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~ September 2002~ Topics
  • Volunteers and Fundraising at a University
  • Volunteers and Fundraising in an Aquarium
  • Volunteers and Fundraising in a Social Service Agency
  • Volunteers and Fundraising in a Hospice
  • Volunteers and Fundraising in a Museum

Dear Readers:

The subject of volunteers and fundraising has many layers and variations. The one that many volunteer program managers struggle with is whether or not to solicit financial contributions from their direct-service volunteers (not volunteer board members or trustees). I asked you to tell me if the volunteers in your organization are solicited for financial contributions. And, if so, how they are solicited. And if not, why?

My thanks go to our many readers who filled my e-mail box with your comments and ideas. This month's column is devoted to a sampling of your messages.

My own thoughts focus on the conventional wisdom that says volunteers almost always give money to other volunteers. (This notion parallels the general fundraising wisdom that "people give to people and not to institutions.") In other words, just putting a call for money in a volunteer newsletter or sending out an impersonal solicitation letter will often fall on deaf ears of your volunteers. Instead, share the organization's needs that fundraising will meet with a few selected volunteers, making sure that they understand why you are fundraising. Then ask them to organize a campaign JUST for your organization's volunteers so that they have a mechanism to give IF they choose to, but it can't be mandatory.

Set a modest group goal the first year and then slowly increase it, making sure that these volunteer contributors are acknowledged in the same ways that you do for other donors. You might even do something a little extra or special for them to acknowledge that in addition to $$, they give something ever more valuable - their time and expertise.

Thanks again for helping me with this "unscientific" research and Happy September!!

Volunteers and Fundraising at a University:

I work for a large University. The "department" where I am employed as a volunteer and outreach coordinator is aided by a member driven support group - "The Friends." Currently anyone who wishes to be a volunteer must join this support group and there is an annual fee. The support group does provide funding for my "department," some of which is used for the volunteer program. In this sense the volunteers are financially supporting their program. When I first learned of this practice I thought that it was crazy to ask people to essentially pay to volunteer, however I have come to realize that this department is not as supported by the University as one would have thought. The volunteers receive extensive training, workshops, field trips, access to staff expertise, etc., in addition to their member benefits (discounts, newsletter, two free social events per year, free parking). It is important to encourage new volunteers to know about and participate in the "Friends" board meetings and events. I find that prospective and new volunteers are amenable to the membership once they have enough information and this requires divulging the "Organization's" business and a constant stream of communication.


Volunteers and Fundraising in an Aquarium:

We have solicited our volunteers and we do it carefully. Volunteers have been terrific in purchasing tiles for our newest exhibit, participating in an auction of our retiring president's collectibles, and some of them participate on a fundraising advisory committee to our development department. Many of our volunteers are members of our highest membership category. I try to inject humor into the preparation for the ask, such as, "We know you already have given us an arm and a leg, but now we want your blood," or "Are there less than 6 degrees of separation between you and a potential benefactor for the Aquarium?" I have not heard any adverse reaction.

Manager, Volunteer Services
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Volunteers and Fundraising in a Social Service Agency:

We do ask our direct service volunteers to contribute if they'd like. All volunteers are added to our donor database and receive newsletters and direct mail pieces aimed at raising money. We also ask volunteers to contribute financially in fundraisers. In 2000 we did a capital campaign to fund a new kitchen and office facility and volunteers were asked to contribute and many did, some pretty significantly. I don't have solid statistics at the moment, but my guess is over 50% of our volunteers donate to our agency each year.

Director of Volunteer Resources

Volunteers and Fundraising in a Hospice:

I work in Hospice and I have a problem even asking volunteers to supply food and paper goods for events. I feel that since they are not paid staff, they should not be asked to spend their money. Volunteers are occasionally asked to do fundraising events that cost a lot of money. I feel they should be free of charge.


Volunteers and Fundraising in a Museum:

Our docent volunteers are asked to become members of the museum and our support organization, the Alliance. This year they were approached about possibly contributing as a group or as individuals to help pay for a graduate assistant position at the museum. Their reaction was pretty uniformly negative. They felt that they give so much of their time already and should not be used as a source for funds. However, many do give a substantial amount of money to the museum, joining at the higher levels of membership, contributing to our annual fund, belonging to collector groups, etc. (I was actually surprised at the strength of their reaction, since the volunteers at a number of local performing arts organizations do contribute as volunteer groups and are listed on the organizations' donor rolls.) I do suspect that if the group was approached for something near and dear, like a memorial fund for a departed docent or to help fund something for kids , we might have had a different reaction.

Assistant Director of Education

Volunteers and Fundraising in a Social Services Agency:

Yes, our agency definitely solicits donations from our volunteers. They are all on our mailing list and receive our bimonthly agency newsletter, which includes a return envelope for donations, and the periodic appeal letters we send out. We currently send four fundraising appeal letters per year. Very few of our volunteers protest; most are regular financial donors. In fact, we find they are among our biggest supporters simply because they volunteer here and know the programs intimately through their volunteer work, know that we are a good organization from their personal contact with us on a regular basis, and know the money is being put to good use. They are invested in the agency doing well, so they support it through their time and money. We are 99% volunteer-driven. Volunteers are the life-blood of our agency. We have few paid staff. Maybe that makes us different from other agencies, as the volunteers are really the agency.

Director of Programs

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Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at:

Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
2939 Van Ness Street, NW - Suite 1248
Washington, DC 20008
VOICE: 202-966-0859 FAX: 202-966-3301

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