How to support nonprofit volunteers

Part two of a three part series

How to support nonprofit volunteersSometimes volunteers within a nonprofit don’t measure up. That’s not unusual. It’s part of life. For all of us, there are times when we don’t hit the mark. And most know what it’s like when others don’t meet our expectations.

With this column we share why it is important to be clear about next steps when making commitments.

Our goal is to help increase your impact as a volunteer or board member, and help ensure you have the resources, follow up and accountability measures you need.

Through our work we have observed that fundraising volunteers and board members are well intentioned when taking on a responsibility, yet there isn’t always a process in place for them to follow through. Consider this example: you volunteer to assist with cultivating potential donors for a nonprofit. You are excited and ready to go. But, what do you need to actually cultivate donors? What happens after you volunteer? Do you call a staff person for guidance? Does someone call you? Do you go out there and “do your thing?”

Good intentions are the starting point: it is the follow-up and next steps that determine whether volunteers have what they need to fulfill their commitment.

In our experience most volunteers need information such as the organization’s priorities and recent accomplishments. Some want a few stories they can tell when talking with potential donors. Others may want to know the annual operating budget, specific program budgets, and the names of current major funders. They may want to bring people to visit the organization’s offices or sites and have a staff member to meet with their guest(s). All of these will require “work” on the part of staff.

As a volunteer you need to ask “who do I follow up with?” As an executive director or development staff person you need to share with volunteers – in the moment that they volunteer – “What would be a good time for a staff person to connect with you and make sure you have everything need?”

Taking the time to develop processes and people to work with volunteers is a prerequisite for success.

When these are not in place volunteers “drop the ball” and finger-pointing begins. Perhaps you have witnessed this. People volunteer to assist with fundraising and ask for information from staff. No one gets back to the volunteer. He or she gets busy and doesn’t follow up with staff. When the next meeting takes place the volunteer reports “I wasn’t able to take action: I never heard back from staff.” Later, staff respond they didn’t have time or didn’t have the information requested.

Here’s the secret: it takes an investment of staff time and resources for volunteers to make a meaningful impact. Your nonprofit needs to allocate staff to work with volunteers. Providing support “on an as needed basis” is a recipe for failure. People and processes are needed.

In part three we discuss the role of the volunteer manager and how to find the right person for this position.

Copyright 2018 – Mel Shaw and Pearl Shaw, CFRE

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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