As small foundations, we are always looking for leverage. Where and how can we invest our assets in ways that will produce the best returns? Will organizations we funded in the past survive these times of shrinking resources and growing needs?
We must encourage and support our grantees as they reimagine how to accomplish their missions with fewer resources. The effective engagement of additional volunteer resources is an obvious part of the solution.
The challenge may be less about increasing the number of people who want to volunteer, and more about building innovative new platforms that connect people with opportunities to make a meaningful impact. Consider these three startling facts from recent research (see Reimagining Service):
- Highly successful and sustainable organizations are most often ones whose board and executive leadership recognize the valuable role volunteers play in accomplishing their mission, and are willing to invest in empowering them.
- Volunteers donate 10 times more money to nonprofits than those who don’t volunteer, and most donate to the organizations in which they are involved.
- 30% of nonprofits do not currently have the infrastructure to effectively deploy additional volunteers.
Support for volunteer involvement can take many forms.
Here are 12 ideas for investing in effective volunteer engagement:
- Articulate your values and beliefs about the importance of volunteerism in your foundation’s mission statement, your written materials, and your website.
- Request basic information in your grant applications about a prospective grantee’s use of volunteer resources, the skills and experience of staff who manage these resources, and the role that volunteers play in the organization.
- Meet with the Director of Volunteer Resources and a key volunteer as a part of your site visits.
- Invite a grant request to partially fund the position of Director of Volunteer Resources.
- Request feedback in written reports or evaluations about the impact of volunteer resources in accomplishing the organization’s mission.
- Collaborate with other funders, local volunteer centers, corporate volunteer councils, nonprofit management assistance programs, and networks of volunteer engagement professionals to enhance volunteer engagement.
- Facilitate or convene dialogues in the community around volunteer engagement principles and best practices.
- Work with grantees to develop measures to assess the impact of investment in volunteering. Share those measures with your colleagues.
- Sponsor a survey or case study on current management practices and/or challenges among nonprofits in effectively engaging volunteers.
- Support existing professional development, training, and networking opportunities for managers of volunteer resources. Provide scholarships to enable those managers to participate.
- Support the development of videos or webinars to bring the latest training to more nonprofits.
- Fund strategic planning sessions to focus on assessing needs and building capacity in volunteer engagement.
Few funders are focused on the importance of this capacity and how it directly impacts the sustainability of their grantees, and yet an increase in the ability to mobilize and use volunteer resources could be a critical ingredient in an organization surviving—and thriving.
If you are doing work in this area, or have any questions or comments, please contact me, as I’d like to know more about your thinking and your work.
Exponent Philanthropy member Jane Leighty Justis is a trustee and the executive director of The Leighty Foundation, founded in Waterloo, IA, by her father in 1985. Jane is active in the promotion of philanthropy through leadership roles with Exponent Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, the National Center for Family Philanthropy, the Colorado Association of Funders, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and others. Jane has a degree in education from the University of Denver, a certification in volunteer management from the University of Colorado, and a master’s degree in Christian leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary.
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