Fundraisers spend a good amount of time thinking about their donors – at least if they want to succeed. But there may be a group of people you’re not thinking of: your volunteers.
Fundraising staff might not be responsible for managing volunteers – interviewing, scheduling, assigning. But you might want to consider getting to know your volunteers and treating them like real donors.
Why do volunteers matter to fundraising?
Time is money. Good volunteers take on tasks your organization doesn’t have the resources to do. They bring expertise you need – or just willing hands. Either way, it’s work you’re not paying someone to do. And that has value.
Volunteers care. While you can recognize the value of their time, that time may be even more valuable to them. And they’re giving it to you. It’s a bigger commitment in many ways than an annual gift.
Volunteers connect. You know the time your organization spends on public relations and marketing? The best kind of marketing for fundraising is word of mouth. And volunteers who are enthusiastic and feel important will talk. Their friends might not join them in volunteering. But they may want to give.
Volunteers observe. If you’re smart, you’re always on the look-out for good stories to illustrate your mission. You should befriend your program staff and see the work yourself. But volunteers can also be a wonderful resource. Sometimes people will talk to them when they don’t feel as comfortable approaching staff.
Volunteers give. But too often, they’re not asked. Or asked in a generic way. If they’re not donors, don’t assume it’s about money.
So what can you do?
First, stop making assumptions. As much as possible, get to know your donors. This isn’t wasted time! This is donor relations. Remember – volunteers are already donors. Time and effort matter.
But if you want them to make financial gifts as well, provide a good reason. (Not “it’s our giving day!” or “it’s the annual appeal!”)
They have a closer view of your work. Can you show them why a financial gift will further their work for that mission?
Ask personally. There’s nothing like holding an organization and its work close to your heart and then receiving impersonal communications. Or I wish that were so. Look at your volunteers as important people. Ask them in person. Or at least with a very personal communication. Acknowledge their hard work and time. Reference how long they’ve been with you. Mention something important they contributed. Then ask them to consider a financial gift.
Don’t wait to say thank you. Just because someone else manages volunteers, there’s no reason you need to wait until they make a financial gift to say thank you. Begin treating them like the donors they are now. We all know renewing a gift is easier than getting a first gift, right? Work with that mindset.
There are so many great ways to do this. A simple, personal card. An event for volunteers (yes, you need to go). Just remember to thank them not just for their time and work, but for the mission they further. Connect those dots for them at every opportunity.
Ask them to introduce you to people who might be interested in your organization’s work. Their connections – as personal as they are – could be valuable. Don’t pressure them! But make it easy to share your message. Maybe a package, ready to go, that lets them brag a bit about their work? Maybe offering them free invitations to an event so they can bring friends?
Work with the volunteer coordinator
Managing volunteers is complex work. So while you’re getting to know these wonderful people, be sure to coordinate with your colleagues who do that work.
Don’t jump into a busy day unannounced. If you work together, the results can be great all around.
Volunteers already give from the heart
Think about it – if someone asked you for $25 or 25 hours, which would be harder to give?
Volunteering should be a positive experience for volunteers, of course. Done right, they get something wonderful from it, too. But that doesn’t mean they should ever be treated as something below staff members. Or worse, as obstacles to get around while you do the “real” work!
Honor their time and work. Treat them as important to your mission. And offer them ways to deepen that commitment if they wish to. Keep that door open, even if they don’t immediately respond.
Fundraising is all about relationships. Don’t miss an important opportunity that’s right under your nose… or down the hall.