I’ve encountered the same arguments and I feel we need to be realistic especially nowadays in terms of finance and capacity to work with numbers and types of volunteers in relation to the achievement of the organizations goals.
Definition of what constitutes volunteering will vary from organization to organization. In some organization everyone who goes along to a support group is viewed as a volunteer- this is a number crunching exercise – the majority of the group are service users and the few who actually run the group are volunteers and should be supported and managed accordingly. The groups are not supported financially by the organization and although the events are free, they have to pay for travel and accommodation expenses to attend any volunteer events. In my book that means technically they are not volunteers, the organization is fudging the figures by including them in this definition, especially as they have a funded volunteer internship program and provide expenses for one-off volunteering activities.
In another organization the volunteers have specific tasks that the organization can monitor the number of volunteers, plan the budget, staff and resources to support and ensure that each volunteer has a good experience and their role/task/contribution effectively assists the organization to achieve its aims and objectives.
This takes us onto another discussion- should an organization take everyone who volunteers? In theory we say no, but when someone offers a lot of organizations don’t like to say no, especially when it is a service user who wants to volunteer, or has a skill to offer that it needs at that time.
Where I’ve seen it works best is when there are categories of volunteering laid out in terms of volunteers who have a task/role, deliver a service etc. and they are supported in everyway (expenses, management etc.), supporters who are provided with the information about the organization to help them be ambassadors and keep engaged with it, donors who are thanked and communicated with appropriate to the type of donation (one-off, regular etc.). This type of volunteer program can be planned and managed within budget, resources and staff restrictions.
It can take a while to set up such a structured program but worth it overall.