stop and volunteer for others and for something. It's something a lot of people probably don't think about, but doing something as simple and volunteering for a good cause, or just simply because can be life changing to not only the others you are helping, but to yourself. A quote I really appreciate is, "if you do not ask, the answer will always be no." And to an extent that is truthful, but I'm going to try to remember that half of the volunteering is not needing to be asked, but doing just simply because!

This is a great article and I couldn't agree more. Any time anyone asks for my help or to volunteer some time I am more than willing to say yes but I have never actually went out and looked for volunteer opportunities on my own. Volunteering is so fulfilling and I always find myself wondering why I am not involved in more events but now I know its because I have simply just been "waiting" for someone to ask me to do it.

Aimee B.

Thanks to everyone for these excellent comments. These stories underscore the importance of asking for another reason - because it has become the norm for volunteer recruitment. We don't go out and search for opportunities because we often don't have to... sooner or later someone will come ask us!

Tay and anyone else interested in reading to kids once a week, see number 4 on the post. Or send me your e-mail and I'll have someone call you and ask. :)

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