Blog Post, Communications, Fundraising

Turning Volunteers into Donors

April 23, 2015

You use a variety of marketing tools to grow your organization’s donor base: direct mail, social media, sponsorships, special events, and more. But you may be overlooking a great source of donations that’s right in front of you: your volunteers.

There’s an assumption that people volunteer because they are unwilling or unable to donate money. That may be true for some, but not all, volunteers. Several studies have shown a strong connection between volunteering and making charitable donations. According to the recent “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” study, almost 80 percent of volunteers give money to charity, compared to 40 percent of non-volunteers. And the more hours people volunteer, the more they give.

It stands to reason that an organization’s volunteers are primed for giving. They feel a close connection to the organization and its mission, otherwise they wouldn’t be volunteering. Yet a recent survey of 200 nonprofits found that many struggle to tap into the true potential of monetary donations by volunteers. The reasons are varied. Many nonprofits don’t spend much time organizing their volunteer program and tracking hours. Therefore, valuable information about volunteer time that could be channeled into a personalized solicitation goes unrecorded. Some charities are reluctant to ask volunteers for donations, feeling they’re already doing enough by giving their time. Other nonprofits in the survey reported asking volunteers for donations, but they used generic fundraising messages targeted toward donors, with poor results.

Having a well-managed volunteer program can reap benefits for your organization. If volunteers feel part of a well-run organization, they’ll be more emotionally engaged and more inclined to provide support. One New Jersey-based parks conservancy holds several events a year in which volunteers help with park beautification and preservation activities like planting and maintaining park features. Over the past year, new management efforts prioritized the effective management of volunteers and events, which led to an increase in the number of volunteers and hours donated, while fundraising income from individuals, in-kind donations and foundation grants doubled.

Nonprofits can engage with their volunteer community in other ways as well:

  • Develop targeted communications for volunteers. Sending them generic fundraising materials assumes they don’t know anything about the organization and may offend them.
  • Demonstrate to volunteers the value of donated dollars and how they are put to work.
  • Involve volunteers in organizational planning by encouraging feedback.
  • Show appreciation to your volunteers. Simple but frequent ‘thank yous’ go a long way toward making them feel that their efforts count.