Why Invest in Volunteer Engagement?

Jane Leighty Justis, Board President

Our nation finds itself faced with a perfect storm of shrinking resources and escalating needs.  Meeting these needs will require a dramatic increase in the number of people willing to give their time and skills as well as their financial resources.  However, the challenge may be less about increasing the number of people who volunteer, and more about building infrastructures which connect people with worthy opportunities, and empower them to make a meaningful difference.

There is a growing awareness that even if Americans respond to the myriad of calls for service, many charities are not prepared to effectively engage them. A recent survey found that more than 30% of charities do not currently have the infrastructure to effectively deploy volunteers.  Now is the time for us as funders to seize this unique opportunity to financially support nonprofits in building their capacity.

We as funders must recognize that volunteer engagement is not a program but a critical strategy to assist all organizations and community groups in accomplishing their missions in this time of rising needs and decreasing resources. –– Jane Leighty Justis

Roots of our Passion

The Leighty Foundation is a small family foundation committed to investing our limited resources in ways that create the greatest impact and ensure the most valuable return on our investment. Like many family foundations, we began by funding “good causes”. As we evolved, we chose to leverage our small grants by focusing our giving where we had time and talent to offer, along with our treasure.

During the 20 years prior to the creation of our foundation, I served as both a practitioner and national trainer in Volunteer Engagement for organizations and communities. My experience led to a passion for building the capacity of organizations to unleash the power of this critical resource.

I witnessed the dramatic transformation of organizations through the impact that well placed and equipped volunteers had on the accomplishment of their mission.  They delivered direct services, offered consultation and leadership, opened doors in the community, served as ambassadors and raised funds.

In contrast, the poor stewardship of this energy resource often had a negative impact on all facets of an organization’s work. The leadership often considered volunteers “nice but not necessary”, and therefore not worthy of investing resources in their recruitment, nurture and retention.

Many funders understand the immense value of community volunteers, and the importance of a solid infrastructure, but fail to appreciate the skills, planning and support needed to harness their full potential. As a result of this disconnect there is a reluctance to provide the financial support necessary.  In asking ourselves the question, “How can we achieve a greater yield on the dollars and efforts we are already investing in the sector?” we determined to focus our attention and funding on supporting organizations in building a culture and infrastructure in order to partner with their volunteers in accomplishing their mission.

Our Foundation has spent the last decade deeply invested in the creation and leadership of the Pikes Peak Volunteer Engagement Initiative. The result is a body of work that describes a model for funder involvement and support. It also demonstrates the potential for a dramatic return on funder investment, not only in individual programs, but in organizational sustainability, mission accomplishment and community strengthening.

In transitioning the leadership of our local work to the  Colorado Nonprofit Association of the Pikes Peak Region (formerly the Center for Nonprofit Excellence), we are now able to focus on the creation of a wide range of informative resources for national distribution to funders and nonprofit organizations.

The field of Volunteer Engagement has been built on the shoulders of those who have championed this immense effort. Thanks to these and other pioneers: Harriet Naylor, Marlene Wilson, Betty Stallings, Susan Ellis, Sara Jane Rehnborg, Jill Freidman Fixler and Jackie Norris.