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Washtenaw United: Building community foundations through volunteerism

Bridget Herrmann
United Way of Washtenaw County
Bridget Herrmann

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'


As the Vice President for Impact & Advocacy for United Way of Washtenaw County, Bridget is responsible for establishing, leading, and executing United Way’s community impact agenda of grant making, public policy advocacy, financial stability programs, and community partnerships. She works to find the full expression of United Way's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in its work. Her employment with United Way has taken her from Florida to Washington and now, Michigan. Originally from Miami, FL, she now calls herself a Michigander after surviving seven winters.


Volunteer Washtenaw



Volunteers in the United States hold up the foundation of civil society. They help their neighbors, serve their communities, and provide their expertise. No matter what kind of volunteer work they do, they are contributing in invaluable ways. However, not everyone has the luxury of volunteering, and that can be shifted.

Value of a volunteer hour in Michigan: $26.93/hr in 2020.

We know putting numbers to volunteer hours will never do them justice, but it is just one way for us to show the contributions individuals and organizations have made in our communities. The estimate helps acknowledge the millions of individuals who dedicate their time, talents, and energy to making a difference. Charitable organizations frequently use this estimate to quantify the enormous value volunteers provide.

Volunteers Hours donated through Catchafire in 2021: 5,200+, ROI to Washtenaw County nonprofits- >1M

Why Volunteering is Important:

  1. Volunteering time makes you feel like you have more time. Wharton professor Cassie Mogilner wrote in the Harvard Business Review that her research found those who volunteer their time feel like they have more of it. This is similar to other research showing that people who donate to charity feel wealthier.
  2. Volunteering your love makes you feel more love. Admittedly, love is a hard thing to measure. But when researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Volunteering builds empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile  — all factors that increase the feeling of love.

Why Stipend Volunteers?

Researchers (McBride, et. al., 2009) found that stipended adult volunteers served for longer periods of time than non-stipended volunteers, and that their motivations for serving were as altruistic as non-stipended volunteers. Additionally, stipended volunteers reported higher perceived benefits of participation than non-stipended volunteers. There is also evidence that stipends do not necessarily attract people who are less altruistic, but do attract people who might otherwise remain uninvolved, opening up a pool of new volunteers for organizations.


David Fair: In Washtenaw County, there are a great number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to providing safety nets and helping residents improve their current and future quality of life. Most all depend on volunteers to serve in the most effective manner. I'm David Fair, and I'd like to welcome you to this week's edition of Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU. Our guest this morning is dedicated to helping create and fill those volunteer opportunities. Bridget Herrmann is Vice President of Community Impact and Advocacy for the United Way of Washtenaw County. And welcome back to WEMU, Bridget. Welcome to springtime as well.

Bridget Herrmann: Happy to be here, David. Thank you for having me.

David Fair: Now I mentioned springtime. You are a native of Miami, but now consider yourself a Michigander. Dare I say you remain a winter novice?

Bridget Herrmann: I do. My blood has never thickened up as Michiganders like to say it will, so I'm feeling a little cheated in that experience.

David Fair: Well, again, I bring up spring, but I envision the warmer months as a time for more volunteer opportunities, and that is the time of year we're entering. When the outdoors is more in play, is that the case?

Bridget Herrmann: Indeed. People start to begin thinking about how they can contribute to their community and get outside and help local organizations during the fairer months in Michigan. Although, there are opportunities to volunteer year-round, which I'm happy to share more of, and that really opened up as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic. So, virtual volunteering has taken off, and it is present and running in Washtenaw County.

David Fair: When we talk about volunteerism, particularly now that we have some lessons learned from the pandemic, how crucial is it to the nonprofits in the area and their ability to create meaningful community impact?

Bridget Herrmann: I would say, David, that volunteers in the United States hold up the foundation of civil society. They help their neighbors. They serve their communities. They provide their expertise. And no matter what kind of volunteer work people do, they are contributing in invaluable ways. And there's a monetary value for that time. The value of the volunteer hour in Michigan is presently $26 and 93 cents, but we know that putting numbers to volunteer hours will never do them justice. They do play a critical and vital role in moving missions forward of nonprofit organizations.

David Fair: And I want to talk a little bit more about that mission, Bridget. If you don't mind, I'm going to quote the vision of the United Way of Washtenaw County reading directly. It states, "We envision an equitable community where opportunity is not limited and every member reaches their full potential. In all our roles, we will consciously work to eliminate injustice and inequity." Now, Bridget, that's a lofty vision. Your contention that volunteers in place perhaps one of the more significant roles in helping us realize it.

Bridget Herrmann: Volunteers play a vital role. However, we have come to learn over the last couple of years due to our focus on attending to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and how to be more inclusive in advancing our mission that volunteering for some is a privilege. And so, what we're trying to acknowledge and undo and address are the ways that we have been excluding some community members from volunteering their time and talent. One of the ways that we're doing that now is by offering volunteer stipends to cover expenses associated with volunteering for United Way. For example, as a grant reviewer for our Community Impact Grants, because we know that when you're volunteering, you're incurring expenses. Perhaps, there are childcare expenses for you to be fully present. Perhaps, there are transportation costs or internet costs for you to incur. And so, we want to be mindful of that. So, compensating our volunteers so that they can fully participate is one new aspect that we're paying attention to. And now, we're also paying attention to the time of day in which we engage volunteers because we know that, traditionally, we've been engaging volunteers, at least, during regular business hours, which for our folks who work an eight to five. Perhaps, they can't get away during the business day to lend their time and talent to advance our mission.

David Fair: We're talking volunteerism with Bridget Herrmann from the United Way of Washtenaw County on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. When we take a look at the breakdown of who does volunteer and who can commit that time at this point, do we find that it is as racially segregated as Washtenaw County is economically segregated--eighth-most income segregated community in the country?

Bridget Herrmann: Gosh, David, I don't have hard numbers behind that. I can only speak from my experience. And so, what I would say is at United Way of Washtenaw County, historically, the volunteers that we've been able to engage are those in white collar jobs and those who have the economic privilege to take time away from their work day to help us out. And so, that is an area of opportunity, and I would imagine that that probably holds true for other nonprofits in our community. Unless, like us, they're beginning to examine and shift their practices around who gets to volunteer and whose voices and expertise they want to be listening to and learning from.

David Fair: I don't want to diminish, in any way, shape, or form, those who do have the privilege of volunteering and choose to do so. This has been a very generous community. A lot of money raised in Washtenaw County every year, every month, to help address a variety of needs and causes. It is greatly needed. It is greatly appreciated. When you're interacting with donors, what argument do you make for taking it to another level and asking for that time in service?

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah. You know, David, we've had some interesting conversations with donors and then with community members who say, "Gosh, why would United Way ever stipend volunteers?" We're not sure about that. And so, we had to dig into some research, and research has found that by stipending adult volunteers allowed them to serve for longer periods of time than non-stipened volunteers. And, importantly, the motivation for serving was just as altruistic as volunteers who were not receiving stipends. Because there's this worry that, "Oh, if I'm stipending--offering a stipend--will I get folks who are just there for the money?" And the research does not bear that out. Additionally, we know that when you stipend volunteers, research shows that they report higher perceived benefits of participation than non-stipended volunteers. And so, we do know that it would attract people who might otherwise remain uninvolved, opening up a new pool of volunteers for organizations. And I think that the conversation...that's one conversation we have with donors. The other conversation we have is that I think we oftentimes don't think about the full capacity of an individual. And so, offering volunteerism is something that we always need to do when we're asking for money and an investment in our mission through monetary resources, asking for that investment of time and talent as well, and being open to figuring out what that could look like.

David Fair: And I'm curious. And, again, there's probably no hard data on this, but perhaps you can speak to it anecdotally. When someone who has traditionally given money to a particular cause, do you find that they start to feel more ownership when they do take that next step and become part of the volunteer service?

Bridget Herrmann: Absolutely, David. It really makes the mission real for people. For example, when you have a donor who's been able to serve on a United Way committee or is able to participate as a grant reviewer on the investments that we direct back out in the community, it really brings to life the power that we have at the United Way and the power that they are making possible through a donor and through a volunteer. So we see higher engagement overall from our volunteers. Our donors who become volunteers and vice versa. Our volunteers who become donors. They really get it, for lack of a better word, and I think it makes a stronger connection overall to our community.

David Fair: You mentioned the stipend, Bridget Herrmann, and when talking about paying people to volunteer, well, it addresses a particular need, in particular parts of the community. Beyond that, what are the plans for making volunteerism in Washtenaw County even more inclusive and diverse?

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah, we are. You know, you mentioned at the start of the call, David, that people are looking to engage in outdoor volunteer service activities. And that's one way for people to volunteer. We also know that, you know, we want to provide folks opportunities to contribute their time and talent from the comfort of their home. The pandemic is ongoing. It is now endemic. So, what we have in place now is a relationship with a platform. It's called Catchafire. And so, if you go to Washtenaw dot catch a fire dot org, you can see projects posted by local organizations that they need assistance. But they need technical assistance for marketing communications, a strategic plan, maybe a marketing plan. So, if you're not ready to get yourself to get your boots on and your hands dirty, there are other ways for you to volunteer virtually in our community that have a meaningful and sustained impact on local human service organizations.

David Fair: We've seen it happen here at WEMU, but sometimes these volunteer positions turn into full-time jobs or at least part-time jobs. And do you see that happen quite frequently in your work?

Bridget Herrmann: Yeah, you know, you kind of creep into something and then you unlock this need that's being fulfilled or this desire that's being met. You know, we know, you know, if I'm going back to the research, research also shows two really important benefits of volunteering. Volunteering your time, curiously enough, makes you feel like you have more time. This is similar to other research showing that people who donate to charity feel wealthier themselves. So, it's this very strange thing. So for folks who feel like they don't have enough time, maybe volunteering is the solution for you to kind of open up and shift that mental model. The other important thing is that research shows that volunteering makes you feel more loved, and love is a very abstract concept. But this research has found that the more people volunteer, the happier they were because volunteering builds empathy, strengthens social bonds, and makes you smile. And who doesn't need more of that at this particular point in time?

David Fair: I think we're all in that same boat, and thank you for your time today, Bridget. I do appreciate it.

Bridget Herrmann: You're welcome, David. Happy to be part of the conversation. And I would be remiss if I didn't point folks to our virtual volunteer center. That's www dot volunteer Washtenaw dot org, where you can find about in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities year-round in our community.

David Fair: That is the expert voice. It is Bridget Herrmann, the vice president of Community Impact and Advocacy for the United Way of Washtenaw County. Again, for more information on all we've covered for you today and for any links you may need, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this year eighty nine one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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