“When you give yourself, you receive more than you give.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French novelist (1900-1944)
U.S. Trust posted an insightful infographic online that notes, “75% of High Net Worth Individuals Volunteered.” I have found that occasionally, staff of some nonprofit organizations are fearful of engaging major gift donors and prospects as volunteers. But they should not be.
A few years ago, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and VolunteerMatch collaborated on a national study that found, “Americans who volunteer their time and skills to nonprofit organizations donate an average of 10 times more money to charity than people who don’t volunteer.”
Those who have worked in the nonprofit sector for some time as I have recognize that individuals who give of their time and talents can also be quite generous with their financial contributions. As volunteers witness and appreciate the work being accomplished by nonprofit organizations, they become more closely bonded to the nonprofit and its mission.
Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc. wisely notes:
“There are certain similarities between volunteers and donors:
- Both must be found and nurtured.
- Both must come to believe in your cause and in your organization.
- Both must value philanthropic activity.
- Both must feel that their contribution can be helpful.
- Both need to be recognized.
- Both can generate a ripple effect of goodwill, community education, and other positive promotion to bring in even more supporters.
- Both can eventually stop contributing.”
I wanted to share a few heartwarming stories of my own to underscore the value of volunteers. What nonprofit staff will also learn here is that they have a role to play in inspiring donors and volunteers to give generously.
I agreed to tackle a major gift campaign after it stalled in the aftermath of 9-11. Approximately $4 million had already been secured, but another $5 million remained. Existing donors and volunteers were psychologically exhausted, yet the project itself was truly a gem.
Doing the work literally by hand with little or no staffing, I dug into the situation in depth. I learned two prior consultants had thrown up their hands and resigned. Before being hired, a significant grant request upon which everyone had placed high hopes had been declined. A seven-figure grant had been returned because no progress on the project had been made.
Despite this, hope remained among the organization’s supporters. They very much wanted to see the capital campaign succeed and the new facility come to fruition.
My work was cut out for me. From the failed grant proposal I developed an attractive, meaningful case for support document that our volunteers could carry with them on fundraising calls. The content was chocked-full of impressive facts, but we also added photographs to enliven the text and thereby make it an attractive item to display at home or in the office. A “virtual tour” of the proposed new wing replaced a lackluster PowerPoint presentation. Formal campaign meetings were being requested; grant proposals were being formulated.
To make a long story short, it became clear to donors and organizational insiders that real work was being done. My sense of the situation is they had lost faith in the staff as well as the project’s potential for completion.
One of my favorite memories is of a longtime, beloved gift shop volunteer who came to work regularly during the week, asking nothing more than to sit in the museum shop to support our one-person shop manager. One day I was sitting at my desk quietly pouring over campaign details. This very pleasant volunteer wandered in quietly and said, “you know, I think I could pledge $100,000.” I had no idea they had the capability to make such a gift. And as it happens, that gift was eventually doubled by the conclusion of the campaign, and that volunteer remains one of my all-time heroes.
Another volunteer whose primary project was organizing and implementing a popular annual holiday luncheon dropped by my desk one day and without being asked, sat down and wrote me a five-figure check. Again, the volunteer increased that donation more than once before the campaign concluded. Another genuine hero!
To top it off, the most extraordinary volunteer of all worked with me side-by-side almost daily (including several evenings and occasionally on weekends), to develop fundraising strategies and to participate in fundraising calls. This went on for three years. That volunteer also increased their initial contribution substantially, leading ultimately to their naming the new facility itself. And we also became good friends.
These are only a few examples of hardworking volunteers and major gift donors who helped make our capital campaign’s success a reality. I cannot say strongly enough: this project would never have succeeded without them.
But also, I do not think they would have given as generously if they had not watched me working on that project intensely by hand, knowing I would do my best to see it through to its conclusion. Staff working hard – failing and succeeding – honestly and with integrity makes a difference.
You can see why I believe volunteering is such an essential and worthy aspect of nonprofit work, one deserving of more attention than some nonprofit organizations are willing to give it. If you are one of the latter, please reconsider … volunteers are a blessing.
- Elizabeth Abbess has written for How Stuff Works, “Where Can I Volunteer If I’m Handicapped?” (n.d.). On the second page of this helpful article are links to additional articles on topics that range from volunteering to help veterans to volunteering abroad.
- I enjoyed reading, “Richard Branson on the Benefits of Volunteering” (March 24, 2013). I was not aware until recently that Richard authored a book more than a decade ago entitled, “Worldwide Volunteering for Young People” (Parkwest Publications). You can still acquire it online.
- Rebecca Brookman wrote for The Guardian an article I enjoyed, “How-to Guide: Embracing Young Volunteers” (April 9, 2014).
- Catchafire is a skills-based program that matches professionals with nonprofits based on their skills, cause interest and time availability. Another helpful website is Create The Good, developed by AARP, which seeks to connect volunteers with worthwhile projects. “AARP recognizes that many Boomers and older Americans are already giving back to their communities in their own ways – and that a regular volunteer ‘position’ isn’t a good fit for everyone. With limited time and wide-ranging interests, many individuals are looking for more flexible volunteer options. That’s why AARP established Create the Good.”
- An inspiring infographic comes from the Corporation for National & Community Service, “Volunteering Infographic: Volunteers are Resolute in Their Commitment to the Nation” (August, 2011).
- Corporation for National & Community Service has provided a helpful article, “Volunteering Produces Health Benefits” (2007). “The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research has found a significant connection between volunteering and good health. The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.”
- Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc. has written, “Donors and Volunteers – More Alike Than Different” (2002).
- You might enjoy Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc., “The Correlation Between Time Donors and Money Donors” (July 2010).
- Lindsay Gellman in, “Helping Your Cause – And Career,” wisely notes, “It can be difficult for young professionals starting out to fit in philanthropic work or help advance causes they’re passionate about. But donating the professional skills they are trying to hone, even in short blocks of time, is a way for 20-somethings to do good for both their chosen causes and careers” (The Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2013). On a personal note, my first “real” job in the nonprofit sector was offered after I worked with the organization as a volunteer. They observed how I worked, and believed my talents would be helpful as an employee.
- Sharon Illsen has written for VolunteerMatch, “Blurred Lines: Turning Donors Into Volunteers … Into Donors” (May 16, 2014).
- Sharon Ilsen also wrote for VolunteerMatch, “How Flash Volunteer is Using VolunteerMatch APIs to Expand Its Reach” (April 23, 2013). “… Flash Volunteer, a web-based engagement portal for volunteering … allows users to find volunteer opportunities and create their own volunteer events to support causes they care about. The service is built by volunteers, for volunteers, and specializes in group activities such as park cleanups, trail builds, and other single-day events. It uses the power of social media to create opportunities for ‘Cause Crowds,’ flash-mob-style volunteer events.”
- Ryan Scott has written for Forbes, “Helping Employees Volunteer the Way They Want To” (January 22, 2016).
- Robert J. Rosenthal on Frogloop has written, “Taking Advantage of the Time-Money Relationship to Engage Both Volunteers and Donors” (April 22, 2010).
- Independent Sector has posted, “The Value of Volunteer Time.” This section shows the value of volunteer time state-by-state. On a personal note, I have enjoyed helping a promising nonprofit called TEXSAR: Texas Search and Rescue. Click on this link to learn about its volunteer hours and the more than $500,000 in time and expertise donated to the State of Texas during 2015.
- The National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is a tremendous resource for disaster recovery efforts.“National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, membership based organization that serves as the forum where organizations share knowledge and resources throughout the disaster cycle—preparation, response and recovery —to help disaster survivors and their communities.”
- Here is an innovative approach to volunteering. Kathi Jaworski has written for NPQ, “Do Small Incentives for Volunteers and Business Generate Big Resources for Nonprofits?” (September 4, 2013). “SwapServe, a new for-profit social enterprise in Portland, Ore. is banking on a web-based strategy to connect small businesses and volunteers to smaller scale nonprofit initiatives. Its mission is to ‘make volunteering a way of life for more people.’”
- NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network website ~ a search on “volunteers” reveals numerous helpful resources.
- Serviceleader.org provides volunteers and the leaders of volunteer initiatives with high-quality information that furthers the study and practice of volunteerism. I am especially proud this effort is based at The University of Texas at Austin in the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service in the LBJ School of Public Affairs. On the website, there is a helpful comprehensive list of websites promoting volunteerism and community service in the United States and Canada.
- SignUp is a popular app designed specifically for volunteering. I had the good fortune to meet a representative when it was named VolunteerSpot, and to see a demo. SignUp continues to grow globally!
- VolunteerMatch is a nonprofit organization that offers “a variety of online services to support a community of nonprofit, volunteer and business leaders committed to civic engagement.” VolunteerMatch has become a trusted “internet recruiting tool for more than 88,000 nonprofit organizations.”
- Stepping back in time, the first person to show me first hand the miracles a well-organized volunteer program can accomplish – as a fellow staff member of Laguna Gloria Art Museum in Austin in the mid-1980s – is Peggy Morrison Outon. Peggy is now Executive Director of the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management. I dedicate this article to her.
This article was written when I was living in San Antonio, and it was one of my first blog articles. I updated it just a bit in March, 2017.