Many organizations find they have trouble recruiting volunteers of color for their agencies. Yet research shows that members of communities of color give significant time to causes that are important to them. Often, however, the causes to which they are devoted are not traditional 501(c)(3) organizations. Volunteerism and helping is often done informally in the context of the community, the neighborhood, churches, and/or the family.

Cultural differences can affect the way organizations and communities of color communicate with each other when it comes to volunteering and helping. Here are two examples of the many rich traditions held by communities of color related to helping the neighborhood, community, and family.

Churches and other houses of worship are a major center of volunteer activities for many communities of color, especially African American communities. The Black Church plays an extremely important role as a center of communal activity. (Note that while the term "the Black Church" is commonly used, there are many individual churches in African American communities with different religious traditions, beliefs, and practices and it is important to become aware of some of these differences if you hope to build alliances with individual churches.) Church is also a place where many people donate a great deal of time and money. In fact, according to some studies, half of all African Americans donate time to their churches and many perceive their contributions as important to lifting up the entire community. (See Bibliography: New Ventures in Philanthropy).  

Giving gifts of time and money within the community is common among Native Americans and is rooted in core values of sharing and reciprocity. However, until recently, traditional 501(c)(3) organizations were not a part of the tribal landscape and are, therefore, unfamiliar to some Native Americans. (See Bibliography: New Ventures in Philanthropy).  

Cultural differences can affect the way nonprofit organizations and communities of color communicate with each other when it comes to giving and volunteering: there is some evidence that some people of color do not find the specific term "volunteering" to be especially inviting. According to the Cambridge Volunteer Center, the term may have negative connotations, particularly in lower-income communities. (See Bibliography: Cambridge Volunteer Center)  Instead of "volunteering," you can use other terms such as "helping out," "giving back," "neighboring," or "community involvement." (See Bibliography: Points of Light Foundation) This text uses the combined terminology "volunteering and helping" because each term is known to resonate differently with different groups. With an awareness of potential sensitivity to these terms, it may be worthwhile for your organization to explore the cultural relevance and terminology that is most appropriate for your particular community.

Complete Developing an Action Plan for Volunteers and Helpers.


Benefits of Having a Diverse Base of Volunteers

Motivations and Barriers to Volunteering/Helping


Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Base of Volunteers/Helpers


Managing Volunteers: Policies and Benefits


Visit Discussion Forum Notes: June 9, 2011: Culture of Giving: Connecting to Donors and Volunteers of Color

We need every human gift and cannot afford to neglect any gift because of artificial barriers of sex or race or class or national origin.     
     Margaret Mead