volunteer funding

4 Simple Steps to Win More Funding for Volunteers

Even if you’ve been turned down in the past, you can still succeed at generating more volunteer funding for your program efforts. But, it may take a smarter approach and a fresh point of view to pull it off.

The good news is that we’ve got you covered. Try this four-step strategy and see how it works for you …

Volunteer Funding Step One: Flip Your Script

One of the biggest barriers to securing more volunteer funding and resources for your program is, believe it or not, our own mindset and attitudes

What you believe deep down inside drives your actions and can influence others. If we question the possibilities of our volunteer initiatives or devalue the the needs of volunteers and ourselves, we are doomed to fail.  

If we don’t believe in ourselves, neither will others. So, we need to take an honest look inside.

There are five fixed mindsets around volunteers and volunteer engagement that we see frequently in the nonprofit sector. Not only are their assumptions incorrect, these can actually prevent organizations from finding success

Our beliefs drive our actions and our actions drive our results. If we believe something isn’t worth our time or has no chance of success, we simply won’t try to address it. Limiting beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

When it comes to equipping your volunteer department with adequate resources — whether it be funds for software, background checks, recognition activities, supplies, or professional development — the benefit sets of yourself and decision-makers can determine whether or not a request is approved.

So, they deserve to be examined and challenged.

5 Common Limiting Beliefs About Leading Volunteers

Which of the following limiting beliefs do you think are active in your environment? How might these beliefs affect your ability to get the funds and resources you need to be successful?

1. Leadership and supervisory talent is innate. — Some people believe we’re either born with it or we’re not. But that’s not really how it works. Success is more about finding the right tools and teachers and putting in consistent effort and practice, and less about the raw material we’re born with. In fact, the best managers are lifelong learners who continuously seeks to hone their craft in order to become more effective.

2. We are powerless to make progress around our volunteer strategy because we simply don’t have enough resources. — Every organization starts somewhere, and many have few resources to begin with. Regardless of what you have now, you can always set meaningful goals and, with perseverance, create pathways to reach them. Sometimes small steps can generate the momentum needed to attract more resources.

3. No one understands or values the potential of what volunteers can achieve. — While some people may devalue volunteers, there are plenty of people in your organization and outside it that have similar experiences and values. There are also funding entities that support volunteer efforts — the Volunteer Generation Fund and the Leighty Foundation are two that know what it takes and value the power of community. As a leader, it is also your job to find others by reaching out and starting conversations about shared goals and possible collective advocacy efforts.

4. Because volunteers are free, both they (and I) need very little infrastructure and support to be successful. — Whether the work of volunteers extends across your agency, or fuels a focused initiative, their productivity is likely essential to your success. And, without the requisite resources, you are doomed for failure. Everyone has the right to the proper support and encouragement to get the job done.

5. Because our leadership takes place in a nonprofit setting, everyone (employees and volunteers alike) should make extreme personal sacrifices and be content to make do with scant resources. —  Unfortunately, this scarcity mindset is one of the more prevalent in the nonprofit space. And, really couldn’t be further from the truth. There are abundant resources out there for nonprofits to tap. But, if you don’y believe they exist, you won’t take purposeful steps to find them. Leaders of volunteers add unique value to their workplaces and faithfully do their part to help missions succeed. It is the organization’s responsibility to invest in the work and professional growth of everyone on the team and settle for no less than the best.

Countering Fixed Mindsets About What’s Possible

When you encounter a limiting mindset like these around volunteer funding, flip the script. Ask yourself and others:

  • Is it helpful for us to think this way?
  • What might we be missing from the picture? What haven’t we considered?
  • If someone has made a mistake, or a program isn’t getting results, what proof do we have as to who’s at fault, whether the damage is permanent, or how important it may be to the overall picture?
  • Finally, event if what we believe is true, is it truly catastrophic? And, should it impact whether sufficient resources are made available?

When you encounter these fixed mindsets, take an active stance to dispute them by asking humble questions. When assumptions are called into question, only then can they can begin to be replaced, slowly but surely, with more healthy enabling beliefs.

And until decision makers believe in a positive future for volunteer and volunteer services, they’ll be unlikely to make any significant investments that could fuel your success.

Volunteer Funding Step Two: Know What You’re Fighting For

We’ve written a lot about how to build a bold volunteer vision for your organization. When you seek funding, you must be able to describe it in vivid detail.

Here’s a formula to use to build your key talking points:

Paint a Vision for the Future

Future painting is a way to help leadership look at what’s possible, or what’s ahead for them. You want them to get excited about what you can achieve with more resources, and future pacing will help them envision a better future for themselves if they approve your budget.

To easily use future pacing, begin a sentence with “Imagine …” or “What if …” Here are a few examples …

  • Imagine … what life would be like if our wait lists were abolished and every person who needed services was able to receive them promptly, due to the deep dedication of an unstoppable corps of volunteer helpers?
  • Imagine … if we had a solid corps of volunteer super-fans who recruited the majority of our new volunteers through infectious word-of-mouth marketing, leaving staff more time to devote to our priority tasks?
  • What if … talented volunteers stepped up to provide the needed leadership to help us arrive at solutions to our most complex issues?
  • What if … we had timely insights into areas that needed further investment to grow or improve our volunteer services? 

Describe What You Want to Change & Why

New budgets inevitably require new program changes that impact everyone. It’s important to make a case for change, but first leaders need to clearly understand it. It may seem obvious to you, but it may not be to your leadership. People rarely approve what they don’t understand, so keep it simple and direct. 

Write up one sentence for each of these …

  • What changes will be brought about by more funding
  • What will stay the same (people need to be reassured, too!)
  • What will happen if you do nothing (Why this? Why now?)

Describe How You’ve Already Created Efficiencies

Mention how you’ve leveraged existing resources, have worked more efficiently, and have enjoyed community support (e.g., though in-kind resources and volunteer hours). Also note any collaborations with partners to eliminate silos or duplicative work. Use concrete examples of how you stretched current volunteer funding to the limits.

Identify How Volunteer Funding (and Changes) Will Help Key Stakeholders

Although a boost in volunteer funding will certainly help you personally, you’re better off describing how it will impact others.

Choose any or all of the following key stakeholders and describe the benefits to them …

  • The Executive Director will …
  • The Board of Directors will …
  • Co-workers will …
  • Volunteers will …
  • Community Partners will …

To Wrap Up: Share Your Philosophy of Change & Stability

It’s always a good idea to reinforce the fact that you are a team player who is willing to take full responsibility for the volunteer funding and any changes that come about because of it.

If possible, reiterate some of the key values of your organization (e.g., in our agency we are dedicated to being responsible stewards of public funds). But, also communicate your own leadership philosophy (e.g., I believe in doing what’s best to not only meet our mission but exceed it — I feel it’s my responsibility as a leader to speak up when I see opportunities for excellence).

You can use these talking points in a verbal pitch for volunteer funding. Practice them, so you are comfortable talking about money verbally.

You can also use them in written proposals. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Consistent messaging signals trust and it’s your friend when it comes to influencing others.  

Volunteer Funding Step Three: Don’t Ask For More Resources, Ask to Level Up

In a recent blog post, online community management expert and guru Richard Millington suggested that “Asking for more resources is a fool’s errand.” At first blush, this seems like a hopeless position. But, on the other hand, maybe not …

Later, he recommends that when community managers need resources, ask to “raise the bar on community potential” instead. Wise indeed.

Adapted from Millington’s recommendations, here is one way to link your resource ask with the impact those resources might have.

  • “At the moment we’re achieving [x], but with [insert need] and [insert need] we can achieve [y]”

You might also present options for varying volunteer funding levels …

  • “Here is what we can achieve at current resource levels … “
  • “Here is what we can achieve with an extra $Xk investment … “
  • “And here is what we can achieve with an extra $XXk investment … “

Finally, while asking for more resources may be merely foolish, accepting more work — or a higher expectation of productivity — is outright self sabotage.  

If you’re squeaking by right now, and you’re asked to increase the number of volunteers you engage, now’s the time to ask for additional resources in the form of time, people, or budget. Without an additional influx of one or more of these, you’re setting yourself and your team up to fail.

Volunteer Funding Step Four: Come With Ideas About Where to Find Resources 

When leadership does not want to fund a proposal, they’ll generally reply with “we don’t have the funding at the current time.” That may be so, but there’s no reason you can’t recommend ways to raise it for the future.

Here are seven fresh ways to raise money for volunteer services …

1. Allocate a percentage of total charitable donations to the organization, based on the percent total volunteers donate

2. Allocate a percentage of total program fees, based on the percent of the total staff hours volunteers donate

3. Allocate special event proceeds, all or a portion of the revenue

4. As agency overhead, ask every program in the agency where volunteers are placed to set aside a percentage for volunteer funding

5. Include volunteer services as a percentage of program grants that include volunteers, as part of direct service costs

6. Conduct fundraising campaigns or events to cover general operating expenses or specific purchases needed to support volunteer services

7. “Angel” donors (even volunteers themselves) who want to support a specific initiative or tool the team needs

Don’t Forget In-Kind Resources

Aside from fundraising, you might also brainstorm several sources for in-kind contributions. In‐kind resources, or non‐cash contributions, are things you’d otherwise pay for or that money can’t buy. 

In the early stages, budgets may be almost entirely made up of in-kind resources. But, work to build a cash budget that offers you flexibility for items that can’t be generated in kind.

If you can find in-kind resources to cover some of your budget, you can then re-allocate those funds to your current needs.

Here are just a few kinds of in-kind support you might leverage.

  • Snacks or drinks organization members bring to a meeting
  • Free meeting space, like a church basement or library room, you would otherwise have to rent
  • Items that business owners donate to use for fundraising, like for a raffle or auction
  • Carpenters, painters or local handymen who volunteer their services  
  • Goods are just about anything that isn’t money including:
    • Equipment and furniture, including computers and photocopiers
    • Supplies: paper, filing folders, and other necessary office supplies 
    • Services are often provided by small businesses, vendors, agencies, and colleges. Donated in‐kind
  • Services are not tax deductible. Examples of services include:
    • Printing
    • Website development  
    • Transportation
  • People sometimes volunteer to help your organization. In addition to staffing events or helping with mailings, volunteers might provide training or serve on your Board of Directors. Some examples include:
    • Clerical help
    • Fundraising
    • Legal, accounting, or other professional services

Track Your In-Kind Donations to Promote Future Cash Contributions 

Finally, tracking in‐kind contributions demonstrates community support for your project.  This will strengthen your future proposals to funders and donors. Putting a value on services or goods helps a potential funder understand how you’re getting what you need – besides money – to carry out a successful project.

Tracking in-kind resources also has other benefits. This practice …

  • Helps recognize volunteer efforts
  • Provides funders evidence of community support (can sometimes be used as a grant match)
  • Demonstrates effective stewardship of resources
  • Helps protects against liability claims if hours are logged

You can also use this information to thank your volunteers and donors!

When to Ask for More Volunteer Funding

Successful negotiators know that timing can be a critical factor to getting to “yes.”  There are “inflection points” when decision makers will be more open to a proposal to increase funding or resources. While it’s not always possible to coordinate your ask precisely, below are some times you might consider.

When You Start a New Job — If you’ve been made a job offer — whether as a new job or a promotion — you have tremendous bargaining power right before you accept it. Ask if your prospective supervisor would be willing to entertain a suggestion for resourcing levels that you feel will help you reach the goals for the position.

When You Earn a New Certification or Educational Achievement — Often, your educational level determines, in part, what you are paid. If you’re willing to forgo a bump in pay when you earn a graduate degree or get your CVA credential, you might mention it and then request an increase in program budget instead or split the boosts between the two. By the way, our research consistently shows that folks with their CVA earn more, on average.

When You’re Asked to Do More — If you’ve been asked to bring on more volunteers than is customary, diversify their roles, serve additional departments, or support other expansion efforts it makes sense that additional resources would be required as a condition of success. But, make sure you know the math behind the numbers you are proposing.   

When Your Agency Takes on A New Project — Similar to the point above, if the new project will require volunteer staffing, now’s the time to ask for more support. Better yet, ask to be part of the grant proposal (or contract) development process and make sure you include volunteer support as a line item.

During Your Agency’s Strategic Planning Process — If your nonprofit conducts regular, formalized strategic planning, this is an excellent time to make your needs known. Make sure you align volunteer activity with the agency’s strategic goals and then talk about what it will take to extend your capacity. Now is a good time to negotiate what’s doable with current levels of volunteer funding and what could be achieved with even more. Big decisions are often made in planning rooms on the fly. So, be sure to have your program stats in your back pocket in the event folks want you to back up your claims on the spot.

When You’re at Your Wits End — If you really believe you can’t be successful without additional funds and you are sincerely ready to quit your job if you don’t get them, you can employ this gambit.  But, only use this tactic as a last resort and only if you are willing to follow through on your promise to leave. We’re not talking emotional blackmail here — simply a statement of consequences.

If You Don’t Ask, You Won’t Get

Asking for what you need can sometimes be intimidating. But, don’t let that stop you. The more you practice talking about money, the more comfortable you’ll become and the better you’ll get at it.

And, if your approval isn’t accepted this time around, don’t assume that your needs aren’t relevant or that your request isn’t worthy of consideration. It may simply be a timing issue.  

And, don’t make the rejection about you or use it as proof to support limiting beliefs about what you can or can’t do.

Instead, take stock. Use this as a learning experience to get better at it. Ask your decision makers what additional information might be helpful next time and when you might be able to raise the issue again. 

Sooner or later your persistence will pay off!