top of page

Treat Volunteers like Compost?

I recently bought myself a present: a composting service. For a ridiculously high sum--$40 per month--Compost Now comes to our house weekly, picks up our compostables, and leaves an empty bucket to be refilled next week.

I used to compost in my backyard but found that the system failed in the cold of the winter and the bin often filled up faster than it composted. The home system was limited to plant compostables while Compost Now accepts meat, grains, and even paper towels. I feel good about reducing my waste stream--we produce about 30% less garbage with all that we compost. I do wonder about paying $10 a week for composting when the city would not charge me at all (outside of the taxes I already pay) to collect my garbage if I did not compost.

I realize that composting is good for the environment, but I could do many good things with the $40 per month I pay Compost Now. I could give that amount of money to Student U which supports traditionally marginalized students in their education journey. And I would get a tax deduction to boot. If I want to support the environment, I could give the money to any number of excellent environmental nonprofits and, again, I would get a tax deduction.

I choose Compost Now instead for a number of reasons. One, (and this is embarrassing) I like the story it tells about me when my Compost Now bucket is in front of my house every Tuesday. The neighbors are saying to themselves, or so I convince myself, look at that environmentally conscious Michelman; we should be more like him. And I don’t have to brag about my environmental credentials. I only have to put out my bucket.

I also like that I have to do something to earn my accolades. It feels good to consciously separate compostables from the rest of the garbage stream. I like to do good by doing good. However, if I am honest with myself, I do not want to do too much. After all, I gave up composting on my own, which was virtually free after my initial investment in a barrel, because it was too hard and too frustrating. I want to do something but not too much.

I wonder if this is not an issue many nonprofits struggle with while trying to get people engaged or to give money. Most nonprofits do great work that people want to support. However, people want to be able to tell a positive story about themselves by supporting an organization. They also want to do something, but not too much. Think about how you can structure your non-profit so volunteers and donors are actively doing something for the non-profit that feels important and which is not too taxing. See if you can make it easy for them to tell that story. These activities may catalyze more engagement.


bottom of page