7 Ways to Increase Donations by Stewarding Volunteers

Jessica Pang-Parks

March 15, 2021

Are you worried about the longevity of your charitable organization? How much of that worry comes from seeing donations decrease since the onset of COVID-19? You’re not alone.

Research shows that 73% of Canadian charities have reported a decline in donations during COVID-19. Yet 50% of volunteers say they give more financial support because they volunteer. Without doubt, there is a strong relationship between donating and volunteering. The good news? Torontonians have never been more interested in taking action for good. So, if donors are your goal, it's time to make volunteer engagement a priority.

Let's step back a bit. You may be wondering how to convert volunteers into donors, especially on a tight budget. But what comes first? Your organization needs to re-imagine how it's donor and volunteer engagement tactics intersect, because really, volunteer stewardship is akin to donor stewardship. Time donors and financial donors both want to have a meaningful relationship with your organization, to have that relationship rooted in a clear and focused mission, to be thanked for their contributions in a genuine and personalized manner, and to be inspired by the impact of their contributions. When done right, great volunteer stewardship can yield the same results as great donor stewardship: a lifetime of engagement and support.  

But in embarking on this journey, many organizations fail to realize volunteer engagement is more than recruitment. Recruitment is just one of the many steps in the volunteer engagement cycle, and not even the first one! When an organization centres volunteer engagement around stewardship, volunteers have experiences that deepen their relationship with mission. Experiences during orientation, training, and recognition are equally important as recruiting the right person for the first role. These experiences then shape volunteers’ perceptions of how an organization values them. And if you don’t invest in them, why should they invest in you? 

To be frank, volunteer stewardship requires time and money. But it's well worth it. Think about how effective a development team would be if they were asked to fundraise “off the side of their desks” or without a Customer-Relationship-Management tool? Similarly, organizations engaging with volunteers should plan for volunteer engagement resources and capacity. Otherwise, you stand to lose out on potential donors who are essential for driving your mission forward, especially right now.

“If 87 percent of Canada’s volunteers also donate to the cause, we could stand to lose an estimated 740,000 warm donors in the charitable sector if we do not re-engage our volunteers during recovery.” 

                                      – Joanne McKiernan, Executive Director, Volunteer Toronto

It's important to remember, though, that contributing time or money is a very personal decision. After all, volunteers and donors are people. Their lives, schedules, financial commitments, priorities, and interests change. When in doubt, ask if a supporter is interested in donating or volunteering, then note and respect their decision.  

Ready to dive in? Here are seven tactics you can take to increase donations with great volunteer stewardship:

1. Respond to all volunteer inquiries and track potential supporters

If someone inquires about volunteering with your organization, it means that they have a connection to your brand and mission. Timely and grateful responses to these inquires will maintain your reputation. Even if a volunteer offer or inquiry doesn’t match your current needs, don’t ignore it! Say thank you and offer a suitable alternative. If no alternative is available, encourage the new connection to engage with your mission through the organization’s website or social media. Track these interactions and make sure that the potential supporters on this list are “first in line” for new opportunities. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on easy capacity-building actions for your organization.

2. Intentionally give volunteers a “sneak peek” on exciting announcements or projects

Whether your organization has launched a new program in response to the pandemic, funded an exciting initiative, or is releasing its annual report, give volunteers an “insider look” before sharing information with the public. This tactic is often used in donor stewardship to build relationships and trust—two critical elements for giving.  

3. Boost the volunteer-mission connection through exclusive opportunities

Provide opportunities designed specifically for volunteers to connect with one another and the cause. These opportunities could include hearing from an expert on the mission (e.g. a funding recipient or staff member), connecting about mission-relevant narratives through book clubs or movie nights, and learning about one another’s motivations for volunteering. As volunteers engage with these experiences, they will boost mutual passion for your mission, which is key to inspiring financial donations. 

4. Deploy resources that make it easy for volunteers to champion your cause

It's important to make it easy for volunteers to talk about your organization and its mission. Set them up, just like you would peer-to-peer fundraisers, with talking points, pre-written emails, virtual meeting backgrounds, and examples of impact. These resources increase volunteers’ capacity to raise awareness, share stories, and influence their own networks to contribute dollars or time. 

5. Formalize volunteer fundraiser roles

Pay attention to volunteers that are highly engaged and can be tapped for a network of Volunteer Ambassadors or a Fundraising Campaign Cabinet. You can then formalize these roles with the right policies and procedures (e.g. role description, terms of reference, code of conduct) and work with a team of dedicated mission-driven volunteers to reach specific fundraising goals.   

6. Personalize appreciation and recognize all the ways a volunteer supports your mission

The best type of volunteer appreciation recognizes contributions and shares the impact of those contributions. If a volunteer also donates monthly or fundraises for your annual walk-a-thon, take the time to thank them for contributing in multiple ways. Break down the silos between the multiple relationships a supporter may have with your organization and share how all of those roles are meaningful.  Start small and pilot an appreciation initiative with those who have served for a long time, volunteers who have made a significant impact, and volunteers in leadership roles like the Board of Directors. They’ll notice that you noticed—inspiring even more giving and championing.

7. Time your ask and tailor it for the supporter

As a volunteer’s relationship with your organization grows, they will have a better understanding of your needs and may start donating unprompted. If this happens- congratulations! Your team is practicing excellent volunteer stewardship. If your team would like to make a hard ask, be mindful that every volunteer is an individual. Tailor the “when” and “why” around what you know about the volunteer. Sometimes, this means highlighting how financial contribution can make a difference on an urgent initiative. Sometimes, this means inviting them to join a community fundraising campaign. Sometimes, this means not asking because their time is currently their most valuable asset.

Whatever you do, remember to be genuine and respect the supporter’s answer. It may be tempting to say thank you and “throw in” an ask, but it will not be effective. Focus on inspiring supporters to contribute by creating personalized and meaningful giving environments. With this relationship-focused approach, your fundraising efforts will surely succeed.

About the Author: Jessica Pang-Parks

Jessica Pang-Parks is highly skilled at stewarding relationships, coaching and mentoring others, and developing and improving processes. With over ten years of experience as a leader of volunteers at both small and large organizations, Jessica has proven success at providing subject matter expertise and leading volunteer engagement learning experiences. Jessica works at Pathways to Education Canada and serves on the Board of PAVRO (Professional Association of Volunteer Leaders- Ontario). She is incredibly passionate about doing good and doing it well.


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