Celebrating the Value of Main Street Volunteers


Volunteers: The Driving Force in Revitalization!

My frequent travels to Main Streets across the country allow me the great and unique privilege to witness the strong volunteer spirit building vitality in the heart of communities and neighborhood districts. Whether through service in boards, committees, or specific projects, many people are coming together through Main Street to invest their time, skills and talents, and even their financial support to not only give back to their community, but perhaps even more importantly, to gain their communities back!

The National Main Street Center is proud to salute the thousands of Main Street volunteers of all ages and backgrounds dedicated to giving back to their communities. We value volunteers as our greatest asset and recognize them as the driving force making Main Street a successful approach to the revitalization of many communities in almost every state of the union!

The value and impact of Main Street volunteers goes well beyond free labor for projects, events, or activities. Through Main Street, every member of the community – from residents to businesses and property owners – provide a strong foundation for leadership and support to new and mature programs as they invest their talents to foster a strong sense of place and increase economic vitality in their communities.

The application process for the designation of Main Street programs provides an important tool for new revitalization programs to gather community support that in turn can build a strong volunteer leadership base for their efforts. In Michigan for example, every community applying for designation plans a community presentation with often dozens of volunteer leaders traveling to Lansing to build their case on why their community should be a Main Street program.

During the presentation for their designation application, over 70 local leaders and volunteers participated in Saline, Michigan. (c) Saline Main Street

Conducting annual accreditation visits for mature Main Street programs in states such as Missouri also provides the opportunity to see the continued impact of long-term volunteers in mature programs as well. For instance, visiting the post office in Downtown Washington is a beautiful experience. But it becomes an amazing experience, when you learn the details on how courageous volunteer leaders not only saved the postal service from leaving downtown, but were also able to raise the funds to buy the building and renovate it to its original and impressive beauty.

It is so motivating to see Main Street board and committee leaders not only sit at the table to discuss projects and events, but put their hands to work to make those projects happen enhancing every aspect of the quality of life of their communities. The Main Street committees offer everyone in the community a great opportunity to find their own “niche” within the revitalization efforts. For example, through the Design Committees, volunteer leaders become essential partners to local governments and building owners in physical improvements of public space and buildings. Through their preservation efforts, they foster a strong sense of place that makes communities unique in historic character and identity. Niles, Michigan Design Committee for example, worked very hard through the application process to achieve State and National Historic District designation for their downtown. Those efforts helped them achieve their national Main Street accreditation last year as well.

Placing a Value on Volunteer Time

Main Street organizations are very familiar with state and national designation standards that require them to track the reinvestment ratio within their revitalization process. Although most numbers relate to results in building improvements, new businesses, or number of jobs, many are also working hard at tracking volunteer time and in doing so, they are able to show the community’s level of support.

In 2012, the Corporation for National and Community Service reported that “altogether, 64.5 Americans volunteered nearly 7.9 billion hours in 2012." This represents an estimated value of nearly $175 billion, based on the Independent Sector's estimate of the average value of a volunteer hour.

Although the volunteer rate dropped a bit from the previous year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released earlier this year (February 2014) shows that one out of every four Americans continued to volunteer at least once from September 2012 thru September 2013; spending a median of 50 hours in volunteer activities during this period.

The Independent Sector, a national organization that sponsors research and advocacy for the philanthropic sector, provides a table that charitable organizations can apply to “quantify” in-kind volunteer support with an estimated “Value of Volunteer Time." This value varies for each state, but they found that the average value of volunteer hour in 2012 was $22.14.  To see the value of volunteer time estimated for your state or details on how the value is calculated, please click here.

infographicVolunteers Add Financial Support

As nonprofit organizations strive to achieve their missions through financial investment from individuals, corporations, foundations, and their local governments; tracking in-kind contributions as an important part of their funding structure can also help them build their case for financial support from their public and private partners. In recent years, more public and private sector funders are valuing the in-kind contribution offered by volunteer time as a clear sign of community support. Consequently, several more grants allow a matching portion or percentage of in-kind contributions as valid return on their investment.

Measuring the impact of volunteer support goes beyond tracking the contribution of their “time." The Corporation for National and Community Service reported that “volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers.” An organization that values and provides a fulfilling environment to their volunteers might be able to not only get their time, but also their financial support!

Volunteers Add Volunteers

Another important element of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report regards how volunteers become involved with an organization. The findings show “about 40.8 percent of volunteers became involved with their main organization after being asked to volunteer, most often by someone in the organization. About 43.0 percent became involved on their own initiative—that is, they approached the organization.”

So, in addition to time, skills, and financial support, your existing volunteers might be your best recruitment tool to finding more volunteers for your efforts. These numbers just come to confirm what we said at the beginning. Volunteers are Main Street’s biggest assets!

As former National Trust President Dick Moe stated “Communities can be changed by choice or by chance. We can keep on accepting the kind of communities we get, or we can start creating the kind of communities we want!”  Volunteering in Main Street provides local stakeholders the opportunity to come together with strong public and private sector partners to take charge of change and as a result build stronger and more sustainable communities everyone can enjoy!                                                      Click Image to View Larger Version                

Join Us in the Celebration

The National Main Street Center proudly joins in the celebration of National Volunteer Month. Next week we will highlight important topics related to volunteering - from growing trends, research and stats, to examples and tips in managing volunteers, retaining their support, and best recruitment practices.  Please join us in celebrating the value of your local Main Street volunteers by sharing with the national network your own success stories and examples of how the support of volunteers is bringing life and economic vitality back to your community. You just may see your story appear on either Facebook or Twitter or on the National Main Street Center homepage

Submission Instructions: Please send picture(s) with an accompanying 3 - 5 sentence description of your Main Street volunteer efforts to Rachel Bowdon at rbowdon@savingplaces.org.  Thank you!