Factoring Volunteers Into Your Fundraising Strategy: A Guide
Guest blog by Sandra Davis of Donorly
Volunteers make the nonprofit world go ‘round!
Whether they’re weeding your facility’s flowerbeds, giving tours of your museum, serving on your board, assembling hygiene kits for refugees, or sharing your donation page on social media, volunteers are essential to your nonprofit’s success. The dedication and skills they bring to the table—along with their willingness to give their time freely because they love your cause—makes them a valuable asset, especially when it comes to your fundraising efforts.
Some nonprofits, however, struggle to integrate their volunteer program into their overall fundraising strategy, especially for large-scale efforts like capital campaigns. That’s why we’ve created this guide with three tips to help you better factor your volunteers into your fundraising:
- Plan volunteer engagement into your strategy from the beginning.
- Focus on meaningful engagement.
- Invite your volunteers to donate to your campaign.
As you go over these tips, you’ll likely want to tighten your overall strategy, too. Donorly’s fundraising plan template is a great resource to help you conceptualize that larger strategy, as well as how you can more effectively involve volunteers in your upcoming fundraising work.
1. Plan volunteer engagement into your strategy from the beginning.
As you look to your upcoming fundraising campaign, you should identify opportunities to get your volunteers involved from the very beginning. Fully integrating your volunteers into your strategy can increase their investment in your mission, leading to better retention throughout your campaign and beyond.
Here are some ways you can create and maintain high volunteer engagement in your fundraising strategy:
- Keep your volunteer coordinator heavily involved in the campaign planning process. No one knows your volunteers better than your volunteer coordinator. Work with them to determine how you can best use your volunteers’ individual strengths and talents for your upcoming campaign. For example, you might have a volunteer who is a graphic design expert and could design posters for your next fundraiser.
- Offer training opportunities specific to your campaign to prepare volunteers. Eliminate volunteering roadblocks by providing campaign-specific training for your volunteers. Jumping into a peer-to-peer campaign? Train your volunteers on how to make their own online fundraising pages and encourage donations from their friends and families. Getting ready for a holiday food drive? Show your volunteers how to quickly identify which non-perishable items to keep and which to reject.
- Make volunteers aware of your campaign’s timeline. If you truly want your volunteers to be involved in your campaign from the beginning, make them well aware of the timeline. Communicate specific dates in your messages like, “We’ll need extra help on July 10 with the major donor luncheon” or “We’re planning to build a new playground in the first week of March and need help hauling supplies the weekend before.” Clearly communicating your timeline will give volunteers a chance to free up their schedules and mark their calendars.
As you’re ramping up for your next big fundraising campaign, make sure you don’t leave your volunteers in the dust! During the planning phase, design opportunities for your volunteers to engage in your campaign and help you make it successful.
2. Focus on meaningful engagement.
Often, volunteering during a fundraising campaign will require your volunteers to do a little extra—extra shifts, extra training, and more. To encourage your volunteers to put in that additional effort, provide them with meaningful opportunities that motivate them to help and participate.
Check out these four ways you can make your volunteers’ experience more meaningful:
- Keep the work mission-focused. Your volunteers were drawn to your organization first and foremost because of your mission. Keep your mission at the forefront of every invitation you send your volunteers to get them excited about participating in your fundraising.
- Lean on professional expertise. As mentioned above, your volunteers likely have some unique talents they can bring to the table—from gardening to fixing bicycles to making the perfect chocolate mousse. Finding opportunities to use those talents in your campaign is an excellent way to recognize your volunteers’ individual contributions and deepen their loyalty to your mission.
- Give them their choice of assignments. Some fundraising campaigns allow for a little more flexibility when it comes to volunteer engagement, empowering volunteers to customize their experience. One volunteer might opt to write donor thank-you notes, while another might prefer to clean your facility or enjoy decorating an event venue.
- Gamify volunteering. Everyone likes a little friendly competition now and again. Try gamifying the volunteering experience for your campaign. For example, you might create a prize like a date night gift basket and award it to the volunteer who logs the most hours over the course of a month. (Psst – track all of those volunteer hours on POINT for freeee! Get started here 👀)
When working to make your volunteers’ experiences with your campaign more meaningful, take into account what you know about them. You can use the volunteer data that you’ve collected or simply brainstorm opportunities based off of what you or your volunteer coordinator has learned in conversations with individual volunteers.
Finding ways to customize the volunteer experience, even in the midst of a large campaign, will help you deepen your relationships, increasing your chances of retaining your volunteers in the long run.
3. Invite your volunteers to donate to your campaign.
Some nonprofit professionals feel uncomfortable asking volunteers to donate to their fundraisers. After all, aren’t volunteers already giving their time and energy to your cause?
However, chances are that your volunteers will see donating as a natural extension of everything they already do on behalf of your cause. Because they’re so familiar with your organization’s mission and operations, they’re actually great candidates for donating.
While you can (and should!) ask volunteers to give monetary donations if they can, you can also get creative and offer out-of-the-box opportunities that will help your organization pull in support. These include:
- Volunteer grants: Many companies offer employee volunteer grants. Through these programs, a company commits to making a donation to an organization their employee volunteers with after the volunteer has put in a certain number of hours. Encourage employees to learn whether their employer offers volunteer grants and to apply for one if they do. This is an easy (and free!) way for your volunteer to help you raise more.
- Matching gifts: Matching gifts are similar to volunteer grants in that they involve support from a volunteer’s employer. With a matching gift program, employers provide a matching donation to the organization their employees gave to. For example, if your volunteer were to give $20, their employer would submit their own $20 donation, doubling the volunteer’s impact.
- Peer-to-peer donation pages: You can add a peer-to-peer component to just about any fundraising campaign. In a peer-to-peer fundraiser, supporters create their own personal fundraising pages to gather donations from their families and friends on your organization’s behalf. This can be a great way to directly involve your volunteers in your fundraising and can even lead to relationships with new volunteers or donors who discover your organization through your current volunteers.
Your volunteers spend their extra time giving to your organization because they believe in your cause, and many of them probably donate on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to ask them to give, seek out opportunities like securing matching gifts, or even simply share your online donation page on their social media profile. As “insiders” to your organization, they recognize the need to continually raise support, and will be happy to help!
Factoring volunteers into your fundraising strategy takes extra planning and consideration, but can pay off, helping you accomplish your goals and retain volunteer support. Start planning how volunteers can get involved into your strategy early, find meaningful activities for them to do, and don’t be afraid to ask them to give a monetary donation.
If your organization is seeking more help in ironing out how volunteers can contribute to your overall fundraising strategy, or is simply looking to optimize your approach altogether, consider working with a fundraising consultant. Use Donorly’s guide to hiring a fundraising consultant as a starting point for exploring your needs and options, and work toward getting expert help to be successful in your fundraising strategy. Good luck!
Founder and President Sandra Davis leads Donorly with 30 years of fundraising experience and leadership. Sandra has consulted on numerous capital campaigns, led strategic planning and feasibility study efforts, and managed board development and recruitment efforts, planned giving, special events, and annual giving programs. Under her leadership, Donorly has grown to support the fundraising efforts of over 75 clients to date.