Small Development Shop? Stretch Your Staff Resources by Involving Volunteers

fundraising volunteers Feb 23, 2021

You’re in a small development shop, trying to manage grant seeking, coordinate special events, build your major giving program and start a planned giving program, all while maintaining a strong annual fund. So, how do you keep all the balls in the air and show the results your executive director and board are asking for (or maybe demanding!)? You’d love to hire more staff, but your budget does not allow for any staff increases. Wouldn’t it be great to have some “unpaid staff?”

Building a good volunteer base is one way to meet the growing demands of your development office. No, volunteers will not replace staff, but they can be a terrific source of added “person-power.” There are also some distinct advantages of having volunteers involved with your development program even if you have an adequate staff. Volunteers are often the best source of identifying, cultivating and soliciting donors. Volunteers will be more likely to have the connections to businesses and individuals that have affluence than your staff has. A volunteer can approach the "ask" from the standpoint of not being a paid employee and should always tell the prospect about their own commitment to the organization. Volunteers can also be asked to help with specific areas of expertise, such as planned giving, public relations or strategic planning.  Board members, of course, are the chief volunteers for your organization, but I would invite you to think about other volunteers you can enlist to work alongside board and staff members in your development program.

The Development Committee

Start by recruiting a top-notch team of volunteers to serve on your development committee. This committee can help you plan and implement the development plan, as well as assist in any or all of the other areas in this article. Invite several board members to serve on your development committee, but you should draw the majority of its members from outside your board. This will help you expand your fundraising efforts and, at the same time the community members of your development committee can be an excellent source of potential board members. A development committee of fifteen or more members is recommended but be sure these committee members have the skills and talents your organization needs. You can then divide your development committee into subcommittees such as a planned giving committee, event committees, annual fund committee, etc.

What are some ways to involve volunteers in your fundraising?

Volunteers can help with just about any aspect of your development program. Among the roles they can assist with are:

  • Research
  • Writing
  • Donor Stewardship
  • Donor Cultivation
  • Direct Mail
  • Internet Fundraising
  • Telephone Fundraising
  • Major Gifts
  • Capital Campaigns
  • Planned Giving

 You may currently involve volunteers in some of these areas but think about expanding these volunteer roles. It is a proven fact that most volunteers want meaningful work and not just “envelope stuffing.” Not that you can’t ask volunteer to stuff envelopes but providing more meaningful work tends to keep volunteers more involved for a longer time and deepens their commitment to your organization. Here are some ideas you might not have thought about. I would invite you to try one or two of these ideas this year and see what a difference it makes.


Invite a group of community leaders to work on a “screening and rating” session to help you identify major donor prospects, assess the prospective donors’ ability to give and determine the best contact to make “the ask” to these donors. Or, invite a volunteer who loves searching the Internet to help you find potential foundation funders.


In most cases, writing grants, fundraising materials, and annual appeal letters is best done by staff or a consultant, but if you find a volunteer who is top notch writer, perhaps a retired development person, you could invite this volunteer to help with writing stories for your newsletter, appeal letters, website pages or even grant proposal. Just make sure this person is more than a good writer, but that they also understand development.

Donor Stewardship

 Bring together a team of volunteers, including board members, to conduct a Thank-A-Thon to call donors. You can start with the top 10% of your donors, or those you’ve classified as major donors and then if you have enough volunteers, move down the list to mid-level or new donors.

Donor Cultivation

 Why not ask some of your former board members or major donors who have a passion for your organization to host a cocktail party in their home, a breakfast meeting at your facility, or a luncheon in a restaurant and invite some of their friends whom they believe would also have an interest in your organization. Do not ask for money at these events but rather use them to get acquainted and to build relationships with future donors.

Direct Mail

Ask a team of people who know your community well to review your mailing list and help you update any names on it that might not be accurate. These volunteers will probably know who is deceased, married, divorced, moved away, etc. and can help you correct errors in your mailing list that would turn off prospective donors who might receive a mailing with incorrect information.

Internet Fundraising

Form a subcommittee of Internet-savvy volunteers who are active in social media and ask them to start a discussion group about your organization that they can Tweet, text, or post on Facebook.

Telephone Fundraising

 If you have thousands of names to call, you’re wise to engage a telephone fundraising firm, but if you have 1000 or less donors, members, or users of your services, you can plan a volunteer phonathon.

Major Gifts

Review the top 5-10% of your donors and invite those donors to volunteer by serving on a special committee that will identify and invite others to be major donors.

Capital Campaigns

 If you’re thinking about a capital campaign in the near future, invite a small group of people who have served on other capital campaigns in your community to serve as a steering committee for you pre-campaign planning phase.

Planned Giving

 Invite a group of “allied professionals” to serve on your planned giving committee. These volunteers can help you by writing articles for your website and newsletter, conducting planned giving seminars, and identifying potential planned givers for your organization.

Recruiting Volunteers

Recruiting members of the development committee or other fundraising volunteers should follow the same process as board recruitment. Assess your needs and then find the appropriate persons to serve on this committee. Some potential fundraising volunteers might be past board members who want to stay involved in your organization's fundraising activities, those who have volunteered at events, donors, Chamber of Commerce members, and graduates of Leadership programs. For your development committee, you may also want to enlist the help of media and public relations people, development officers, and entrepreneurs. These people will have the skills and talents the organization needed on your development committee. Just as in recruiting board members, it will be important to have a position description with clear expectations before you recruit fundraising volunteers.

Volunteer Training

Volunteers and board members often need training in fundraising practice and techniques. Inviting key volunteers to AFP meetings, conferences and seminars is an inexpensive and effective way to help educate and train volunteers. Another option is to hire a consultant to help train the volunteers. If your budget is tight, ask another nonprofit organization if one of their key volunteers can assist with the training your volunteers.

Evaluating and Rewarding Volunteers

You will also need to evaluate the performance of the fundraising volunteers and assess your needs on an ongoing basis. Developing a plan of action at the beginning of the year, volunteers’ success can be measured against the goals and objectives established in your plan. Did the development committee members get actively involved with the plan? Did volunteers help identity donors? Did they contribute financially and solicit donors? Are there new ventures you are considering such as planned giving, that might require specialized skills and perhaps new volunteers? If so, look for people who can fill these special needs.

All volunteers need to be recognized. Special recognition can be given to volunteers in the newsletter and annual report. Invite the development committee to make a presentation to your board of directors on the work they have accomplished. Elevating effective fundraising volunteers to the board of directors is a good way to recognize their work and commitment.

One of the up sides of a down economy is that there are lots of unemployed people out there with a wonderful array of skills and talents. These people now have time to volunteer, so take advantage of this opportunity. Enlisting the right volunteers for the right job will help you stretch your limited time and produce better result while, at the same time, providing a meaningful experience for volunteers.

Cash in on these ideas today. Learn more about how you can benefit by involving fundraising volunteers. Take my course, Build a Dream Team of Fundraising Volunteers. Sign up here 

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