Monday, February 23, 2009

Television's effects on volunteerism

Steve Waldmann, founder of Beliefnet, highlights this quote from a study on ways to improve volunteerism at non-profits in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:
[T]he primary difference between volunteers and non-volunteers, when measuring what they do with their time, is the amount of television they watch. People who do not volunteer watch hundreds of hours of additional TV a year compared to people who do volunteer. It’s not that people don’t have enough time to volunteer. People do not volunteer because nonprofits do not provide them with volunteer opportunities that interest them enough to pull them away from their television sets.


Darren Staley said...

I see this point, but with a qualifier. Politically speaking, studies have shown that in-person canvassing has a higher success rate than phone banking, emailing, letter writing, etc.

Because of this, organizers tend to recruit canvassers first and set home-volunteers aside.

This is good in the sense that if you give vols the easier path, they will take that route in many cases. "Why canvass when I can phone bank, why phone bank when I can letter write, why letter write when I can email.." etc.

Aside from the fact that I would lump more than TV into the equation..the Internet is equally distracting plus there are valid personal responsibility-based reasons.

What you do is set up a reward system. The Obama team did this perfectly. You get points for fundraising, points for canvassing, points for calls made, points for recruiting volunteers, etc.

Non-profit volunteerism is a different animal, sure. But just make it more inclusive. Ask for people to work the soup line, but also ask people who can or will not do that to collect canned foods from friends and family, or write their Reps for funding.

Once these people begin seeing the results of their work, they will want to do more. Little by little, they will move from email to phone to in-person.

Katie said...


Not only will reluctant volunteers slowly move towards more active roles as they see the amount of good they are doing, but in my experience, those who see others doing the jobs they don't want to - such as phone banking or the ever-scary canvassing - are more likely to see those jobs as things they can realistically accomplish.

Working in a rural "real Virginia" campaign office, I am convinced that the reason for our high volunteer rate of return was that they saw their friends and neighbors on the phones and thought "Well, I just came in to staff the office and answer the phone... but that doesn't seem so scary. I can do that."

It is the responsibility of an organizer in an office to recognize that opportunity, to nudge the reluctant ones and empower them, helping them to see and believe that they too can be brave, and go forth, and do the good that they see others doing.

Darren Staley said...


I agree 1000%.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with you Katie... Bones show is one of the best entertainment show on television screen. I had been searching for this series and now i have got all.