Volunteers OR Donors? Think Again.

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About the author: Tess Srebro of VolunteerMatch is a Marketing & Language-Crafting Expert with a Master’s of Nonprofit Leadership and a B.A. in Public Relations. You can read more of her work at VolunteerMatch’s blog for nonprofit organizations: Engaging Volunteers.

Volunteer-donor hybrids are more common than you might think. This post looks at why this is the case and how to encourage it, as well as how to avoid some common mistakes.

True or false?

Volunteers donate their time because they are unable or unwilling to donate money.

Sometimes? True. Most of the time? False.

According to research, two thirds of volunteers donate money to the same organizations they volunteer for. Also, volunteers tend to donate much more than non-volunteers.

Surprised? It’s actually pretty simple.

When someone volunteers for your organization, they are likely to feel closely connected to your organization and your mission. This is especially true if you regularly:

  • Show volunteers the impact their work has on the organization and its mission.
  • Keep volunteers in the loop on what’s going on throughout the organization.
  • Involve volunteers in organizational planning by encouraging feedback.

I know that I feel personally invested in the organization I volunteer for. I get excited about the organization’s successes, and I advocate vocally for the mission. And when I was asked to donate as part of a seasonal fundraising campaign – you bet I pulled out my credit card. I knew I was already making an impact, and I saw a chance to make that impact even bigger.

But (yes, there is a but)…

How would a volunteer feel if they received a generic thank you letter for their donation that didn’t acknowledge the other ways in which they contribute? Probably not so great.

How would a donor feel if they started volunteering, and received no acknowledgement of their history with your organization? Again, probably not so great.

This is one of reasons why separating your supporters into volunteers OR donors is a mistake. Does your volunteer manager know when one of their volunteers makes a donation? They should. Make sure these communication procedures are in place.

The ultimate goal is, of course, to make your all your supporters – volunteers, donors, and those who are both – feel like the amazing part of your organization that they are.

Volunteering Makes the World Go Round: How to Help

Working at JustGive, I am exposed to hundreds of people who donate money to worthy causes, and to the nonprofits working for those causes. On a daily basis, this really renews my faith in humanity, and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. People are amazing!

We offer our services to so many incredible charities, and learning about the great work they do is inspiring. Many of them rely completely on volunteer hours, and have few or no paid employees.

Did you know that more than one of every four Americans volunteers? Combined, we volunteer 7.85 billion hours per year. If you’re looking for a way to add meaning to your life or make a difference in the world around you, volunteering is a great choice.

Where To Begin

First, research the causes that are most important to you. Look for a group that works with issues about which you feel strongly. When you feel passionate about a cause, working for free doesn’t feel like work at all.

Consider the skills you have to offer, or skills you’d like to develop. Many positions require a volunteer who has experience with certain equipment, such as computers, or who possesses certain skills, such as an ability in athletics or communications. However, volunteering is a great chance to develop abilities in areas you might not have tried before. Seek out a volunteer opportunity where you’ll learn something new.

Before you start, make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your hectic life, so you don’t frustrate your family, exhaust yourself, shortchange the organization you’re trying to help or neglect your job. It’s better to start out slowly than to commit yourself to a schedule you can’t fulfill.

Volunteer Locally

The most common places you may think about volunteering,  are soup kitchens or animal shelters. Those are great places. In fact, we have a whole list of ways you can help your local community on our website. But donating your time to the first place that crosses your mind isn’t the only way to give back—in fact, there are a lot of places that might need a helping hand specifically because no one thinks to volunteer there. For example, consider:

  • day care centers
  • Neighborhood Watch
  • public schools and colleges
  • halfway houses
  • community theaters
  • drug rehabilitation centers
  • fraternal organizations and civic clubs
  • retirement centers and homes for the elderly
  • Meals on Wheels
  • animal shelters and sanctuaries
  • church or community-sponsored soup kitchens or food pantries
  • museums, art galleries, and monuments
  • community choirs, bands and orchestras
  • prisons
  • neighborhood parks
  • youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
  • shelters for battered women and children
  • historical restorations, battlefields and national parks


You can also easily find volunteer opportunities on the Internet. Sites like VolunteerMatch allow you to search for nonprofit organizations in your area that are looking for people with specific skills. If you’re a member of AARP, sign up for to receive their Create The Good newsletter and check their site for volunteering ideas and information. And if you missed it, check out our blog post, 20 Great Ways to Give Locally.

Give Your Digital Skills

We now live in a digital age, where an organization’s website is often the first impression it makes. A good website can go a long way! Many charities don’t have the resources to dedicate to creating a social media presence, either, which is vital for connecting with potential supporters.

If you are good with computers, you can help a lot by donating web design skills, graphic design, illustration (infographics anyone?!), SEO, social media, or copywriting services. For more information about volunteering your digital services, check out this post from Six Revisions. And find charities that need your services through websites like Grassroots or Taproot.

As an illustrator, I donated my services to design invitations for an animal rescue’s fundraisers. It was fun, I met a lot of amazing people, and I helped a lot of wonderful animals. I highly recommend it!

To the millions of you who volunteer and give, thank you. You inspire me, and you help change the world.

Where do you volunteer? We’d love to hear your advice and experiences—comment below, or join the conversation on Facebook!

—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager

Three Ways to Help the Hungry in Your Community

This time of year, most of us are getting ready to sit down to a Thanksgiving feast with our family and friends. We’re ready to stuff ourselves silly with second and third helpings of a delicious meal, and enjoy the warmth of a toasty fireplace (or, in my case, a space heater).

Unfortunately, not everyone is as blessed. In these tough economic times, 1 in 7 American households can’t afford dinner each night. Hunger is a growing issue for every city and in every community in America—in fact, one of the families in need could be your neighbor.

I just took out my holiday decorations, and am planning to get a tree this weekend. But as I prepare my own home for the holiday season, I’m also aware of the people in my community who need help. I know that it’s not always easy to know where to start and how to help, so I’ve done a bit of research.

Here are three ways I’ve found to help the hungry:

1) Donate to a food drive

Right around Thanksgiving, grocery stores, apartment complexes and retail chains begin to organize food drives where you can donate your canned foods. Can’t find one? Consider organizing one yourself! Find your local food bank and ask what items they need most. This guide will help you organize.

2) Volunteer at a local soup kitchen

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Feel like getting hands-on? Volunteer with a local organization helping feed the hungry. Not sure where to begin? With a website like Volunteer Match you can find nonprofits in your area working to end hunger—just search by zip code and the keyword “hunger.” (Many of these charities would be happy to have even a few hours of your help with their Thanksgiving meal, and you’d still have plenty of time for your own family time.)

3) Donate to your local food bank.

A food bank receives food donations and distributes them to those in need. JustGive makes it easy to find your local food bank and make a monetary donation. Just use our convenient search tool—plug in your zip code and keywords “food bank.”

Donate to a Food Bank

 

I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful, and will consider helping the hungry in your own backyard this holiday season. Happy Thanksgiving!

—Sara Olsher, Marketing Manager