Introduction: Gaining Funder Support for Volunteer Engagement

More than ever before, volunteer engagement holds the power to help organizations achieve mission.Yet, funding directly for volunteer engagement remains the exception rather than the rule. Why is it so difficult to secure funding in direct support of volunteer engagement efforts? The answer is not simple, but we believe it stems from common challenges and misconceptions from both within organizations and in the philanthropic community.

As a leader of volunteer engagement, you likely have experienced some or all of these challenges common in our field. As you review this list of challenges, consider these questions:

  1. Which of these challenges have you experienced?
  2. How can you educate and motivate both the leadership in your organization and funders in your community to support capacity building through volunteer engagement?


Common Challenges

  • Volunteer engagement isn’t seen as a priority. All too often, executive board and staff members are not truly committed to allocating or generating funds to support volunteer engagement; no staff person is responsible for raising funds to support volunteer engagement; and no staff person can articulate the case for supporting volunteers to potential funders. As a result, organizations do not offer volunteer engagement as a priority area worthy of funding.
  • Staff members are resistant to engaging volunteers more meaningfully and that reluctance affects funder attitudes. Staff members often fear being replaced by volunteers, lack trust that volunteers can do the work, or lack the skills to effectively engage and support volunteers. In turn, funders don’t view volunteer engagement as a viable strategy to build organizational capacity.
  • Volunteer engagement is considered a “program” to serve volunteers rather than a strategy to achieve mission. When viewed as a program, volunteer engagement can be considered in competition for funding with other programs. When volunteers are viewed as an audience, rather than as partners in mission fulfillment, then funders don’t view volunteer engagement as a core strategy that can increase their return on investment.
  • Leaders lack an understanding of how volunteering and giving are connected. Volunteers are more likely to donate to the organizations where they volunteer. Rarely is this correlation between volunteering and financial giving communicated to funders, and therefore funders miss the chance to “multiply” their investment by supporting volunteer engagement which often increases fundraising.
  • The term “volunteer” can be misleading. For many, the term evokes the idea of “free help,” thereby compromising requests for resources.

You can overcome these challenges, as long as you make the commitment, understand the research, and communicate strategically. You can make the case to funders and successfully increase your organization’s funding for volunteer engagement. Take these steps: