With roughly 800+ volunteers at San Diego Refugee Tutoring, we have one question that continues to plague us: How can we turn more of our volunteers into financial donors? Here, I’ll share with you some ideas we’re working on with input from the fine folks at San Diego Rescue Mission.

Volunteers Are Donors

San Diego Refugee Tutoring started in 2009 with a handful of “do-gooders:” teachers and inner-city ministers. They teamed up to help provide education and resources to the many local refugee families in San Diego. Soon afterward, they realized that many of the children had no ability to thrive in school because of their lack of experience with education and unfamiliarity with English. As the years have passed, the program has grown exponentially.

In recent years, the plight of the global refugee crisis received international attention. This flooded this small group with many new refugees and many more needed and willing volunteers. In the past two years alone, San Diego Refugee Tutoring has seen over 1,100 volunteers come through its doors to help serve over 200 refugee students. Overall, the organization has been both wildly successful and also stretched to its limits. Supporting and managing that many students and volunteers is quite a monumental task for this rag-tag group of “do-gooders.”

As the volunteer base grows and the needs of the students increase as well. We need more administrative professionals and materials. I’ve been humbled to be able to assist with all the website needs of this organization since the early days. I’m even more glad to help get them off the ground with online donations with GiveWP.

Volunteers at San Diego Refugee Tutoring helping students.

Over these past two years, we’ve been working hard to gain more of what some call “super supporters” — generous people who donate both their time and money. While we’ll talk directly about turning volunteers into donors, we try hard to make it clear that our volunteers are donors already. We could not tutor the hundreds of students over these years without the thousands of donated hours from our volunteers. To put that in context, I pulled some raw data on the volunteer hours we’ve clocked this 2018-2019 school year:

  • 1,172 Volunteers attended 7,543 tutoring sessions
  • On average, each volunteer donated 9.6 hours each for a total of 11,314 volunteer hours

Looking at that data, it’s clear that these volunteers love to donate. The challenge then becomes how to help direct that generosity additionally to funding as well as volunteerism. After all, our volunteers are our biggest group of supporters.

Volunteers Love Being Generous

The progression from volunteer into donor seems to come naturally for an organization likes San Diego Refugee Tutoring. I asked the fine folks at San Diego Rescue Mission whether their experience with mobilizing volunteers into donors was similar:

When people see the work up close, have myths dispelled, and make connections with our staff and clients, it’s natural for our volunteers (who have the financial means) to support monetarily.

~ Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson, Vice President of Programs

You might even consider volunteering in your organization as a gateway to giving later on as a long-term supporter. That sentiment is similar to what Fidelity Charitable found in this 2014 study:

87% of volunteers say there is an overlap between their volunteer and financial support.

~ Time and Money: The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy

So, generally speaking, if you have volunteers then they most likely are the warmest audience for your solicitations for donations. The challenge is then to communicate clearly about the financial needs directly to your volunteers without fatiguing them. In the case of San Diego Refugee Tutoring, they have tutoring sessions twice a week throughout the school year. Tutors can be informed about donation needs at each of these events. The messaging here isn’t necessarily that volunteers need to give, but that their help is needed spreading the word about your organization’s financial needs. Ideally, with these types of regular communications and the following tips, you can encourage more “super supporters.”

How to Encourage “Super Supporters”

Now with the overlap identified, we can properly convert volunteers to sustainable donors. There are a variety of tactics to choose from, including treating them like a donor already. Here we’ll talk about four more ways to encourage volunteers to give:

  1. Raise Awareness of Financial Needs at Volunteer Events: Stay transparent and let your volunteers know exactly what you need. Not only will you inform your volunteers of the donations you need to generate, but you’re also showing your credibility. Where has the money that’s come in gone? It’s a question many want to be answered when they give. Answering this question is also an opportunity to explain why you need more and how much.
  2. Show How Monthly Support Multiplies Volunteer Impact: Everyone knows regular giving helps sustain your organization, but show your volunteers how much with numerical data. “If every volunteer gave X dollars, we’d have Y amount,” goes a long way. Your volunteers may have the ability to exponentially increase their impact with just a few dollars a month. Show them that.
  3. Have Convenient Ways to Donate at Events: Your volunteers show up to more events than any other kind of supporter. And events inspire support for your cause. Are you giving them convenient ways to give while they’re most inspired?
  4. Make A Shareable Fundraiser for Volunteers: You can also create a fundraiser specifically for your volunteers. We like the idea of allowing volunteers to send eCards to their friends for a $1, encouraging them to start volunteering or giving to your cause, too. This is a small donation, but it makes giving more fun, encourages multiple eCards to be sent, and recruits even more potential Super Supporters.

Join the Conversation

We’re were live on our Facebook page to talk about turning volunteers into donors with Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson from San Diego Rescue Mission. Even if you missed the free live webinar, you can watch it now and comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Matt Cromwell

Matt is a co-author of Give and is Head of Support and Community Outreach for Impress.org. He loves writing docs and being "Generally helpful since birth".

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