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Volunteers seek high impact

Beth Steinhorn has a message for New Hampshire nonprofits that want to attract more volunteers: "The days of the gray-haired ladies showing up every Tuesday at noon are waning. That generation is aging out."

Today's volunteers want to use their professional skills in shorter-term, high-impact projects, she said. "More and more people are interested in having opportunities to make a measurable difference and be collaborators and colleagues."

And she said New Hampshire "is leading the way" in responding to that change.

The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and NH Center for Nonprofits tapped Steinhorn, a senior strategist with JFFixler Group in Colorado, for a joint initiative called High Impact Volunteer Engagement (HIVE). Over the next year, Steinhorn will work with 10 New Hampshire nonprofit organizations to boost volunteer engagement.

Groups have until Feb. 28 to apply for the HIVE project.

Representatives from more than 80 nonprofits attended a workshop Steinhorn held here last month to talk about these demographic shifts.

Previous generations of volunteers, she said, "were greatly motivated by a desire to join organizations and to stay out of loyalty."

"Today, baby boomers and the generations that followed have many more people who volunteer for multiple organizations," she said.

And while the volunteerism rate is rising, the number of hours each individual contributes has been declining, she noted. "People really are looking for shorter, higher-impact activities rather than joining a committee, which to many younger volunteers is like a life sentence."

As a result, she said, organizations need to create new opportunities "that allow volunteers to really use their skills in project management and leadership and innovation."