Editor’s Note: It came as a surprise earlier this year when we learned that nonprofits are increasingly experiencing difficulties attracting volunteers. And we were even more shocked that Cincinnati, long a beacon of generosity, trails similar markets in this regard. Our August issue profiles four people working at this problem from complementary perspectives.
For Doug Bolton, volunteerism may well be in his genes. Today, as president and CEO of Cincinnati Cares, it’s his mission.
Growing up in Piqua, Ohio, and northern Butler County, Bolton had volunteer parents as role models.
“My young and my young adult life, I saw my parents doing a lot of volunteering and the impact it had on the youth, including myself,” he said.
But as an adult building a journalism career, he didn’t have much time for volunteering. Besides, he felt staying uninvolved was important to maintaining his objectivity.
Ironically, his success in journalism eventually led him to volunteerism. Bolton moved from reporting jobs at the Middletown Journal to the Cincinnati Business Courier and then the Cincinnati Post. He returned to the Courier as editor in 1995 and was promoted to publisher of one of its sister publications, the Dayton Business Journal, two years later. In 2000, he returned to Cincinnati as the Courier’s publisher.
“Part of the role of a publisher is to get involved in the community,” he said. “That’s where the fire of volunteerism got lit.
“As a journalist, you see all the problems in our community very clearly. I probably dove into a half a dozen causes, a half a dozen organizations, as a volunteer or board member.”
After 10 years as Courier publisher, Bolton moved to commercial real estate. As managing principal for the Cincinnati and Dayton office of Cassidy Turley (now Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest commercial real estate services firms), he was expected to give back, he said.
In late 2017, Bolton started thinking he was ready for a new direction. He found it after talking with Craig Young, whom Bolton had known during their years on the board of Boy Scouts of America, Dan Beard Council. (Bolton is immediate past board chair.) Young told Bolton about his nonprofit, Inspiring Service, which operates locally as Cincinnati Cares, and its goal of increasing volunteerism. Bolton’s publishing background dovetailed with the organization’s needs.
Cincinnaticares.org “is about publishing facts and figures, really wanting to create one version of the truth about how people can help in the community,” Bolton said. “(And) my knowledge of the Cincinnati business community was also a missing piece that I was able to fill in.”
Bolton’s years of board service gave him insights into the challenges nonprofits face. In addition to Dan Beard Council, where Bolton has been a board member 15 years, he serves on the boards of the Economics Center of the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati chapter of the Urban Land Institute. He also is co-chair of the Alumni Engagement Committee and member of the Executive Committee for Leadership Cincinnati, a program of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, as well as co-chair of Centennial Society of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati.
“The impact he has had has been huge,” said Jeff Taylor, director of institutional advancement for Dan Beard Council. “He brings a passion and excitement and energy and also a lot of connections, which is tremendously helpful when you’re talking about fundraising. … People on our board really admire his effort and his drive.”
All those synergies made Bolton a natural fit for Cincinnati Cares. He joined the organization as a consultant in 2018 and went full time as president and CEO this past January.
Carol Rountree, chief volunteer officer for Inspiring Service/Cincinnati Cares, is part of its 10-person staff (six paid and four permanent volunteers). Aside from the cincinnaticares.org platform, Cincinnati Cares also offers a range of service-related programs, including initiatives targeted at everyone from students to adults over 50.
“He is so well connected and well respected in the community that when he does something, I think people take notice,” Rountree said of Bolton. “I think that helps elevate what he’s doing in the eyes of others.”
As part of his job, Bolton consults with company leaders to find volunteer activities that fit with their employees’ passions, work that also provides funding for Cincinnati Cares. The organization has approached some 40 area businesses and are in discussion with many of those about working together, he said.
Bolton believes engaging employees in volunteering is important for the individual, the company and the community.
“Volunteers are healthier people. They’re more optimistic. They are certainly happier,” he said.
Offering such opportunities is imperative for companies interested in recruiting and retaining talented younger workers, who are “more interested in the purpose and mission of the organization they work for than any generation ever before,” Bolton said.
Meanwhile, the community is also navigating new challenges.
“The need for volunteers has never been greater because the resources available in our community have shrunk,” he said. More local money is going to national and international causes, he said, and contributions to United Way of Greater Cincinnati were down last fall. An increase in volunteerism can help fill that gap.
After two years in operation, he thinks Cincinnati Cares is making progress.
“I would like to believe we are beginning to turn the tide,” he said.
Taylor, of Dan Beard Council, has seen results.
“We have already picked up three new volunteers because of what Doug and Craig have done with Cincinnati Cares,” he said. “We know that will result in more dollars raised, which we know means a better program and more kids joining scouts.
“The work that they do, I think ‘groundbreaking’ is probably the best word to use.”
Still, Bolton thinks there is much more to do.
“I still hear nonprofits that are struggling finding volunteers,” he said. “We have a long way to go in terms of telling our story, attracting people to our site and showing them what’s possible.”
Bolton is up to the challenge. He hopes to have a broad reach, having an impact on as many prospective volunteers and nonprofits as possible with Cincinnati Cares and spreading the impact nationally with Inspiring Service.
“It’s going to take us a while to fix the volunteer ecosystems of this country,” he said. “My work in fixing that ecosystem is just a dream come true.
“I’m so blessed to be working on something that really is a passion and has such high purpose.”