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3 Must-Haves to Cultivate Volunteers as Donors

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The numbers are compelling. Research shows that two-thirds of volunteers make their charitable gifts to the organizations where they volunteer. Even more impressive, volunteers tend to give almost twice as much to charity as non-volunteer supporters.

In other words, the volunteers within your organization who already build capacity by delivering service, have the potential to increase your fundraising base as well.

In an uncertain economy, doesn’t it make sense to nurture this abundant resource?

A volunteer program that cultivates giving as well as service does not occur spontaneously – and it’s about much more than offering an appreciation event or a year-end giving appeal.

A strong volunteer program requires a commitment to volunteer management best practices and a team culture that fosters collaboration.

Here are three essentials for creating a loyal, dependable, and giving volunteer base.

1. Hire a full-time volunteer manager

Volunteers may give their time and talents for free, but managing a strong volunteer program requires an investment in personnel and funds. If you want to build your volunteer base, you need to hire a full-time volunteer manager.

That’s because volunteer management is labor intensive. It requires time and attention to the multiple phases of the volunteer engagement cycle: recruiting and marketing, screening and interviewing, training, placement and supervision, and assessment.

On top of these tasks, there is the time-consuming process of data tracking, including volunteer scheduling, training dates, background check results, and volunteer satisfaction surveys. All this data allows the volunteer manager to fine tune her practices and ramp up volunteer retention.

What are the Skills?

These roles and responsibilities require that you hire someone with a very particular skill set. Your volunteer manager needs to demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills and a talent for creating systems.

Volunteer management is all about cultivating relationships. Volunteers remain loyal to organizations that take the time to get to know them. A capable volunteer manager gets to know a volunteer’s professional skills, interests, and preferences when it comes to volunteering. She makes a point of reaching out when a volunteer’s son or daughter marries, or a volunteer has surgery, or a volunteer’s relative passes away. This personal investment enables the volunteer manager to place volunteers in positions where they will thrive and allows her to have the difficult conversations that occasionally arise.

An effective volunteer manager must also excel at creating processes to sustain her program and allow it to expand. The manager needs to set up consistent practices for screening, interviewing, training, and evaluation ― and demonstrate good follow through for inputting the information into a volunteer management system. Many of these procedures are similar to those established by Human Resources. Volunteers need job descriptions for their roles, a volunteer manual to outline policies, and a method for sharing feedback about workplace performance.

You may simplify your search by hiring someone who is Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA). To obtain the credential, candidates must demonstrate their expertise in seven core competencies that are considered essential for effective volunteer management.

2. Make sure your volunteer manager sits on your development team

Your volunteer manager’s strong interpersonal skills are an asset to your development team. It’s the volunteer manager who will identify the volunteers who are most loyal to your organization and ready to start or increase their giving.

A talented volunteer manager has built strong relationships with an entire cadre of supporters that your development team do not interact with on a regular basis. While a development director may forge strong relationships with key donors, your volunteer manager spans a much wider scope of relationships. She is interviewing, supervising, troubleshooting, and ensuring that all of her volunteers, which may number in the hundreds of thousands, feel valued and appreciated.

Your volunteer manager knows who is ready for a fundraising ask and who might need additional cultivation. And if your nonprofit offers opportunities for corporate volunteers, she is well-positioned to develop those relationships.

Sometimes, your volunteer manager becomes the best candidate to lead the entire development effort.

Author Elisa Kosarin, CVA, has a quick six-question quiz to reveal your organization’s readiness. To receive your copy, send an email to [email protected] with ‘Volunteers to Donors’ as the subject line.

Here’s an Example

Four years ago, Michelle Thyen, then the Volunteer Program Manager for Brain Injury Services in Springfield, VA, had a vision for expanding all of her organization’s resources, including financial gifts.

“Volunteers were part and parcel of the mission, but donors would come and go without a strong sense of affiliation with the organization. I saw a way to change that scenario by integrating the two,” Michelle observed.

Michelle’s position changed to Director of Community and Volunteer Engagement. In her new role, Michelle focused on community outreach, which included deepening relationships with volunteers. Then, the organization created a team that integrated development, volunteer management, and marketing.

By making the volunteer effort a part of the development and marketing team, and by ramping up collaboration, the organization has experienced significant expansion in giving.

For example, the number of donors who gave during the Brain Injury Awareness Month campaign increased by 323%, and the team has witnessed a upsurge in contributions from volunteers and partners.

This type of success is available to any nonprofit that makes the organizational shift to integrate their volunteer manager with the development and communications staff. The key is to commit to regular meetings and identify opportunities for “cross cultivation,” such as a loyal volunteer who merits an ask to a donor appreciation event, or the corporate donor who may increase giving after experiencing a special day of service.

3. Give your donors opportunities to volunteer

There is an article in Volunteer Engagement 2.0, a valuable reference for any nonprofit that engages volunteers, that addresses the cultivation of volunteers as donors. In Wholly Engaged: Integrating Volunteer and Donor Programs, Kelly Moran and Taylor Mallia note that volunteers tend to have a much richer experience within a nonprofit than donors.  Volunteers have direct, regular contact with staff and clients. They see the program in action and can personally vouch for the quality of services delivered. Donors, on the other hand, often receive their information about a program second-hand, through annual reports, newsletters, or presentations at a special event.

When you compare the experiences of the average volunteer and the average donor, it’s clear that volunteers have more opportunities to build strong relationships within the organization. Given that’s the case, nonprofits are best served by offering volunteer opportunities to their donors.

Donors to Volunteers

Shepherd Community Center (SCC) in Indianapolis does just that. “We absolutely give volunteer opportunities to our donors,” says Phil Merki, the Volunteer Coordinator for SCC. Donors are educated about volunteer opportunities, because “they want to serve – but they don’t know what’s available to them.”

By the same token, the development team alerts Phil when individual donors reach out so that they might be matched in positions that are a good fit.

SCC also makes group volunteering a priority, and as a result, the organization has experienced major increases in corporate and faith-based contributions. Over the past several years, one supporting church has steadily increased the number of volunteers provided for service projects and the size of its financial donations.

“They know our leadership, they know our staff,” observes Phil. “Churches and businesses want to put their money where they know the people involved. “

“The consistent trend is that gifts grow with greater volunteer involvement.”

Are you prepared to ramp up volunteer giving?

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  • Mark

    Brilliant! More people need to know about the critical value of volunteer programs to achieving our nonprofit missions! This problem is why our team of volunteers built Project Lighthouse. To "make it simpler to serve" for volunteers and "simpler to be served" for volunteer managers and devlopment teams. And it's free for volunteers and teams, with enterprise features available for large teams. Check it out at We are welcoming private beta customers and would love your expert point of view as we extend the solution to serve more people.
  • Meridian Swift

    Three excellent points here from Elisa. Moving away from "having a volunteer coordinator" to investing in a leader of volunteers reaps rewards across every organizational spectrum. Emerging leaders of volunteers are a growing force with resources, donations and the community at their fingertips. Having them sit at the planning table is a win-win for all.
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