Help wanted: volunteers in small communities

On Sunday evening, I went to a fundraising event for a nonprofit that puts on a three-day country fair every summer. The event’s main coordinator, a volunteer who has been the master planner for this fair on a year-round basis for a long time, has decided to step down. The nonprofit does not have a succession plan to help it move through this time of transition, and no one has come forward to take the event coordinator’s place. Unless at least one dedicated soul comes forward to serve in this demanding volunteer role before the nonprofit’s next meeting in February, the fair will be cancelled.

The ever-present need for volunteers, and lamentations about the lack of them, is a well-known theme to anyone involved with the nonprofit sector. I heard a lot about it at the event on Sunday night, and I have seen this problem in many other nonprofits in the past.

A similar concern over the lack of volunteers can be found in the small towns of western Massachusetts, towns that have been set up to operate almost entirely on the voluntary efforts of local residents. We depend on volunteers to do everything from fighting fires and going on ambulance runs to serving on planning boards and staffing after school programs. Our towns are in trouble when residents stop showing up contribute their unpaid services for the common good. The need for volunteers is an issue my Select Board has been treating as a top priority this year.

With so much awareness of the need for volunteers — combined with a lack of them, in many cases — around me right now, I want to spend some time in this blog talking about volunteers. These posts will be an opportunity for me to share some resources I have found useful and to explore this challenging topic in more depth.

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