More and more I run across thoughtful and sophisticated advancement leaders who question the value of volunteers. I’m not talking about the volunteers who plan a charity auction or help out with a fun run. I’m talking about volunteers who help with personal solicitations on major and planned gift prospects. I’m talking about Campaign volunteer leaders and Board members.
The thinking of these volunteer-doubters is simple: Volunteers are difficult to manage and, in the end, they take up a good deal of staff time and are mostly ineffective in helping to realize new major or planned gifts. In other words, the ROI doesn’t make sense.
I do not share these concerns. I know, without pause, that volunteers – when inspired and when given the right tools – are invaluable to your advancement program. They authenticate your message to other major donors (“I hope you will join with me in making a major commitment to support our University.”) And the process of volunteering, when handled properly, is a cultivation for the volunteer. I have witnessed many instances in which a campaign volunteer has increased her gift or made a second (or third) gift because her volunteerism engaged her further with the campaign.
Too often I find that advancement leaders seek out volunteers after having not planned for their engagement fully. The volunteers are not given tasks they want or can do and when they do perform it’s as if they are a hassle for the staff member assigned to manage them. Consequently, when the volunteers do not produce an adequate ROI, the advancement leader suggests that the whole process just doesn’t work. In essence, they throw the volunteer baby out because they didn’t make the bathwater the right temperature.
But imagine if we viewed volunteer time as a gift. What if we viewed volunteer time as currency? Think about how differently we would prepare for and engage our volunteers if we handled their time as a gift that we booked in our databases.
We go to great lengths and spend incredible amounts of staff time and financial resources to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward a major gift donor. We do so because we value the major gift. How would we change our approach and care of volunteers if we viewed their time similarly? How much time and money would we spend on identifying, preparing, engaging, and stewarding our volunteers?
What would be the benefits to such an approach? I can think of at least three: First, we would develop far more champions and ambassadors for our institutions. These champions know, from their own experience, that our institutions care for more than the donor’s pocketbook and they are willing to encourage their friends to join their ranks. Second, gift income would increase. When major gift volunteers give of their time, they give of their finances as well. Finally, an increased major donor prospect pool. People with financial capacity know others with financial capacity – others who are not in your institution’s current sphere of influence.
There is nothing – including a financial gift – that is more valuable than an individual’s time. Nothing. We all have only 24 hours in a day. Unlike a donor’s financial gift, when a volunteer gives us part of that time, they can not make more of it. That time is gone. And they choose to share it with us – helping us do our work better. How honored we should be! And what a valuable gift.