A critical element of any philanthropic endeavor is understanding the importance of high-level volunteer engagement. Developing a reliable volunteer pool is a great first step. But some of the more successful campaigns often find new ways to cultivate volunteers into lead donors through engagement activities. To begin with, take a look at why people volunteer in the first place. It’s important to remember that people are often just looking for a sufficient reason to give their time and effort to a worthy cause. The following is what people say about why they volunteer.

  • 96% say their lives have been enriched with greater purpose
  • 95% say they helped improve their community
  • 94% say their quality of life has improved
  • 81% say they’ve strengthened relationships with colleagues
  • 76% say they feel healthier

The Importance of High Net Worth Individuals

When engaging volunteers, the significance of attracting high net worth individuals (HNWIs) can’t be overstated. Of course they give their time and effort, but they represent an additional opportunity to provide a substantial benefit to your organization. There is a correlation between volunteering for and giving to a nonprofit organization. According to The 2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, almost 70% of individuals that volunteer for an organization also support them financially. On average, donors who volunteered also gave 56% more than those who did not. And according to a recent survey, nearly 50% of HNWIs volunteered – twice the rate of the general population (25%).

Family, friends, and colleagues all help influence HNWIs to volunteer. But it’s significant to note that, when asked how they became involved at the organization for which they volunteered the most, 50% responded that they had been asked by someone within the organization. And of the HNWIs that volunteered, the majority (56%) volunteered with two or more organizations.

Before you start to approach HNWIs, it’s a good idea to begin rethinking the paradigm regarding volunteer roles. These roles can take many forms, including virtual volunteering, coaching or mentoring, serving as a pro bono consultant, or seasonal roles. It’s also necessary to think about how you will plan on managing volunteer leaders:

a. Define roles and responsibilities
b. Train according to their role
c. Establish accountability
d. Provide meaningful growth opportunities
e. Engage them in decision making

Volunteer Engagement in Practice: Two Case Studies

  • The Denver Academy
    The Denver Academy has been serving Colorado students for 44 years, and has roughly 400 students. After successfully running a campaign that raised $5 million, the Academy was planning a new campaign with a $15-$20 million working goal. They put together a draft of the plan for a 50th Anniversary campaign, which included building a new athletic facility and performing arts center, an addition to their endowment fund, as well as renovations.

    Denver Academy decided to get their volunteers involved by using a gallery walk, with stations set up showcasing the plan. This provided a fun way to give input and get to know other volunteers, and helped to bring them up to speed and invest them in the case. This also provided the organization with efficient feedback on their materials, and allowed them to understand which areas the volunteers were most passionate about. This gave them the opportunity to tailor their messaging accordingly.

  • Rowland Hall
    Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, UT, was the first independent school in the Intermountain West region of the country. In 2015, they began planning a campaign to unite the school onto a single campus.

    Rowland Hall hosted a round robin event for their board members and volunteers to engage them in key elements of the school’s fundraising strategy. At this event, attendees rotated among stations and participated in various engagement sessions including a case study review, a moderated discussion on motivations for giving, and an informative session on the fundamentals of a successful campaign. This was conducive to engaging with their large pool of volunteers, who vary between new and experienced. The round robin helped volunteers feel they were having an impact on the organization in a meaningful way in a short period of time. Through this event, the organization was able to strengthen their materials and learn which specific ways the volunteers wanted to be involved.

Four Key Takeaways

1. Be creative when you think about how to work with volunteers
Think outside the box when it comes to engagement. Varied methods for gathering feedback can be a great way to establish a dialogue that can enrich both your organization and the experience of your volunteers.

2. Why people volunteer – one size doesn’t fit all
Remember that people have different reasons for wanting to help your organization in its cause, and these reasons can be valuable in helping you determine different roles for them to fulfill. Keep an open dialogue with volunteers to better understand what motivates them.

3. Manage volunteers as you would treat hired staff
Have a clear plan, role, description, and training in place. People respond positively to a structured environment, and your volunteers will be no different.

4. Ensure volunteers are learning as part of their experience
Building leadership positions for them to fill can ensure that your volunteers not only have a stake in your organization’s mission, but also in their own growth and learning. These experiences can also help prepare them to rise up in the organization to positions on the cabinet or board.

About the Author(s)

Suzanne Eden is a Corporate Vice President with CCS. Suzanne has helped develop major gift, volunteer engagement and campaign strategies, as well as conducted comprehensive development assessments and studies. Her work has spanned client sectors and with organizations ranging from small startups to mature organizations. Suzanne enjoys volunteering with her alma mater, Duke University.