Five strategies to engage volunteers as donors

This blog post was originally published on March 24, 2021, on the IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy website. Kristi Howard-Shultz serves as a contributing writer for the school's blog.


Volunteers are your organization’s most invested constituents. They are 4x more likely to give and give 10x more, on average, than non volunteers. If you are not including them in your development plan, you are missing out!

With National Volunteer Month just around the corner, there’s no better time to consider how to celebrate and engage your most treasured contributors.

  1. Seize

With social distancing requirements it can be harder than ever to safely provide volunteer opportunities. Whether you are offering activities virtually, in person, hybrid, or have paused with plans to resume in the future, you want to provide a fun and memorable volunteer experience.

Volunteers leave energized, knowing more about your mission and how their contribution made a difference. From the start, you want to let them know what you are all about. Consider making your printed engagement menus and online “get involved” tab comprehensive. Be sure that a volunteer’s first impression includes captivating and compelling opportunities to donate.

  1. Steward

In the United States alone volunteers are 63 million strong. They offer their valuable time, talent, treasure, and testimony to help neighbors, serve their communities, and provide their unique expertise. As gift officers there are a number of ways that we can recognize and celebrate their invaluable contributions:

Consider using the next month to plan an activity per day for National Volunteer Week, April 18-24.

  1. Strategize

If your agency doesn’t currently engage volunteers as donors, you may be asking yourself where to start. Start by finding which of your volunteers already donate. Meet with them, ask strategic questions, and for their advice.

The information you gather here and the relationships you build will inform your cultivation plan. These meetings will offer great insights and allow you to create meaningful surveys, giving levels, appeals, and recognitions. These are your champions!

If your agency already solicits volunteers, you can still benefit from the activities listed above. You may also want to audit your current appeals and work toward best practices such as personalization. No matter where your agency is on the spectrum of engagement, be sure to invite volunteers to donate.

  1. Solicit

Once you have provided a positive volunteer experience, celebrated their contributions, and gathered feedback from your volunteer donor base, you are ready to ask! Volunteers are their own special segment and should be treated accordingly. Employ annual giving best practices when developing the voice, giving levels, and story for their appeals.

How can you develop your giving levels to appeal to the head and the heart of the donor?

  • $100 supports five client interviews, qualifying them and connecting them to our services.

How can you use your giving levels to motivate donors to upgrade—especially to that $250+ retention sweet spot?

  • $275 provides 10 hours of volunteer training.

How can you show the full spectrum of your services and impact with your giving levels?

  • $500 supports one ribbon-cutting ceremony.

A client’s experience start to finish?

  • $1,000 can provide lumber for six feet of ramp, bringing clients that much closer to freedom.

How can you use the high end of your giving levels to promote major gifts or a special campaign—anniversaries, milestones, etc.

  • $3,000 delivers a complete ramp and a life-changing experience for our clients, their families, and caretakers.

Giving levels, when used correctly, are a method of cultivation. They are another way to tell your story!

  1. Swap

There is no doubt that in today’s changed landscape keeping volunteers connected and engaged is challenging. Beyond the challenges COVID brings, you may have organizational culture barriers to overcome. Oftentimes, the program and development departments can be siloed. It may be time to evaluate this relationship:

  • How does your program department feel about fundraising?

  • How can you demonstrate the value of engaging volunteers as donors?

  • How can you involve them in fundraising?

The program and development departments are partners in resource development.

  • What information can you share with one another to grow the agency as a whole?

  • What can interdepartmental collaboration look like?

  • How can you regularly and reliably do this?

  • How can you overcome objections if they are hesitant?

A healthy and ongoing collaboration between program and development ensures a successful volunteer giving program.

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Hi, I'm Kristi

Throughout my career, I’ve watched organization after organization hire consultants that are ineffective or don't take time to truly understand your organization. You're left without an actionable plan
or a mess to clean up
after they walk out the door.  

I’m committed to meeting you where you are and walking alongside you to build a plan that translates your vision into action now and into the future.

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