2 Surprising Ways COVID Has Impacted Volunteerism in Houston

People are motivated to volunteer for a multitude of reasons and find ways to connect with nonprofits in a variety of ways under normal circumstances. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Volunteer Houston reached out to the general volunteer community in the greater Houston, Texas area in April and May of 2020 to understand how the global pandemic has affected their desires and motivations to volunteer.

Some Of The Findings Were Expected

  • There was an increase in the number of volunteers who are choosing not to volunteer at all after the pandemic.
  • The most significant distractions from volunteer service are the safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, looking for a new job, underlying health conditions, nonprofits closing, fellow residents not taking social distancing seriously and shelter in place orders.
  • Volunteer Houston saw a steep decline in the number of people responding to volunteer opportunities in the VH portal in March – May, 2020.

Others Surprised Us

Volunteers are quite eager to volunteer virtually or remotely. And of those who feel comfortable and safe volunteering virtually, a much smaller subset feel prepared with the right equipment and/or skills to volunteer virtually. (Personally, I would have guessed many more would have been uncomfortable or unprepared to volunteer virtually.)

It’s about equal. There are nearly the same number of volunteers who are less inclined to volunteer in the wake of the pandemic, as there are who have neutral feelings toward volunteering. There’s high potential for nonprofits to motivate the neutral volunteers to find and respond to volunteer needs during this time.

Nearly just as many people like to volunteer for several different organizations as they like to volunteer for a single organization.

What do we do with this information?

We know that many individuals have much more time on their hands as they work and stay at home. While we have certainly found ways to mobilize them to perform volunteer service in greater numbers, we may have not yet mastered the art of it! There is pent-up willingness to volunteer when health and safety are less of a concern and we should plan for that resurgence of service.  Let’s focus on the potential to engage volunteers who are still willing or feeling neutral!

Creating opportunities that overcome personal concerns and objections offer the opportunity to attract and retain an increase of volunteers now and in the future.

In other words, it all comes down to messaging. There’s no doubt in my mind that nonprofits are already offering volunteer opportunities that overcome concerns and objections. The trick is to advertise your volunteer opportunities in that way. Here are a few examples:

  • Do you have spare time and want to help out amid the pandemic?
  • Chat with your friends/family on ZOOM while you [[write letters / build birdhouses]] for [[Your Organization]]!
  • Start a new hobby with [[Your Organization]] while [[growing seedlings]] in the safety of your home!
  • Think you’re tech savvy? We need you!
  • You’re never too young to start volunteering! Consider these family-friendly opportunities.
  • You’re never too old to start volunteering! Consider these weekday opportunities.


Permission to Duplicate or Reference findings and content from this summary of survey results is granted on the condition that a reference to “Volunteer Houston, a program of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston” with a link to www.volunteerhouston.org is included in the reproduction or reference.