Stewardship strategies for turning volunteers into donors

Debi Hoxter

By Debi Hoxter

Stewarding your nonprofit’s volunteers with the intention of eventually converting them into donors can be an intimidating responsibility. You may have a collection of people who are giving hours, even days out of their busy lives for your organization’s cause, and then you’re tasked with also asking them to make a monetary donation. As a result, some nonprofits tend to shy away from approaching this important group of stakeholders altogether.

Fortunately, the process isn’t nearly as ominous as it may seem. And that’s because when done properly, stewardship is an organic and even inviting process that turns a somewhat uncomfortable situation into a winning one for both the nonprofit and the individual.

Facilitating such a relationship starts at the very beginning, when the individual first becomes a volunteer. At that point, it’s important to roll out the red carpet and make sure the volunteer immediately feels valued within your organization.

One way to make your volunteer feel welcome is to plan a tour of your nonprofit’s headquarters. But make sure it's well-planned and intentional: Introduce the volunteer to your organization’s executive director, staff, or constituents, and have personalized materials prepared, such as a press kit or annual report. Having these items ready will show the volunteer you went out of your way to plan for their visit.

Be sure to also conduct research into the individual ahead of time to determine his or her capacity. Having knowledge upfront about your volunteer's ability to give or solicit others allows you to steer the relationship in that direction from the beginning.

Once the volunteer feels like a valued part of your organization, make sure he or she stays that way. The key here remains personalization. The more you make an individual feel personally valued by the organization, the more he or she will be compelled to give.

For volunteers who came for a single day of service or who worked on a particular project, write a personalized thank you note and ask to put him or her on the mailing list. For individuals who volunteer on a regular basis, check in from time to time, reminding them how much you appreciate their time and asking how they feel about their experience.

Personalization is a critical component for a successful appeal. Just as you would with a non-volunteer donor, take the time to include a letter to individual volunteers, thanking them for their efforts and asking if they would consider financially supporting the organization.

Finally, never give up on a volunteer. Even if an individual is not yet ready or capable of making a donation, don’t be afraid to ask if there is anyone in his or her personal network who is. Perhaps a friend works for a company looking to expand its philanthropy, or a family member might also be interested in volunteering (studies show that households in which more than one individual volunteers for the same cause are also more likely to donate).

If your organization wants to improve its volunteer stewardship strategies, a firm such as Dunleavy & Associates can provide powerful insights and expertise. Our firm works closely with nonprofits to craft customized stewardship plans that help build lasting relationships with volunteers, existing donors, and new prospects alike, resulting in increased revenue for your organization.

About the author: Debi Hoxter is Director, Corporate & Foundation Relations at Dunleavy & Associates. Pulling from her prior experience as Executive Director, Corporate Underwriting at WHYY, Debi works with clients to build donor and corporate relationships and create strategies for meeting revenue goals. She began her career in advertising, working first at Ted Bates and Grey advertising agencies in New York before serving as Advertising Sales Manager at Philadelphia Magazine.