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Fundraising from volunteers – the big debate

Fundraising from volunteers – the big debate

One subject that divides staff in charities is whether you can fundraise from , from board members to the army of dedicated people who make your work possible.

·       On the one hand, as some of your closest advocates, they are also some of your most likely supporters.

·       On the other hand, you risk losing their existing contribution if you make them feel that their volunteering isn’t enough.

Is it grasping for money from people who already do as much as they can, squeezing them for as much as you can? Is it saying that all you value is cold hard cash? Or is it letting your nearest and dearest understand more about what you need as an organisation in order to continue doing the work that you both care about? Offering them an opportunity to have an even greater impact.

I have come face-to-face with this heated discussion in many of the charities I work with. Here is an outline of how I have worked with colleagues to explore and reconcile these very opposed views; views that can create an unhelpful dynamic between fundraisers and others within their organisation.


The risks of asking volunteers to donate and/or fundraise

Cannibalising support: if done wrong you will lose valuable supporters, either as volunteers or entirely to the organisation.

Damage joint working: if fundraising poses a threat, other teams will respond by blocking joint working in order to ‘protect’ their volunteers from the rest of the organisation.

Ever decreasing returns: relying on the same small group of people to support the entire organisation will stunt growth. To survive and flourish, charities need to grow and refresh their supporter base.

The ideological position: many people vehemently hold that people who give their time should never be asked to give their money. They should be insulated from these demands because, unlike most people, they are already giving! To ask is to insult.


The risks of not asking volunteers to donate and/or fundraise

They might want to fundraise and give: many people who care about your work as much as volunteers do would be happy to do even more to meet the needs of your beneficiaries. Getting involved in multiple ways might strengthen and lengthen their relationship with you.

They are your best advocates: they have a deep understanding of what you do and can talk passionately and authentically about it.

They intimately understand prospective supporters like themselves: for example, some of the most successful recent fundraising ideas (ice bucket challenge, no make-up selfie) came from passionate volunteers.

Not asking could be a dereliction of duty: you cannot run the charity simply on volunteer time – you need income, therefore not asking some of your closest supporters is not doing everything in your power to multiply your work to the benefit of your beneficiaries. Without them you may not be able to do your work.

More time-consuming, less successful fundraising: volunteers, especially trustees, can have strong influential networks.  Personal recommendations are the most effective way to open doors to warm conversations with prospective supporters.


How can we reconcile these two positions?

By acknowledging the risks upfront, we can then explore:

·       Might some of your volunteers want to donate and/or fundraise?

·       Can you imagine how extending the conversation we have with them like this could augment their relationship with the organisation?

The first response is likely to be: “they already have the choice to get involved if they want to, and some already do. We are not stopping them.”

But this conversation is about finding agreement about a more proactive approach: “That is true, but we know that most people will wait to be asked for their help; to be politely invited, to have explained what impact they could make. Inaction does not mean that you do not want to be asked for your help.”


How can we do it safely?

It is possible to mitigate the risks and reinforce volunteers’ relationship with the organisation through:

·       Stewardship: make sure that they feel genuinely thanked and appreciated. Volunteers who are well stewarded and appreciated will be much more resilient supporters. This may be an area of expertise and/or resourcing that the fundraising team can help with. Survey your volunteers. Strengthen your stewardship programme. Pull together a group of volunteer reps to advise the charity on recruitment and retention.

·       Make sure that they know that you are a charity that relies on donations from individuals. Many will never have considered that you have an income or where it comes from; they may think that many of your staff are volunteers too. Many charities expect the charity status blurb at the foot of webpages and publications to convey this message.

·       Let those who believe that fundraising poses a threat to their work, tailor the ask:

How might we offer volunteers the opportunity to get more involved whilst remaining clearly grateful for the contribution they already make?


Guiding principle: tailor it to them as volunteers

1.     Acknowledge their contribution, updating them on the collective impact of volunteers

2.     Ask them if they have the time and resources to consider doing even more

3.     Lay out for them how they might get more involved and, crucially, what the impact would be.

4.     Thank them for considering it and considering who else they know who might want to get involved like them.

If done wrong, it could be very damaging, but you are limiting your success, and therefore the attainment of your mission, if you do not consider asking volunteers to do a comfortable amount more.


Listen to Ilana Jackman on CharityChat


What makes people object to charity? What can fundraisers and charity workers do to understand and what should be their response?

Listen to Ilana Jackman on CharityChat.



My focus is helping you find your solution - your “oh yeah!” moment. I break down your problem, diagnose the issues and lead you to your creative solution. It’s fundraising therapy. As a fundraising coach I have equipped and enabled my clients to raise corporate partnerships and individual gifts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, including the first six-figure sums for some organisations.

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