Leave The Volunteers Alone!
Over the years, I’ve seen nonprofits dramatically increase the amount of data they are capturing about their constituents. Organizations that began by tracking basic contact information and donations in spreadsheets are now investing in robust CRM systems, allowing them to capture giving history and detailed interactions with greater depth. These systems have allowed fundraisers to get the elusive "360-degree view” that so many constituent-centric nonprofits have been waiting for. But despite their progress, just about any time I ask, “where do you store your volunteer information?” I’m still directed to a spreadsheet. And my follow-up question of, “why don’t you store volunteers in your donor database?” is often met with confusion. “Why would we do that??? The development team manages donors and the outreach team manages volunteers...we don’t solicit volunteers for donations”
And there it is...right then I know have a violated rule #1 for so many nonprofits, “Leave the volunteers alone!”
On the one hand, I get it…volunteers offer their time, talent, and energy to move your organization’s mission forward. We should simply be thankful for their efforts, and not greedily ask for money when end-of-year fundraising come along. After all, haven’t they done enough?
On the other hand, your fundraisers spend most of their time trying to sell the mission and vision of your nonprofit. They want their constituents to engage with your organization and feel that they are a part of that mission. Because it is only when they are truly engaged that they feel compelled to give. But the interesting thing with volunteers is that they are already sold on your mission and vision...they’re already engaged. They already feel connected to the work, they are invested in it. So most of your fundraiser’s work is already done. Perhaps the only reason why they don’t give…is because nobody ever asked.
We should not assume that just because volunteers give their time, they are not willing to give their money. For me personally, most of the organizations I donate to are also organizations I volunteered with in the past. That’s what connected me to their work in the first place. And hey, time is limited…if I can’t volunteer, I’m happy to send a check!
So we need to re-think the way we engage with our volunteers, and here our 4 recommendations on the best way to do so:
Bring your volunteers in to your CRM (no more separate spreadsheets). Many CRMs have integrated forms that allow you to send volunteer sign-up information directly in to your CRM. In order to give your fundraisers a true 360-degree view of the constituent, data points such as volunteer interests, hours worked, and frequency of volunteering are critical. All of this helps your fundraiser know more about the constituent and cultivate a unique relationship. Furthermore, this data may surface insights over time. Perhaps there is already correlation between your volunteering and giving?
Acknowledge your volunteers. Now that you’re tracking volunteer metrics, acknowledge them in the same way you would your donors, perhaps even having a mid-tier and top-tier communication based on total volunteer hours worked. Some organizations I work with send out a separate “inside scoop” newsletter to all their top-tier volunteers and organize special “thank you” events, regardless of how much they’ve donated.
Design specific giving programs that may resonate with volunteers. Volunteers may find a generic $25 or $100 generic ask too impersonal, but may be more inclined to sponsor an event they have volunteered for in the past. Or sponsor materials or supplies used for an event they’ve been involved with previously.
Still feeling uneasy? That’s okay, there are other ways to engage volunteers in a way that helps fundraising efforts but doesn’t require soliciting them for a direct donation. Top-tier volunteers can be asked to host a house fundraiser, join you on a visit a with major giving prospect, or speak at your annual gala.
Your volunteers love the work you do! And they understand the work cannot continue without raising funds…so go ahead, make the ask! If it’s done in a smart and thoughtful way, you’ll find out that a happy volunteer will be happy donor too!
Looking for a CRM that can help your manage your volunteer program? Or unsure if you’re current CRM can support it? Contact us at OneTenth Consulting and we will guide you every steps of the way! Also, keep en eye out for future posts in the coming weeks as we evaluate Volunteer Management functionality in some popular CRM systems.