Many organizations that have a corps of volunteers are reluctant to invite them to donate. The rationale is usually a variation on “we don’t want to ask them to do more, since they give so much.” Or “we don’t want them to think we are ungrateful for their volunteer work.” In some organizations, these attitudes get baked into a Great Wall that divides the volunteer program from the development office.
Before refuting this bias, let’s recognize there is a kernel of truth in it. An insensitive solicitation of volunteers would be a bad idea. On the other hand, insensitivity is never an asset in fundraising. So let’s assume that the solicitation can be done with respect and discretion.
True story. I once worked for a small advocacy organization that had a Fortune 500 CEO as an ally. He secured gifts from the corporate foundation. He ensured that his company was a good corporate citizen. He took a public stand when that was helpful. And he persuaded his peers at other organizations to join the cause. He was never asked for a personal contribution.
Finally, good sense and gumption prevailed, and the executive director sent an email asking if he would be willing to have a conversation about his personal philanthropy. The forces of timidity, in one last hurrah, inserted a near-apology at the end of the email: “I hope you will be completely honest in your response to this request.” Less than an hour later, he wrote back “Yes, let’s talk.”
If you have dozens or hundreds of volunteers, there are several ways you can approach them.
- Invite them to contribute to a specific project that relates to their volunteer efforts. If they volunteer in a classroom, ask for classroom enhancements. If they deliver food to shut-ins, invite them contribute toward a new van.
- Organize a focus group of volunteers to talk about why they contribute (or don’t), how they like to be approached, and what financial targets and projects would motivate volunteers to give.
- Ask volunteers who contribute if they would be willing to sign a letter, or host a reception, to invite other volunteers to join them as donors.
- Start and end your solicitation with appreciation.
The preceding is a guest post by Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March 2016, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.