Sandy, a development manager for a mid-size, regional animal shelter wrote in with this dilemma:
“I suggested to our VP of Development that as a part of our fall campaign we write a special appeal to our numerous active volunteers who haven’t yet made a financial gift. He promptly shut the idea down since he felt we’d be devaluing their gifts of time. I strongly disagree and am wondering if other organizations have had success asking their volunteers for financial support.”
Many nonprofits are reluctant to ask for money from their program volunteers for this very reason. Organizations don’t want to appear greedy or offend their volunteer corps.
But your volunteers are your biggest advocates. More than anyone, they understand your work and the importance of your mission. They also understand that your organization depends on financial support to continue to operate.
Clearly, your volunteers are philanthropically minded individuals and value the work of charitable organizations.
When organizations fail to ask their own volunteers for a financial gift, in a way that recognizes and honors their gifts of time, those volunteers might decide to give their money to another organization instead. You must ask.
It is a fundraiser’s job to convince volunteers to give financial support as well as time.
What should your volunteer appeal say?
But don’t just send the same appeal you send to everyone else. These people are special. They are your friends. Often, they are the very foundation of your service delivery.
You may already have volunteers who give both time and money. For both your current and prospective volunteer donors, craft a personalized appeal that reflects this special relationship and treats them as partners in your mission.
The primary message of your volunteer appeal should be gratitude. Thank them for their tireless work and let them know they are critical to your mission.
Offer them a specific and unique opportunity to support your work. Create a sense of urgency and excitement.
Are you rolling out a new program? Invite them to be a part of it through financial support.
Need general operating support? Construct a campaign that makes operational costs tangible. For example, “We are turning to our most dedicated partners to shelter 50 women and children who will turn to us for help in the next 6 months.”
During your annual or year-end campaign, create a volunteer challenge campaign offering an exclusive opportunity for their participation. Consider creating a special donor status or category for supporters who are donors as well as volunteers. Your appeal would invite them to join this exclusive society. Corbit Harrison of Volunteerhub calls them “super-supporters.”
Dealing with the Resistance
But what should you do when, like Sandy, decision makers on your development team are uncomfortable with a volunteer fundraising effort?
Ask one of your key volunteers to lead the campaign. The appeal, using his or her voice and signature, would invite fellow volunteers to join them in supporting the organization with a financial gift. The letter would address volunteers as special friends and partners of the organization.
The most important part of your volunteer appeal comes after the gift
When a volunteer does respond with a financial gift, shower them with thanks.
Recognize their gift personally and have your volunteer manager (or other staff who knows them) do the same. Let them know their gift is vital and that they are valued for the many ways they contribute to your mission.
When you put in the effort to do this right, your volunteers will look forward to giving not only their time, but their financial support for years to come.