27 February 2006
by Thomas W. McKee
Here is a statistic to consider: Giving and Volunteering in America reports that 84% of all the households that contributed to charities in 1998 had at least one volunteer in that household. Furthermore, the total dollar amount of contributions from those households was 2.5 times higher than that of non-volunteer households.
So think again. If you have volunteers who are not giving to your organization, the odds are they are giving somewhere else, perhaps to several other organizations. In the new reality, money follows involvement. Where else would people rather give than to the organizations with which they feel most connected? If you are not giving your volunteers an opportunity to contribute, most likely you've still got one foot stuck in the old reality.
Let's take a deeper look at your trepidation. Yes, it certainly may be true that some of your more traditional, hard-working, hands-on volunteers might be thoroughly insulted that you would have the nerve to ask them for money. On the other hand, in my experience, if you take the time to ask your volunteers how they would feel about giving money, the majority will tell you they have been wondering what took you so long to ask. The majority will tell you they would be delighted to give.
After all, they are most likely among the three-quarters of Americans who are giving money somewhere. They are giving you their time and their emotional commitment—two gifts that, in today's world, may be more valuable than money. Yet, your organization is holding back on asking them for money for fear of offending them.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Or better yet, think about the places you are already volunteering your time. Even if you are somewhat critical of those organizations, you are committed to what they're up to; you feel connected to their work. After all, you're giving them your precious time and energy.
Without even realizing it, you probably talk about that organization with others and feel more tuned in to issues related to their mission.
So what is our big hesitation about soliciting volunteers?
That's precisely the point. It's our hesitation. Somewhere along the line, we got boxed into the old-reality definition of volunteering. Our definition of volunteering got blurred with work. And certainly, if someone is working for us, we couldn't ask them for money. After all, they're already giving.
We've got to unhook the contrived linkage we've made between volunteering and work. We need to take ourselves back to the roots of volunteerism. It's one of the time-honored values of our culture: people contributing the gift of their time, because they choose freely to do so, because they want to, because they want to give back, or feel connected.
When we go back to the original moment that someone chose freely to give of themselves to a nonprofit organization, we discover the same human impulse that has us feel good about contributing anything in life. As human beings, we love to contribute. It's our favorite thing to do. It's an irrepressible urge. To give, to make a difference, to be connected to others, to make the world a better place for future generations. It comes with the hard-wiring we were all born with. Contribution is our birthright.
And then our silly stuff that says, "We can't ask volunteers to give money; they're already giving," shows up. It gets in the way of giving people the opportunity to do what they naturally are inclined to do. To keep giving.
People give where they feel connected, where they see the need. Your volunteers are already telling you they feel connected and see the need at your place. That's why they're volunteering. They're freely giving of themselves. They choose to do it.
Think about it. Next time you're with a volunteer, ask them why they do it. What do they get out of volunteering with your organization? It may help you to step into the new reality about your volunteers.
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Reprinted with permission of Raising More Money. For more information and free resources about sustainable funding, subscribe to Raising More Money’s free electronic newsletter at www.raisingmoremoney.com