"And the beat goes on......................"
Many sectors of the nonprofit universe depend on volunteers, and the Arts are no exception. We use volunteers for a variety of work, much of which we couldn't afford to hire people to do. From office functions to performance and exhibition support, to event organizing, we cultivate volunteers and manage volunteer programs. Unfortunately, we regard most of this effort as simply free help.
We may offer training, and even recognition of these volunteers, but generally that's the extent of how we see them. Perhaps we ought to be looking more intently at them as donors.
Research from Australia shows that people who volunteer for a charity (nonprofit) give, on average, twice as much as those who simply donated money.
"The lead researcher for the Giving Australia report, Queensland University of Technology associate professor Wendy Scaife, said people who volunteered gave on average $1017.11, while those who only donated money gave $536.69 over 12 months in 2015 and 2016.
"If you are a volunteer, you can see and feel and touch the difference that's being made, so you're very much aware of the need and you're very much aware of how the organisation is filling it," she said.
"Of course related to that, you can trust where the money goes because you can see it first hand. You know the people and see the practices are not wasteful, and that it's an effective solution to the problem. "
"The fact you have that extra touch point with the organisation would suggest you know a lot more about that particular cause, so you're more interested in doing more about it."
The article notes that helping people and doing something that has a positive impact motivates many volunteers, and the opportunity to network in the community with others plays a role too.
"The Giving Australia report, based on data collected from national surveys, showed people aged 35 to 44 were the age group most likely to volunteer, with 50.7 per cent indicating they volunteered. Professor Scaife said people tended to spend more time volunteering as they aged - those in the 65-year-plus group spent 193 hours volunteering - and the average number of hours spent volunteering had increased from the 2005 average of 132 hours to 134 hours in 2016."
And the report noted too that:
"The amount of time people spent volunteering may have increased, but the percentage of people giving money had dropped from 85 per cent in 2005 to 81 per cent in 2016."
The amount of time volunteering, and the amount people donate who do volunteer, may be different in Australia than here at home, but I suspect the underlying conclusion that volunteers donate more probably holds here too. And I also suspect that while our volunteering may also be up, our donations may likewise be dropping. The Australian drop off may coincide with the universal drop off post the 2008 recession. The report also noted the older demographic tended to give more money.
I think the point is that we shouldn't necessarily come to conclusions without more data, and that we should consider that this is a source of funding that may well be expanded.
This leads to the conclusion that we might spend more time on cultivating volunteers, involving them in our work and both encouraging and facilitating increased donations on their part. This may be a relatively untapped source of additional funding for us, and I think we are probably not taking as much advantage of its potential as we might. It ought to rank higher as a donor source potential, and increased efforts to see if we can expand it seem worthwhile.
If a volunteer is already a donor, they probably already show up on your Development Department lists and radar screens. But we're talking about treating volunteers as a class of donors that we can target and cultivate in specific ways, and not just as individuals who donate at a certain level. They are certainly different from the occasional audience member donor, or the anonymous small donor, or even the major patron donor. It's as a class of people that we might have success in expanding and keeping their ties and their donations to the organization. And their extant nexus to the organization as a volunteer already provides for a relationship that may not exist with other donors.
So what do you do? Unless you're a large organization, you probably don't have a staffer who spends a lot of time on organizing and coordinating your volunteer effort. That's ok. It needs to be a team effort, and that can include volunteers managing it. But you need to involve your development director and your E.D., along with volunteer coordinators - who include in their charge, both moving more volunteers to donate, and increasing current donor amounts. Your volunteer effort should include ways to:
- Deepen and broaden volunteer involvement in the organization and their stake in its' success.
- Expand the number of volunteers, including those from different demographics.
- Encourage volunteers to support the organization via donations - preferably through a defined and sustained program.
- Amass more data on volunteer donations.
- Continually recognize and honor volunteer efforts.
Something to think about.
Have a great week.