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From an Expert: Opportunities at the Crossroads of Volunteer Engagement and Development

volunteer engagement blog post

Pop quiz: Raise your hand if you get paid to engage the community’s hearts, minds, and resources to advance your nonprofit’s mission and make the world a better place. Your hand is just as high whether you’re a fund development or a volunteer engagement professional.

So why are our jobs so siloed? Separate departments, separate budgets, separate audiences, separate credentialing…the list goes on.

What might happen if we tiptoed out of our silos and planted a flag in the big, overlooked crossroads between our two worlds?

A whole lot of good, say trend-watchers and data crunchers in both industries. They also say we might not have a choice. Current trends in how Americans give time and money are quickly eroding the wall between our two worlds – whether we like it or not.

In this post we’ll dig deeper into two of these trends and see how you can turn them into opportunities for good.

For more tips and trends, register to attend GRAVA’s Annual Conference: “Volunteer Management Trends Transforming the Profession” (July 9, 2015).

Trend #1: Today’s donors want to be treated more like volunteers.

Hear that wail of despair? That’s the sound of panicked fundraisers watching their annual giving flatline and wondering how to catch up with changing donor expectations. Gone are the days when folks dutifully opened their checkbooks for the same tired direct mail appeals and expected nothing in return but a low overhead ratio and a timely acknowledgment. Today’s donors want more – and what they want might sound suspiciously familiar to any good volunteer manager.

  • Impact: to know their efforts made a real difference
  • Transparency: to see how the sausage is made – including how you learn from mistakes
  • Authenticity: to connect with something raw, real, and human instead of slick marketing pieces
  • Partnership: to be let inside your mission as an active collaborator and champion for your cause
  • Personalization: to be engaged as an individual with unique skills, passions, and preferences

What to do?

  1. Learn from the pros. This feels like a brave new world to fundraisers, but volunteer engagement professionals already know how to build these kinds of relationships and navigate their challenges incredibly well. Sharing our experience and toolkits won’t just help balance the books. It will help engage a more informed, diverse, committed base of supporters.
  2. Ask donors to volunteer. There simply isn’t a more direct, powerful way to fulfill every last one of these “new” donor desires. Fundraising blogs are full of up-to-the-minute suggestions (Video storytelling! Infographics! Database segmentation!). None of them is going to create as much authentic, personal connection as letting them up their sleeves to help serve your clients or solve your problems.

Trend # 2: People who volunteer give more money – a lot more money.

Let’s be blunt. You need to ask volunteers for money. Before you call for the smelling salts, consider these facts:

  • 46% of US families donate to nonprofits.
  • 42% of families donate AND volunteer.
  • Less than 2% of families volunteer without giving money.
  • Families who volunteer give 2X as much as those who do not.
  • 89% of high net-worth individuals volunteer their time with nonprofits.
  • Those who volunteered >100 hours gave an average gift of $78k, compared to $39k for those who volunteered less.

What should that tell us?

  1. Volunteers and donors are not separate species. We just treat them that way.
  2. If your volunteers are not giving you money, they are almost definitely giving it to someone else.
  3. If your high net-worth donors are not volunteering with you, they are almost definitely volunteering with someone else – and giving them twice as much.
  4. You are leaving serious money on the table if you don’t provide volunteers opportunities to donate!

Of course, how you ask makes all the difference. For what goes into a volunteer appeal that everyone can feel good about, plus creative options for the faint of heart, register to attend GRAVA’s Annual Conference July 9th.

Have more questions about volunteer engagement?

Connect directly with peers and professionals in the field for real-time answers to your questions via the Volunteer Management Discussion Forum powered by HandsOn Greater Richmond and the Greater Richmond Association for Volunteer Administrators (GRAVA).



Lauren Devitt is Assistant Director of Development at Elk Hill, a Central Virginia youth and family services nonprofit helping kids transform overwhelming challenges into successful futures. She started working in nonprofit fundraising and communications three years ago, and now wears a third hat as a volunteer administrator learning how to grow a volunteer program from seat-of-the-pants to knock-your-socks-off.

Lauren is a member of Greater Richmond Association for Volunteer Administrators (GRAVA), where that learning curve got a lot less steep and lonely. GRAVA is a professional membership organization that promotes and supports excellence in the management and leadership of volunteers in the Greater Richmond area through professional development, networking, and advocacy. Learn more.

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