Cost of Living Crisis: Effects on Volunteering and Charities

Explore the cost of living crisis and its impact on volunteering, charities, and communities. Learn how financial strain affects social trends.

While the cost-of-living crisis always means heavy blows of fate for individuals, inflation and the rising cost of basic necessities are immediately followed by an often unnoticed wave hitting volunteering organizations and charities.

Rising grocery prices, student loans, and healthcare costs have significantly impacted individuals’ ability to volunteer. As housing costs increase, people face higher rent or mortgage payments, skewing their budgets and leaving less disposable income.

Let’s explore how that affects the United States and its communities financially and in terms of volunteering trends.


Understanding the impact of housing and living expenses on volunteering

Based on the latest economic research, the typical American household needs to allocate over 30% of income toward rent, and the country is seeing the highest number of homeless people since 2007. According to the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2023 Report, 65% of adults said changes in food costs and other basic expenses from 2023 to 2024 made their financial situation worse.

While it’s too soon to predict a detailed outcome for local volunteering organizations, patterns observable in the U.K. can give us an idea, keeping in mind that components of core inflation vary from one economy to the next. 34% of charities in the U.K. cite the cost-of-living crisis as an issue for volunteer retention.

We know that certain ethnic minorities in the U.S. were more likely to experience financial hardship during the pandemic. Given that rural counties in the South already show higher rates of food insecurity, they’ll likely follow similar paths to the 47% of Black, Asian and minority ethnic volunteers in the U.K. who said they had to volunteer less due to work and payment obligations. Between 2019 to 2021, the total number of Americans who volunteered formally already dropped from 30% to 23%.

On the flip side, 52% of Gen Z respondents reported that the cost-of-living crisis made them want to volunteer, which goes to show that engaging this demographic will be as important as optimizing resources. In fact, nearly 51% of the U.S. population aged 16 and over said they helped neighbors informally at the height of the pandemic, so targeted engagement and retention strategies will play an increasingly crucial role in maintaining a healthy volunteer workforce.

In 2023, 66.3% of U.S. nonprofits already reported on monthly costs affecting hiring strategies and upgrading equipment.

Even though the final numbers on volunteering aren’t in, it’s safe to assume the rising average cost of miscellaneous goods, not to mention healthcare costs, will continue to impact individuals' ability to volunteer.

Higher living cost means individuals often need to work longer hours or multiple jobs to earn a living wage without being dependent on income support. This leaves less time and energy for activities such as volunteering. For many who are worried about personal loans or life insurance, volunteering quickly becomes a luxury they can no longer afford. 

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Challenges faced by charities in the United States

Charities in the United States are grappling with numerous challenges, especially those related to the cost of living.

Decrease in donations: Economic downturns often lead to a significant drop in donations and funding. With donors having less disposable income, charities face financial strain.

Increased demand for services: Amid reduced resources, higher demand for charitable services becomes a pressing issue. People seek more assistance, which stretches the limited resources even further.

Operational costs: Prices for goods, services, and utilities keep rising, straining charity budgets. This includes increased costs for housing, healthcare, and education, which directly impact the overall expenditure.

Staffing costs: Besides volunteers, many charities have to cover staffing costs. For those organizations unable to rely solely on volunteers, this adds a layer of financial burden. Strategies to quantify the value of volunteers can be explored to better understand and manage these costs.

Resource allocation: Charities often face the challenging task of prioritizing needs. Deciding which programs and services should take precedence requires careful consideration and frequently leads to difficult decisions about resource allocation.

Emergency fund allocation: Unpredictable economic conditions necessitate having emergency funds. However, the uncertainty of funding can make it challenging to maintain these reserves while continuing daily operations.

Community engagement: Building and maintaining community engagement and awareness is vital for support. Engaging the community in advocacy efforts can help raise crucial funds and resources.

Cybersecurity risks: With increased reliance on digital platforms, charities also face cybersecurity risks. Ensuring compliance with regulations and protecting sensitive data is essential but often resource-intensive.

Navigating these challenges requires a delicate balance of financial management, effective community engagement, and adaptive strategies to ensure sustainability.


The Definitive Guide to Successful Volunteer Recruitment

Meet the number one challenge for many volunteer programs - finding more people to support your cause or event.


Strategies for engaging volunteers who may struggle with living costs

No matter which demographic you focus on, each one demands a tailored engagement strategy, and even more so during a cost-of-living crisis. When personal obligations pile up, a meaningful volunteer experience can support organizations to retain more volunteers. Here’s how:

Engage volunteers meaningfully

Engaging volunteers in a valuable way maximizes their impact and improves retention. Providing clear role descriptions and scheduling expectations helps volunteers handle their time efficiently. Rosterfy’s simplified scheduling features make it easy to manage volunteer shifts, keeping everyone informed about where and when they’re needed.

Flexible volunteering opportunities

Offering flexible opportunities, such as short-term, remote, and micro-volunteering, can reduce the financial burden related to transportation and childcare. These options cater to different lifestyles and commitments. Rosterfy’s task automation features help volunteer managers focus on the cause rather than the admin, allowing for more flexible volunteer management.

Recognize and appreciate volunteers

Utilizing features that allow for individualized training and participation tracking can make volunteers feel valued and supported. Even highlighting these aspects during volunteer onboarding can significantly boost morale and retention. Rosterfy’s attendance tracking and rewards and recognition features simplify the process and ensure volunteers’ contributions are acknowledged.

Provide support and resources

Providing support and resources to volunteers is essential. Offering financial assistance for expenses like transportation, groceries, and childcare can alleviate financial pressures. Additionally, providing training and development opportunities enhances their skills and contributions. Rosterfy’s effective onboarding functionality ensures all your volunteers get off to a great start by automating the onboarding process and skills evaluation.

Create a positive and inclusive environment

A positive environment where volunteers feel welcome and included is even more important for groups who tend to struggle disproportionately under economic conditions. This can involve fostering a supportive community and encouraging open communication. Such an atmosphere promotes well-being and motivation, allowing your organization to support the community in two ways.

Clear communication and expectations

Maintaining clear communication is vital. This involves providing transparent role descriptions, using effective scheduling tools and maintaining regular communication channels. This clarity helps volunteers manage their budget and time. Rosterfy’s SMS and email automation triggers let you send follow-up messages to volunteers, ensuring they stay informed and engaged.

Implementing these strategies helps address the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. For additional tips, here are more useful suggestions on keeping volunteers engaged

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Effective recruitment strategies in challenging times

When trying to attract and retain volunteers, organizations need to consider what might motivate them, even if financial pressure or commutes add more obstacles. For many nonprofits, the answer will be to flip the script by offering skill-based volunteering and mentorship programs.

While the mental health benefits of volunteering are probably even more important during a cost-of-living crisis, they’ll often seem less tangible than hard skills for those who are still on the fence about getting involved.

Once you’ve identified volunteers with special skills, whether it’s project management, IT, or marketing, it’s easy to show appreciation to those who put in extra effort while making the organization as a whole more attractive to those who don’t have those skills yet. Consider corporate partnerships to leverage external expertise while supporting enterprises in their social responsibility efforts.

Most importantly, keep in mind that every demographic will volunteer their time for different reasons. Some may feel a connection to their local community, while others look for an exchange with other generations or meaningful family activities. Make sure to tailor recruitment and retention strategies for each of those groups (and more), so that nobody feels left out or alienated by your messaging.

The true cost of this crisis would be a loss of community. Help prevent it now.

The cost-of-living crisis is hitting communities hard, impacting everything from groceries to healthcare. With soaring prices of staple goods, many families struggle to afford basic necessities. This leaves them with little to no disposable income for recreation and social activities that can strengthen community bonds.

Communities are the backbone of society, providing support systems and a sense of belonging. The stress of higher taxes and reduced purchasing power can erode these networks. We should remind ourselves and others that community groups play a vital role in supporting those who are struggling to meet their necessary spending needs.

Housing and financial stress can lead individuals to relocate to a new city, further fragmenting communities. As moving costs and income taxes weigh on families, the decision to uproot can be both financially and emotionally taxing. People leaving their familiar surroundings can lead to a breakdown in local support systems.

Organizations must step up to prevent the erosion of community bonds. By engaging with volunteer groups and optimizing resources, it's possible to maintain and strengthen community ties during these tough times. Trusted partners like Rosterfy can help tailor volunteer programs to save resources and create a personalized volunteer journey.

If you’re curious how Rosterfy can boost your community's resilience to face this crisis, book a call now.

About Rosterfy

Rosterfy is used by nonprofits, charities, sporting federations, local governments, and more to better manage their volunteer programs by improving how they can recruit, screen, train, and retain volunteers.

Our market leading technology helps you create an engaging experience throughout the whole lifecycle of your volunteer journey.

Book a call today.

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