Why Volunteer Engagement Is Essential to Fulfilling Your Fundraising Potential
Even if we consider that people are giving and volunteering in ways that may not be caught in current survey methods, we still have a problem. Donating money, volunteering time and effort, and other forms of altruism work together to help to build community and deepen relationships.
People are social creatures. We can look at Maslow’s hierarchy and understand that people want to be sought, to feel important and to be a worthwhile member of a worthwhile group. This reinforces the importance of deepening relationships and connections in the nonprofit community.
Why Are Volunteers So Important to Nonprofits?
Volunteers provide a valuable service, extend human connections and save nonprofits substantial money. The Independent Sector and Do Good Institute’s newest “Value of Volunteer Time” report estimated that the value of a volunteer hour is $31.80.
And according to AmeriCorps, in 2021, 60.7 million adults (23.2%) volunteered 4.1 billion hours with an economic value of $122.9 billion (opens as a pdf). That’s key because nearly 80% of volunteers donated to charity compared to 40% of non-volunteers
Additionally, prior to the pandemic households that gave and volunteered donated twice the average contributions of non-volunteers, according to Fidelity Charitable. It’s clear that giving time and money go hand in hand since nearly two-thirds of charitable individuals also are recent volunteers and 39% of volunteers support a nonprofit by volunteering before they make financial donations. For these donors, volunteerism may be a way of evaluating a charity for future financial support.
The report focuses on the overlap between financial and volunteer support, noting that, “Charities that provide meaningful volunteer opportunities not only benefit the populations they serve; they also help volunteers feel connected to the organization and its mission — building bonds that strengthen and enrich the donor-nonprofit relationship.”
Stemming the Tide of Decline
Both volunteering and giving rates began a long decline early in the 21st century. So, indeed, this is a crisis that must be addressed in individual nonprofits and throughout the sector. We must strive to adhere to the best practices in fundraising and volunteer engagement — especially when we consider the strong correlation between volunteering and giving.
Some organizations have placed less reliance on volunteers over the years — particularly in fundraising. While there may be challenges to volunteers engaged in annual or capital campaigns, there is no replacement for the benefit. Marshaling the energy, passion and dollars of scores, hundreds or even thousands of volunteers means larger gifts from the volunteers and increased giving by reaching many more donors in a personal way. This approach recognizes the importance of relationships — and how committed volunteers will give more.
Very few nonprofits wouldn’t benefit from more resources, so why would we not as a sector emphasize volunteer engagement — especially when we know there’s a direct correlation between volunteering and giving?
Volunteers — their time, skills and connections — are essential for fundraising at the highest level. An organization's volunteers can be its greatest ambassadors.
Much like the importance of giving a donor an incredible fundraising experience and tailoring that experience as much as possible to the individual, our sector needs to commit to the vital and irreplaceable role that volunteers play (from day-to-day volunteers to boards of trustees or directors who hold the organization in a public trust).
While there is some danger inherent in relying too heavily on the same pool of donors, there are examples of individuals, families and foundations with decades-long relationships with organizations resulting in increasingly higher levels of giving, undergirded by a strong engagement effort.
In fact, think of the impact of reaching out to a lapsed donor first for their input, advice or even a volunteer opportunity — to remind them of their connection to your mission and work before asking them for their financial support.
The Time Is Now
Now is the ideal time to reflect on your historic engagement opportunities and analyze your strengths and weaknesses.
- How can you engage more volunteers (and donors) in a more meaningful way — both for your organization and, moreover, for them?
- What is the support, training, ongoing communication, coaching, recognition and evaluation that you provide for volunteers?
As you analyze, bear in mind individual volunteers will have their own take on how and when they want to volunteer. I once served on a board of an organization that felt the best use of its board was compiling mailings and setting up and taking down meeting chairs. That was not a match for my interests, and I left after a few months.
Volunteering crosses cultural and social norms, ages and life stages. Take the time to offer appropriate, meaningful volunteer opportunities — and offer donors and volunteers, where appropriate, the opportunity to increase their engagement and become closer to your mission.
Both volunteering and donating play crucial roles in supporting various causes and creating a positive impact on society. And for those of us in the fundraising arena, the facts are clear: Engaged supporters will give more to your worthy cause.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Related story: Unlock the Special Skills of Your Volunteers
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.