Options for Funder Support of Volunteer Engagement

Whether due to budget constraints, competing demands or lack of understanding about the return on investment in building volunteer infrastructure, these and other examples of investment in volunteer engagement remain the exception rather than the rule.

Grant makers, government, businesses and nonprofits need to work together to increase awareness and support for volunteer engagement. Towards this end, the nonprofit sector has been developing better ways to assess and report the impact of volunteer service. While a standardized approach to assessing impact across all nonprofit organizations may not be feasible, some new tools are emerging, including, for example, Points of Light’s Return on Volunteer Investment calculator (ROVI)5 and the increasing use of outcomes-based evaluation. One of the best funder investments in the future will be supporting the certification of their grantees as a Service Enterprise.

We as funders need to seize this unique opportunity to build nonprofit capacity and to sustain and promote more effective volunteer involvement. What follows are actions which can make this goal a reality:


Influence the Funding Dialogue

  • Examine our values and beliefs about the power and potential of volunteer engagement.
  • Facilitate or convene dialogue with other grant makers and nonprofits in the community on volunteer
    engagement strategies and best practices.
  • Convene funders in your community to explore how you might enhance the engagement strategies of your grantees.
  • Work with your local volunteer center, corporate volunteer councils and United Way to support effective volunteer engagement in the community.
  • Involve grantees in learning and developing measures to assess the impact that volunteer involvement has had on mission fulfillment. Share those measures with colleagues.
  • Ask for feedback regarding volunteer successes and challenges in your grant application and evaluation forms.
  • Add a question to application/site visit about an organization’s philosophy of role and value of volunteer partners.

Make Strategic Investments

  • Support research and evaluation of the return on funder investment in volunteer engagement. This is being done in partnership with higher education and policy research centers, as well as with nonprofits.
  • Become familiar with certification programs such as the Service Enterprise Initiative and Certification in Volunteer Administration; support organizations and professionals in their certification process.
  • Fund a volunteer engagement assessment to help grantees evaluate their current practices. Such audits are available through consultants, university assessment programs and some nonprofit centers.
  • Make volunteer involvement and demonstrated effective volunteer engagement practices a condition for larger funding.
  • Welcome a budget line item to fund a volunteer engagement professional, volunteer resources management technology and software, training and coaching for staff on volunteer engagement and other vital volunteer resources.
  • Support existing professional development, training and networking opportunities for executive directors, managers of volunteer resources and other organizational staff and volunteer leaders; provide scholarships to enable those professionals and volunteer leaders to participate.
  • Sponsor a survey or case study on current engagement practices and/or challenges among your grantees and other nonprofit organizations. 
  • Create innovation awards for organizational leaders who demonstrate unique approaches that address common engagement challenges.
  • Support and encourage academic centers to improve their curriculum on volunteer engagement, nonprofit management and corporate philanthropy.