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LSUS’s INAR connecting volunteers to opportunities as part of National Volunteer Month

by Minden Press-Herald

SHREVEPORT – Volunteerism in Louisiana and across the United States is in decline, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Americorps’ Volunteering and Civic Life in America report, 22 percent of Louisianians reported volunteering through a formal organization in 2021, the most recent survey data available.

That’s down from 28 percent of Louisianians in 2019 and 26 percent in 2017, according to the survey that’s conducted every two years. The most recent national average is 23 percent in 2021, the lowest since volunteer data began being tracked back in the early 2000s.

But the Institute for Nonprofit Research and Administration at LSUS is doing its part to connect volunteers with local organizations in need.

Throughout a series of nonprofit connects meetings in Shreveport, Monroe, and Alexandria in the past few months, INAR executive director Dr. Heather Carpenter said the subject of volunteers is the most pressing issue she’s heard from North Louisiana organizations.

With April being National Volunteer Month, Carpenter said this quarter’s meetings in Shreveport (Tuesday), Alexandria (April 18) and Monroe (April 23) will focus on recruiting and managing volunteers.

Tuesday’s nonprofit connects meeting is from 8:30-10 a.m. on the third floor of the Noel Memorial Library on LSUS’s campus.

“Eighty percent of (Louisiana) nonprofits have below $500,000 in annual revenue with 44 percent with less than $100,000,” Carpenter said. “When you talk about having paid staff, a lot of smaller organizations are heavily reliant on volunteers.

“We’ve seen a huge decline in volunteerism since COVID-19, and nonprofits are still recovering. Most of the human service nonprofits we come in contact with need more direct service boots on the ground.”

INAR, which conducts nonprofit research and disseminates knowledge to organizations across the state, expanded its reach through a partnership with Louisiana Alliance for Nonprofits.

INAR organizes professional development opportunities across North Louisiana as well as serving as a hub of information and best practices to nonprofits around the state.

Volunteers interested in finding opportunities in the Shreveport-Bossier area can visit INAR’s volunteer database.

That database is undergoing an overhaul thanks to the LSUS Computer Science department, which will create a more “robust and useful” database.

“We want to play a larger role in connecting volunteers with nonprofits, and this database allows us to share any volunteer opportunity we learn about,” Carpenter said. “There are a lot of volunteer opportunities, and a lot of people who want to connect with nonprofits but don’t know how.”

Perhaps the most visible volunteer examples are large events like the Red River Revel, the Barksdale Defenders of Liberty Air Show, the Red River Balloon Rally and the Independence Bowl.

These volunteer-dependent events use boots-on-the-ground volunteers for tasks such as working entrance and registration areas.

But Carpenter said local nonprofits are searching for more long-term volunteers that typically perform more skilled tasks.

Examples of long-term volunteer service would be in roles such as board members or advisors, skilled office work or teaching/counseling with human services organizations.

These types of opportunities usually require some level of training.

“Some nonprofits don’t have paid positions but provide services that do require a certain skillset or training – meaning a volunteer can’t show up and start doing the work,” Carpenter said. “The MLK Health Center and Pharmacy is the only local free health clinic, and doctors, nurses, therapists, and others volunteer their time in addition to their normal jobs.

“Some nonprofits are looking for engaged board members, such as an anti-bullying organization that I met recently. Whether an organization has paid staff or are entirely volunteer run, they need more support in building their capacity to handle their volunteers.”

Both skilled and unskilled volunteer work has economic value.

Even with declining volunteerism rates in Louisiana, more than 783,000 residents volunteered in 2021 and provided $1.2 billion in economic value, according to Americorps’ report.

The report estimated the average benefit of a Louisiana volunteer hour was $27.39.

While volunteer opportunities exist locally every week, the next large volunteer opportunity is The United Way’s Day of Caring on May 2, which involves organizations from across the spectrum.

To learn more about the role INAR plays in the local nonprofit ecosystem, visit the organization’s website.

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