Volunteers are Supporters in Many Ways (Including Fundraising)

Volunteers are a critical component of an organization's resource mix. Inexplicably, some organizations put investment in volunteer involvement on the back burner, unstaffed and unbudgeted, because "our priority right now is to generate revenue." This is incredibly short-sighted. Why? Because volunteers:

  • Are on a lifelong continuum of close relationship to your organization, moving in and out of various roles at various times in their lives -- volunteering, giving money, advocating for your cause, making more friends for you in the community. (It is common to "cultivate" financial donors from their initial gift towards greater generousity; cultivate those who give you their minds and hands to build long-term supporters.)
  • Are statistically more likely to give money to charitable causes as well as to give time
  • Willingly share an endless list of expertise and skills (if asked), all of which are in-kind support to your work
  • Provide access to new circles of contacts, from which you can obtain donations of goods, services, and money
  • May already give your organization money, but would give more if asked properly (Question: When was the last time you compared your financial donor list to your volunteer roster and analyzed what you learned?)
  • Become powerful communicators on your behalf from one-to-one neighborhood conversations to being a force on social media
  • Develop the professional skills of employees by contributing knowledge and perspective, as well as permitting staff to do the work they are most trained and eager to do

So volunteer involvement is deeply connected to fundraising, marketing and public relations, staff development and training. Are you using or missing opportunities to maximize these connections?

Volunteers Matter

Contrary to some perceptions, the importance of volunteers is not that they are free or inexpensive labor. Skilled volunteers do allow you to stretch your budget -- to spend every bit of funding wisely, and then do more. The Everyone Ready  Volunteer Management Skill-Building Program teaches a mindset about the unique role of volunteers in an organization, partnering with paid staff, not competing for their jobs or draining their time.

Volunteers are more than "nice" to have -- they can be essential if you engage them strategically. How? Volunteers:

  • Have perceived credibility because they choose to be advocates – it’s not their “job”

  • Mean something different to the recipient of service than a paid worker (you don’t pay for friendship)

  • Are insider/outsiders, bringing community perspective (assuming you ask for their input or allow them to do significant work)

  • Add diversity (of all types), expressly different from paid staff

  • Can be objective policy makers without financial vested interest

  • Have the “luxury of focus” to concentrate on one client, task, or issue

  • Demonstrate or acquire ownership of the issue through involvement

  • Are at liberty to criticize because their livelihood isn’t at stake

  • Are still “private citizens," free to contact legislators or the media

  • Can cut through red tape and artificial jurisdictional barriers

  • Can experiment with new ideas and service approaches, testing what might later be funded

  • Bring more to the organization: time, talents, hands, perspectives

(The above list is based on Chapter 1, "Why Volunteers?," in From the Top Down: The Executive Role in Successful Volunteer Involvement, 3rd edition, by Susan J. Ellis, copyright 2010, Energize, Inc.)

Yet Few Staff Are Ever Trained in HOW to Work with Volunteers

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