How Many Volunteers Does It Take To Repair a Home?
We’ve been collecting data from ReFrame Association members about the numbers of volunteers and homes repaired for 4 years. Last year, we had 45 organizational members. These members facilitated over 62,000 volunteers in repairing almost 5,500 homes for low-income families. Since volunteer recruitment and retention are very important for most home repair nonprofits, we analyzed the data in order to identify some trends to share.
We explored the average number of volunteers it takes to repair one house. In 2016, it was 11.60. (We collect volunteer data about the previous year as members join or renew throughout the year. Therefore, the information that we finished collecting in December was for 2016; we don’t have 2017 data yet. We did not include data for members that didn’t use any volunteers.) However, since we increase the number of association members each year, it isn’t very useful to compare data for all members each year. Instead, let’s look at 17 organizations that were members all 4 years:
The number for each organization varies greatly because of the diversity of home repair program models. The range is from 0.87 to 41.6; the median is 10. Factors that affect the number: scope of repairs (smaller projects can be completed faster and with fewer volunteers), work crew size, volunteer skill level, and length of volunteer service. Some nonprofits also have staff or contractors complete some repairs, which also affects the number.
We don’t currently collect information about the number of volunteer hours that are served with each organization; if we do in the future, we could calculate the average number of volunteer hours it takes to complete each home, and remove the length of volunteer service from the list of factors above.
There appears to be a trend of the number increasing; these 17 ReFrame members are averaging more volunteers per home repaired than they were previously. This could be due to having fewer skilled volunteers, completing more extensive projects, hiring fewer contractors, or a combination of these and other factors.
What does this mean for volunteer recruitment, project management, and reporting?
It could be useful for home repair nonprofits to analyze the average number of volunteers they need to repair a home. If the number has changed significantly over time, why? Was it due to an intentional shift in the program model, or did outside factors cause it? How did the change impact the organization’s finances? What other impacts did it have? If the overall impact was positive, what could be done to encourage the trend to continue? If not, how could the trend be reversed?
When setting annual goals, home repair organizations could consider the average number of volunteers it takes them to repair a home. A nonprofit might begin with setting a goal for the number of homes they want to repair, and then use the information to determine the number and types of volunteers needed to meet their goal. For example, if the nonprofit has previously needed an average of 12 volunteers to repair one home and they want to repair 50 homes, they’ll likely to need 600 volunteers. This information could help with creating a volunteer recruitment and retention plan, and might also affect project selection and management.
Many ReFrame members have struggled to recruit volunteers in recent years. The Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly published a report in 2016 that affirms our anecdotal evidence that a decline in church attendance is negatively affecting volunteerism. To repair more homes without increasing the number of volunteers, a nonprofit could invite their most skilled volunteers to volunteer more - intentionally reducing the average number of volunteers needed to repair a home. This could impact the budget, however, as building materials will be used faster. For nonprofits that rely on volunteer fees to cover the cost of materials, this might not be a viable option, unless they also increase fundraising efforts. Another solution could be to select smaller projects in order to stretch repair resources to more homes. This could prevent the nonprofit from completing high impact repairs, however.
So, a better alternative for nonprofits struggling with volunteer recruitment and retention might be to focus less on the number of homes repaired. They could instead show an increase in work by reporting the number of repair projects completed (counting wheelchair ramps, roofs, floors, etc. separately), or, better yet, focus on the outcomes of their work more than outputs.
We look forward to “slicing and dicing” our members’ data in other ways. Are volunteer numbers decreasing for most ReFrame members? What do members with increasing numbers of volunteers have in common? Stay tuned for a future blog post about trends in home repair volunteer numbers.
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