Skip to main content

News / Articles

Turning Volunteers into Donors?

Scott Stivers

Recently, I was asked to submit a proposal to the Minnesota Planned Giving Council for a breakout session that would be useful to fundraising professionals. The subject that leapt to mind was turning volunteers into donors. You might be thinking, “That’s nice Scott, but why are you bothering us with this?” Thanks for asking!
I have two questions for you, as a professional leader of volunteers. These aren’t rhetorical questions, either. I actually want someone, anyone, to call or email me so we can talk about your answers.

The first question is, “Does your organization intentionally solicit donations from volunteers?” The second is, “If so, what is your biggest success story?” There are a ton of other questions I would like to ask, but let’s start there.

In the meantime, let me give you the brief version of what I hope to present. I think we all know that volunteers are likely to donate. But, did you know that 70% will give to the organization at which they volunteer, AND they will likely donate ten times more than non-volunteers? So, if your development staff is out shaking the trees for donations, you might want to encourage them to look right outside their front door at your volunteer corps! Of course, I wouldn’t recommend they just swoop in and ask your volunteers to write checks on the spot. There are a few things that make donations from volunteers more likely. The good news is, as a MAVA member, YOU are probably already doing them.

First, orient your volunteers to the entire organization and its mission, not just the task. Any well trained MAVA member knows this already. The same sense of mission and passion that drives volunteers also drives donors. Knowing the mission puts any task in a larger context. Stuffing envelopes becomes more than just stuffing envelopes.

Second, track ALL of your volunteer activity. Most of us are familiar with tracking hours and assigning a monetary value of about $24 to each. But, are we tracking how many TIMES a volunteer comes back? Are we tracking which tasks each volunteer performs and whether or not they are asking for increasing responsibility? Are we calculating the ROI of our volunteers’ efforts? Again, if you are a member of MAVA, you probably are!

Third, are we making sure our volunteers have a good experience? Of course, MAVA members are! One organization might define “good” differently than another. Good may be fun. Good may be profound. Good may be efficient and effective. Clearly, volunteers who have a good experience are likely to volunteer again, and to donate. Volunteers who have a bad experience may never volunteer again, anywhere, for anyone.

Fourth, let your volunteers tell their stories. I mean this in two senses. First, open up your social media, print newsletters and whatever other channels you can to allow volunteers to talk about the impact they perceive they have made, or that they have felt, while advancing the mission of your organization. This will help volunteers see themselves as more than just helpers, but as heroes. When the story changes from “Such-and-so organization fed the hungry,” to “I fed this hungry person right here,” a volunteer has taken personal ownership and has a stake in the mission worthy of financial investment. The second sense is that your volunteers see your operations from a perspective a purely financial donor may never see. Allow volunteers to tell you what they see, how things might be improved, and what innovations they imagine!

Listening to your volunteers is one way to value them. The fifth way to help turn volunteers into donors is to acknowledge their contributions. Again, MAVA members hold this rule as sacred. Volunteers are “time donors” and deserve the same appreciation as financial donors.

Finally, and this is the one development professionals hold as sacred…ASK! If you are lucky, that is the one thing your development staff will do for you! If you have oriented your volunteers to the mission, kept track of all their contributions and skills, ensured a good volunteering experience, encouraged them to be the heroes of their own story, and shown the proper amount of appreciation, your development staff should have no trouble offering the opportunity to participate financially in meeting the mission.

So, there it is! I REALLY hope to hear from someone about your experience turning volunteers to donors! And, just so you know, it works in reverse! Many donors want a firsthand experience with the organizations they support. Studies show that the only reason many people don’t volunteer is that they can’t find the “right fit.” As a MAVA member, you can help with that, too!