Robin Bellinger

Strategic Partner and Certified Coach

About Robin

Volunteering in the U.S. hit a record-breaking high in 2018, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, with 77 million adults (30.3 percent) contributing nearly 6.9 billion hours, worth an estimated $167 billion in economic value. Now more than ever, advancement professionals should be ready to leverage this enthusiasm for volunteering to help strengthen the organizations they serve.

In addition, the report states volunteers donate to charity at twice the rate as non-volunteers with nearly 80% of volunteers donating to charity, compared to 40% of non-volunteers. Those closest to the organization are often willing to serve as champions and ambassadors— providing testimonials, building relationships with peers, and encouraging support.

The process of partnering with volunteers is essential to an organization’s success and critical to breakthrough performance. Here are four keys to working effectively with volunteers—whether in or out of a crisis.

1. Create a Volunteer Engagement Plan

Aligning, enhancing, and regularly assessing volunteer support based on a strategic plan is the key to working effectively with volunteers. A volunteer plan is an important component of the organization’s business plan and is essential to the understanding by both internal and external stakeholders of what will be accomplished and how.

Every volunteer opportunity will require management and staff partners to oversee and support meaningful activities. When recruiting volunteers, an organization must determine what can be accomplished through engagement in alignment with the organization’s vision, mission, and available resources.

Ask & Act:

  • What is our strategic plan? A road map defining the organization’s purpose and desired outcome, including volunteer engagement, will establish the basis and need for volunteer support.
  • What needs do potential volunteers fill that would be beneficial to our mission and vision?
  • What can be accomplished if we had more talent, skills, and expertise available to our organization?
  • What does serving as a board, committee, or task force member look like from the volunteer’s perspective?
  • What would an individual find most meaningful as a volunteer?
  • Who will be responsible for overseeing and supporting the work of the volunteers?

2. Recruit at the Highest Level of Focus

Volunteer engagement should be focused on areas of priority. Organizations that best serve the needs of the community have a balance of talent serving on boards and committees that are not only weighted on industry representation, but on a range of other factors as well. Volunteers bring a variety of knowledge, skills, experience, and connections to the organizations they support, in addition to passions and talents outside of their areas of expertise.

Volunteer responsibilities require written position descriptions to ensure successful return on investment for both the individual and the organization. Position descriptions will help both the assigned partner and the engaged volunteer discuss the organization’s need, goals, and objectives in relationship to the mission and vision of the institution. Skills, characteristics and spheres of influence are also important considerations when filling positions.

Ask & Act:

  • What will be accomplished through this partnership?
  • What skills and expertise are needed in support of this engagement opportunity?
  • What amount of time is needed to fulfill this commitment?
  • What are the financial expectations of the volunteer?
  • What support will be provided?

3. Engage and Steward Volunteers

When partnering with volunteers, invite them to be involved in activities outside of their position responsibilities. Turn to volunteers to provide testimonials and represent the organization as spokespeople at events. Ask them to participate in activities that open the doors to new relationships.

An institution’s relationship with a volunteer should be approached with the same care as the relationship with a potential donor. Those engaged with an institution are more likely to be financially supportive of institutional priorities. When focused on high-priority volunteer needs, volunteer strategies are essential and will lead to a higher level of support.

Ask & Act:

  • Where are individual volunteers in their level of engagement?
  • Is there a level of trust and belief in leadership?
  • Do they feel their partnership is appreciated?
  • Do they understand the organization’s impact on the community it serves and have the tools needed to share opportunities for support?

4. Invite financial commitment

Even though research indicates engagement leads to support, there is a reluctance among development professionals to ask volunteers for financial support. An organization should offer volunteers the opportunity to make a contribution. However, asking volunteers to make a financial investment in the organization should be individualized and acknowledge the impact of their involvement and support.

Act & Invite:

  • Thank volunteers for their involvement and demonstrate impact.
  • Highlight the organization’s mission, vision, and plan to meet goals.
  • Express strategic priorities and need.
  • Invite their financial commitment.

Knowing that volunteers look for meaningful and impactful engagement and are proud to serve as ambassadors, capitalizing on volunteer resources will broaden awareness and support throughout your organization’s community—more people will know about your organization, value the services provided, and actively support your mission.


An effective volunteer program is only one part of an overall robust culture of philanthropy at your institution. Tap into our more than two decades of research and discover the many ways we can help you in further developing your organization’s culture of philanthropy.

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