Using Volunteer Opportunities to Boost Fundraising Results

Every nonprofit knows that the search for donors is never ending. Whatever your organization’s mission might be, you’re bound to spend many hours calling, emailing, and recruiting donors to bring in the funds you need to make progress towards your goals. One often neglected way of bringing in donations, however, is to focus on bringing in volunteers first. Whether it’s a long-term commitment or just one afternoon, inviting your supporters to come in and lend a hand can be a great way to improve your fundraising results. Don’t just take our word for it though, there’s research to back it up!

The Time-Ask Effect

A series of experiments by Jennifer Aaker, a social psychologist and Marketing Professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, found that asking someone to give time to an organization before soliciting a donation can actually result in larger gifts. The experiment administered an online survey about the American Lung Cancer Foundation to 199 participants. All of those surveyed were asked “How much money would you like to donate to the American Lung Cancer Foundation?” but half were first asked how much time they would give. This half of the group pledged significantly larger donations than those who were not primed with the “Time Ask.”

Aaker explains that this Time-Ask effect comes from the different mindsets we use when thinking about giving time and giving money. When a person is first asked about their willingness to volunteer, they think about the experience they would have and how it would make them feel. When asked how much money they would donate first, however, people begin to think about economic utility. The ask to give time seems to put people in a relatively more generous frame of mind. So, beginning your communications by asking people to give their time might help you boost giving down the line.

Additional Benefits of Providing Volunteer Opportunities

In addition to the potential for increasing gift amounts, there are other benefits to incorporating volunteerism into your fundraising efforts. A 2009 survey by the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund found that people who had volunteered in the last twelve months donated ten times as much money as those who had not volunteered. And two thirds said they had donated to the same charity at which they volunteered.

As can be expected in the wake of a recession, some people simply will not have the means to give a monetary gift. But while an economic downturn does make people less likely to donate, 31% said that it has made them more likely to volunteer. And even if a volunteer can’t afford to donate now, by building a relationship with them, they may keep you in mind later on when they are able to give.

Aside from the ancillary benefits to fundraising, volunteering is a powerful contribution in and of itself. Independent Sector, a network for nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving, estimated the value of volunteer service at $22.14 per hour! You can factor the value of these volunteer hours into annual reports, financial statements, and grant applications.

One Strategy Among Many

As with any fundraising strategy, there are some limitations on using volunteering as a gateway to donations. For one thing, you may have donors that simply cannot volunteer due to time constraints or other logistics. Marking these people in your main CRM and then segmenting them from targeted volunteering asks, will prevent you from annoying them with inapplicable emails.

It’s also impractical to think that you can always ask people to volunteer before donating. That just won’t happen, and if your tried to make it happen, it would very likely be counterproductive. What you can do, however, is add volunteering calls to action to your website and periodically make volunteering asks through social media. You might even add a dedicated volunteering call to action to your regular newsletter or swap out one of your scheduled fundraising appeals with an ask for time instead.

It is also worth noting that, of the volunteers surveyed by the Fidelity Fund, 44% would choose to volunteer elsewhere rather than stay with a nonprofit that doesn’t utilize their skills. One solution to this is keeping your community updated on the special abilities or experience that you need in your volunteer force. You can do this through your website, newsletter, or a platform like, which allows nonprofits to match projects with skilled volunteers.

While asking for donors to volunteer their time won’t provide an immediate fundraising boost, incorporating it into your overall strategy can help you develop long-lasting relationships and increase your donations over time!

Turn New Donors Into Lifelong Supporters

donor retention handbook

Photo Credit: State Farm

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