volunteer fundraising header Volunteer Fundraising and Friendraising Online: Tips for Uncertain Times 

In an uncertain economy, nonprofits need to do everything they can to ensure their sustainability, including volunteer fundraising initiatives.   

Certainly, boards of directors and regular fundraising event volunteers are already engaged in raising needed revenue for your cause.   

But, what about other volunteers?   

Given recent shifts in volunteer roles and schedules due to COVID-19 precautions, now is a great time to involve everyone in supporting you in new ways, even if you haven’t asked volunteers to get involved in this way in the past. 

I’ve written recently about how economic uncertainty and recessions impact volunteerism and giving. Now, more than ever, nonprofits will need a solid base of support to keep going. 

Organizations are worried, and rightly so. While some people have the means to continue to contribute to their favorite charities at equal or even increased amounts this year, it remains unclear how high unemployment rates will affect overall giving. 

But it is anyone’s guess how the pandemic will ultimately impact the third sector.  Consider this wide range of opinions, research, and reporting on the topic in the US and abroad: 

Without a clear picture of the future, it’s time for charitable organizations to develop proactive plans to support ongoing operations.  If giving goes up in the sector, then the agency is positioned to make an even greater impact.  If giving goes down, then the organization will be better prepared to weather the storm. 

In addition to the economic and operational shifts, the movement toward racial justice has had an impact on foundation and corporate giving, as activists and advocates challenge philanthropic leaders to prioritize equity, in addition to health and safety. 

So, now is not a time to sit and wait or worse, to be too afraid to ask volunteers for help. 

Volunteer Fundraising Strategies for the New Normal 

While big philanthropy can certainly have a positive effect on whether an organization can thrive through this crisis, it will be its community supporters that will have the greatest impact on your long-term sustainability. 

Volunteers can be your biggest advocates. They prove to funders that the community is behind you. They can help raise needed funds during times of crisis. And, they also contribute financially. 

In fact, according to the most recent data here in the US, while foundations were responsible for $44 billion in revenue in 2020, individuals contributed six times that amount ($265 billion), second only to grants from the federal government ($491 billion) and program fees ($1 trillion). 

The data also shows that many of these individual donors are also volunteers. 

So, while some nonprofits are pushing the pause button on volunteerism (and furloughing their volunteer management staff), the most forward thinkers are doubling down on their efforts to engage the community.  

While many volunteers cannot serve in person, there are ways to help you online, especially now. 

We’ve recently recommended two ways for volunteers to get involved: 

1. Volunteer-Led Peer-to-Peer Fundraisers – Online fundraisers to honor birthdays, special occasions, or challenges are a great way for volunteers to galvanize their own personal networks in support of your cause.

2. Volunteer-Driven Social Media Campaigns – Equipped with your campaign messaging and assets, volunteers can amplify your call to action throughout their own online networks of friends and family. 

These kinds of initiatives are also exceptional opportunities to build a list of “friends and followers” and generate a whole new generation of supporters. For more on how to build your base, check out Network for Good and their helpful eBook The Big Event: 5 Tips for Making Your Next Fundraising Event a Great Success.    

Although the booklet’s title suggests it’s all about fundraising, there are plenty of tips that apply to “friendraising” also.  And, any of these tactics can apply in an online environment.    

Below are a few key takeaways … 

  • Set a Goal that Makes Sense – Raising awareness is not a goal; changing a specific behavior is.  For each event, consider how can your event will help further your mission whether it be raising funds or building your network of other kinds of support.   
  • Choose the Right Type of Event – Make sure the event matches the size and personality of the group you are trying to reach.  If they are more accustomed to formal presentations, set up a formal Zoom presentation.  If they are grassroots and are more comfortable just “chatting,” set up more intimate virtual Q&A sessions, happy hours, or paint and sip events.  
  • Secure Corporate Sponsors – Your organization may have restrictions against working with businesses that pose a conflict of interest.  It might also be a challenge to secure in-kind donations for events that are not held in person. This doesn’t mean you can’t get creative.  Ask local businesses to contribute to swag boxes” that are shipped to event participants.  Expand beyond the usual suspects.  Consider how highly regarded community partners can support you.  And, be sure to promote their participation far and wide.    
  • Design a Dynamic Experience for Your Supporters – Include time for personal storytelling at your online event, whatever the agenda.  Capture hearts and minds.  Have volunteers share why they support the organization.  Have clients tell why your work has helped them.   
  • Finally, Assess What Worked (and What Didn’t), Plan for Next Time and Keep Up Your Relationships – Innovation and iteration are vital to surviving and thriving during uncertain times. Assess how things went. Also, gather event participant contact information. Follow up and ask them to share how they want to be involved.  At this point, they may only want to receive your newsletter.  Fair enough.  Make sure they can also indicate an interest in volunteering or donate right there.  Follow up immediately after the event.    

With some clear planning and strategy, combined with clear messaging about why volunteer support for the effort is so vital, organizations can successfully partner with the community to remain viable. 

Many have done it in the past, and many will continue to succeed in the future. 

Community Fundraising: Four Lessons from Three Superstars  

Due to COVID-19, the expectations of supporters may be fluctuating – regardless of whether they give time, money, or expertise – but the fundamentals of good fundraising practices remain the same. 

And, in today’s environment, it helps to look at some of those who have been most successful online. 

There are three organizations that are hugely successful at generating global support in the online space.  Below, I analyze what’s in their special sauce.  

Three Superstars  

These three powerhouses of digital revenue generating have stood the test of time and grown their impact with smart strategies. They are worth emulating. 

  • Kiva lenders crowdfund an average of $2.5 million in loans each week, creating a unique, renewable pool of funds that is reshaping access to financial services around the world.
  • Heifer International, donations go toward seed investments of livestock or agriculture, followed by mentorship to help project participants build a business, and to gain access to supply chains and markets. 
  • Kickstartera for-profit platform that has generated millions of dollars in funding for creative projects in both the for profit and non-profit worlds.     

Here’s How They Do It   

Below are four common approaches that all three employ that organizations might apply to their own initiatives in innovative ways. 

  • Shared Participation – Interactions go beyond the simple transaction (i.e., I give you money, or time, or expertise and you give me a newsletter, thank you note, recognition luncheon, etc.). Instead, supporters help shape the organization’s priorities and who the organization delivers services to, by choosing how their support will be directed. When lenders visit the Kiva website, they can browse a listing of entrepreneurs and learn more about how their prospective loans will be used, and they make decisions based on their best judgment, not the organization’s.   
  • Digestible Opportunity Design – Calls to action are project specific, rather than general.  Instead of an all-encompassing “come help us do good,” the site highlights specific projects or people needing support, broken into bite-sized chunks. People want to throw their weight behind a fight they believe can be won. Heifer International, for example, offers achievable solutions — a chance to help one family at a time by buying livestock and at a variety of manageable gift amounts.  
  • Trackable Progress – Kiva and Kickstarter post simple bar graphs for each project or entrepreneur that display how much is funded to date. Supporters can easily see whether they are part of a larger community of “angel investors.”  Heifer International converts giving into specific livestock to be donated to families, making the gift more concrete and its impact understandable. 
  • Accountability – Supporters, whether they give time or money, want to know their contributions have an impact.  Kickstarter has an “all-or-nothing” funding policy. If the project does not raise enough funding before the deadline, no money changes hands. That means money isn’t wasted on projects that aren’t compelling or don’t have enough support. Each organization also offers clear and transparent impact data.  It’s easy to see what’s being achieved with the funds that are contributed. 

Imagine the ways your organization might better design and communicate opportunities for support and articulate why people should take part using these tactics.  How might they be game changers for you?   

Volunteer Fundraising: Motivating with Goals 

In addition to tactics, it also helps to think through how you might keep your volunteer fundraising team inspired and motivated. 

A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review posted an interesting article on how to keep New Year’s Resolutions.  The research they shared about what motivates individuals and teams was fascinating.  

Here’s the upshot:  

  • Men are 22% more likely to achieve their goals if they write them down.  
  • Women are 10% more likely to achieve their goals if they share them with family and friends.  
  • Individuals and teams with a weak level of motivation carry out more when it is pointed out how much progress they have already made toward their goal.   
  • Highly motivated people and teams are more productive when their attention is focused on how much work still needs to be done.  

When we think about motivating others to fundraise on behalf of our organization, we often resort to nagging or to tactics that we ourselves find inspiring.  But what do these data tell us about what we should really be doing? 

In the end, you’ll need to evaluate the current level of motivation in your peers, staff, volunteers, board members, etc. and tailor your efforts accordingly.    

In other words, to encourage volunteers to fundraise, we need to know what motivates them. So, before you get started ask a few of your volunteer leaders what they think might work.   

Also, ask volunteers who haven’t been involved in fundraising in the past what has prevented them from doing so.  Is it that they haven’t been asked? They hate to make cold calls?  They aren’t comfortable with the technology platform you are using?  Or is it that they don’t clearly understand how the funds raised will be used. 

If you can get a sense of what is blocking them, you can address it and offer better support and encouragement that can tackle their key objections head on. 

Finally, consider your own mindset about asking volunteers to fundraise on your agency’s behalf. Are there limiting beliefs that aren’t serving you?  

We often assume volunteers have specific preferences and suspect they would politely decline if asked to expand their serve to fundraising.  Are you certain you know what volunteers would say if you asked them to help? 

You won’t know unless you ask.