Final Report on “A Comprehensive Guide to Volunteerism in Westchester”

Working on this report has been one of the most challenging things I’ve done thus far in my educational career. The work I’ve had to do has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and for that, I am honored to have had the opportunity to work on this project. A study showed that New York State ranked 49th out of 51 in volunteerism. So the goal of this project was to determine approximately how many volunteers there are in Westchester County, how many hours they are volunteering, provide recommendations of what volunteer managers in Westchester County need to improve their services, and use the data collected to provide recommendations on ways Westchester County can improve and promote volunteerism. While this report is still a work in progress, the chosen research methodology was mixed-method, with a quantitative survey distributed to various volunteer managers across Westchester County and qualitative follow-up interviews to be conducted. The data received from this survey would be compared to the aforementioned Bureau of Labor Statistics NYS volunteering data. Our study was modeled after one done on Ulster County by The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz.

With over 1000 nonprofit organizations in New York State, our goal was to have between 100 and 200 responses for at least a 10% response rate. In order to achieve this, I worked in conjunction with Nonprofit Westchester and Volunteer NY! to reach out to volunteer managers from different organizations and encourage them to take the survey. To date, we have received 149 submitted surveys. Contacting these volunteer managers has definitely been the most difficult part of this entire project because it forced me to leave my comfort zone. I usually revert to just emailing people so that I don’t have to deal with awkward phone interactions but, in this case, the most effective method of communication was a phone call. Having to make all of these phone calls taught me how to be more confident in cold-calling people for a cause and also taught me how to be clear and succinct. These skills help me two-fold. First and foremost, they help me in my career. I’m a journalism major so cold-calling sources is an everyday part of my job. Having to do this for the research project has made me more confident in doing so for work and has actually helped me land some very important sources for stories that I’m working on at my current internship in a nonprofit newsroom. The second area in which it’s helped me is in my position as an advocate for change. Being an advocate means stepping up and calling on others to make change, like our elected officials. I am now more confident and feel more capable of my abilities to successfully do so.

With this project, I was lucky enough to have not just one, but two mentors guiding me. Whether it was through our weekly email updates or weekly phone calls, they were always there to answer any questions I had about absolutely anything. They’ve helped me become a better researcher because they’ve pushed me to think outside the box. When the time came for me to begin looking at the data, they provided me with guiding questions so as not to become overwhelmed by the mass amounts of information the survey left us with. Both of them have been extremely supportive of my endeavors related to the project and otherwise. They both have provided me with affirmations that what I’m doing is valuable to this project, which has helped me push forward.

I plan on working with both Heather and Tyler to see this report to completion. I surround myself with a community, especially at Pace, where volunteerism is made a priority. To see that report about New York State was shocking and is part of the reason why I feel so honored in participating in this research project. Working on this project has altered how I see and understand the community around me. In one of my prior blog posts, I noticed the shocking differences in funding for these organizations. It seemed almost unreal to me that nonprofit organizations were operating with millions of dollars as their budget. Nonprofits are often synonymous with not having much to work with, but these survey results thus far have shown me otherwise. Another thing that was, for some reason, shocking to me, was that most of the nonprofits that participated in our survey are completely volunteer run. This aligns more with the “nonprofits have no money” train of thought but seem strange when the data is saying that nonprofits are operating with millions of dollars in budget. This brings about an entirely different set of questions. Nonetheless, I am excited to see what final results the survey will produce and how it all comes together in our report.

Updates on “A Comprehensive Guide to Volunteerism in Westchester”

We’ve made some good progress so far with our survey. Our initial goal was to reach 100 participants and we’ve surpassed that goal! Now, our next goal is to reach 200 participants and this is is where things start to get more intense. Good time management skills will be essential now more than even because I work full time during the week and sometimes on weekends, but it’s important that my work for this project gets done.

One of the greatest challenges thus far has been contacting the right people. I have a spreadsheet filled with information for people from different organizations to contact but I’ve found that the numbers can be incorrect and, often, the person listed on the spreadsheet doesn’t actually work for the organization anymore. Then it becomes a matter of finding who the person is that I need to speak to now, getting their information, and convincing them to participate in the survey. I hadn’t realized how much time would be spent leaving voicemails. But it’s not all bad. The people I speak with are usually very pleasant and tend to be more than willing to help! It makes all my work worth it when I learn how willing people are to help us.

Some of the findings from the data revolve around budgets and status of the organization. For example, I was under the impression that almost all organizations that would rely on volunteers would be nonprofit organizations but, based on the current results of our survey, there is a significant portion of participants who come from for-profit corporations. In that same respect, most associate nonprofit organizations with having small budgets, hence the need for volunteers but, based on the current results of our survey, some of the organizations we’ve surveyed have budgets of over $20,000,000. My main question from these findings in particular is: If an organization is operating with a budget this large, what is the need for volunteers? Where is the money going exactly?

On a larger scale, what I’ve learned from the project thus far is that there are many more aspects behind volunteerism than meets the eye. It’s a very large and complex world. Volunteerism is not a universal concept where the same rules apply to everyone. Not every organization (or corporation) that requests the help of volunteers necessarily needs them, in terms of free labor. Some certainly do, like those with smaller operating budgets, but organizations with larger operating budgets may not. And the question is why do they still request this help? These findings are the most interesting to me thus far and, once we’ve closed the survey, I can’t wait to delve deeper into what they could possibly mean for the state of volunteerism in New York.

This project is becoming something much larger than I’d expected it to. I’m looking forward to determining what exactly our findings are by the end of this and presenting them to the Pace community during Undergraduate Research Day in the Spring semester. We are a community that is based in volunteerism and helping others so the fact that there may be another angle to this that we’re not quite seeing yet — one that goes beyond just the number of volunteers in Westchester County and figuring out how to improve the ranking of New York State in terms of volunteers — may become a point of conversation and further investigation.