The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Ask Andrea: Build a Volunteer Program to Boost Your Fundraising?

Ask Andrea: Build a Volunteer Program to Boost Your Fundraising?Do you have a question to ask me? Email me, Andrea Kihlstedt, at for your chance to be featured in the column!

Now, let’s get to this month's important question about the effectiveness of building a volunteer program to spark fundraising results.

Dear Andrea, My Development Committee has decided to build a volunteer program in our organization (we are a nonprofit that provides services to the developmentally disabled and vulnerable children.)

The thought is this: if people are interested in volunteering for us, they are more likely to engage and eventually become donors. We have a very small development staff (2 people) and a project like this could require some real administrative support. Do you think it’s worth it?
Thanks so much.

Michaeline C.
Assistant Director of Development

Dear Michaeline,

Thanks so much for your question.Ask Andrea: Build a Volunteer Program to Boost Your Fundraising?

You are right, when people volunteer, they are more likely to become engaged and contribute. But that's a very long way to go about raising money!

Frankly, it made me tired to think about that as a fundraising strategy. It's simpler, more effective and easier (really!) just to start asking people to contribute and making sure you let them know about the impact of their gifts.

But to make sure that my simpler philosophy wasn't too colored by my long career in capital campaign fundraising, I posed your question to my friend and colleague, the very wise Gail Perry. You'll see that she had a similar visceral response:

Wow, Andrea, just thinking about that makes me feel tired. I would not initiate a volunteer committee as a fundraising strategy. You'll waste time and effort without a lot of return.

What is the highest payback of your time and energy?

I'll tell you -- it's developing a regular fundraising program that will build on itself each year. With a timetable, a calendar of scheduled activities, some systems and infrastructure. It's starting out with mailing and email appeals and small coffees to spread the word.

So there you have it, Michaeline.

Don't create a volunteer program as a way of building your fundraising program. Instead, build a fundraising program. And don't forget to ask for gifts as often as you can. If you ask people to contribute to a program that makes a real impact, they'll be inclined to give whether or not they are volunteers.

With thanks to Gail Perry whose advice is always spot on!

What fundraising questions do you have?

Send your questions to Andrea at


Ask Andrea: Build a Volunteer Program to Boost Your Fundraising? Andrea Kihlstedt loves to help people solve their fundraising problems. She has provided advice and friendly encouragement to lots of people over her 30+ years in the fundraising business. She’s also written four books on fundraising. Andrea lives in New York City with her husband. You can find her at Capital Campaign Magic.
Topics: Fundraising