Building a Robust Volunteer Force

Building a Robust Volunteer Force

An Essay by Dania Toscano Miwa and Jim Toscano

Fourth in a Series

Volunteers are among the leading potential sources for new growth and new resources in nonprofit organizations.

Volunteers and donors share many of the same values.  This is seen when they express the reasons why they donate to and/or volunteer for a nonprofit organization. New volunteers become new donors.

Many of the ways we prospect for new donors are the same strategies used in the recruitment of volunteers.

Given that over 60 million American adults volunteer – which is approximately one-third of the total adult population – nonprofits benefit enormously from their work, expertise and enthusiasm.

And quite possibly the best news of all is that the potential supply of volunteers is expanding at all age levels and demographic categories.

The Value of Volunteers

The latest estimate from Independent Sector places a value of approximately $25.00 as a realistic estimate of the equivalent hourly wage for a volunteer’s work.

With 8 billion hours of volunteer time each year given to our sector, that’s a value of $200B, or almost half of what is contributed from all sources in cash and other forms of contributions.

While not all organizations think they can use volunteers, all should investigate possible roles for volunteers. There are always “ambassador” roles in the community, such as membership on a board of directors, committees, councils, advocacy, operations and special events for volunteers to serve.

Where there is resistance to having volunteers, resistance is typically based on inertia, staff insecurity, attendance or skepticism about the work done. In many cases measures can be taken to professionalize volunteer recruitment, supervision, evaluation and rewards.

Urban Legends

 With many clients we’ve worked for there can be this totally erroneous notion that, if one volunteers, we shouldn’t then ask them for money too. This leads to nonprofits explicitly omitting volunteers from any fund-raising, therefore missing a huge opportunity.

Census and other data sources demonstrate that volunteers actually donate significantly more funds than non-volunteers. Why then, should they not be asked to give to the very institutions for which they give time and talent?

Who better than volunteers, those who work in our organizations with professional staff and see the impact and outcomes of our work, should constitute our high potential donors?

Volunteers and work

Volunteers can “give’ in two substantial ways: in the substantive work they contribute and in donor constituency development.

The work done by volunteers constitutes a major contribution to the organizations they serve, in terms of the value of this work and the benefits bestowed on patients, clients, users, members and others.

Where else can nonprofits find the array of talent that can be recruited from potential volunteers? The days of the pink smocks are still with us, although they are supplemented by the doctors, nurses, lawyers, business people, architects, accountants, engineers, craftsmen, teachers, secretaries, drivers and many others who bring their expertise and enthusiasm to the work they do for us.

With growing retirements, many boomers are looking for meaningful things to do. Millennials prefer to volunteer first before donating; young professionals wanting to add volunteer experience to their resumes; with a host of other motivations, the pool of potential volunteers is growing. This then constitutes one of the greatest resources currently available to our sector. With cost pressures on as never before, volunteers may be the only real resources left to achieve quality outcomes in much of our work.

Volunteers and resource development

In terms of fundraising, there is no better way to ask volunteers to make a financial contribution than to have other volunteers do it. The first task among these active volunteer fund-raisers is to have them make a contribution if they have not already do so.

The second task is to have the recruited volunteers call on each other, then on inactive and former volunteers and bring them into the donor pool.

Experiencing a well-run program for which they volunteer, they will continue to make and increase generous gifts.

Clearly, those recruited to volunteer in development will bring the peer relationships and credibility to enhance our ability to meet and exceed goals.

Volunteers who run special events make it possible to actually show a net bottom line. In fact, volunteers are critical to special event success and should be actively encouraged to go all out in promoting and running the event with staff.

From the board to committee to campaign leaders to auction item solicitors to so many other things in-between, volunteers will often help improve the organization’s bottom line as well as speaking well of the agency in their communities.

Long-term volunteers and planned giving.

With excellent recruitment, training, supervision and rewards, a volunteer program in most nonprofits can change from a ‘nice thing to have’ to the necessity cited above.

The investment in the professionalization of a volunteer program will have a high return.

If the program is conceptualized in the same way as we should conceptualize our donor programs—as a life-time relationship—volunteers will be a rich sources of planned gifts and should be cultivated in planned giving all along their volunteer and donor days. Such cultivation should not only emphasize wills, but the living donations through trusts and annuities as well as noncash assets.

Long after their volunteering is done, these individuals are a source of potential current donations as well as frequent sources of planned and testamentary gifts.

With time, attention, patience, rewards, loyalty and gratitude of leadership and staff in our institutions, volunteers are and will continue to be one of the major and growing sources of donations among our constituencies.

  1. Anne Hunter Says: January 29, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    Great insights! If readers are looking for help in recruiting or managing volunteers, contact

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