Picture this.

You drive into the Capital city and pull over at a Marriott. You tell the receptionist your name and they hand you your keys. Courtesy: Embassy of YemenThe next morning, you’re shuttled to your meeting with a few others from various cities across the country. Your meeting is preceded by a gourmet breakfast, followed by a gourmet lunch, followed by a gourmet dinner. During the intervals, you are trained by coveted industry experts. The best part: all of this has been paid for by the non-profit for which you’re volunteering.

I am the story’s protagonist. The organization for which I have been volunteering for over 4 years now has built this stewardship with me and countless other volunteers. This love and gratitude is the primary reason that I have continued to volunteer my time an expertise for the World Partnership Walk. If the oxygen of a non-profit is the donations it receives, the volunteers that support the organization are its heartbeats. So it is supremely important that non-profits focus on building stewardship with its volunteers. At the World Partnership Walk, they refer to this as friend-raising.

If the oxygen of a non-profit is the donations it receives, the volunteers that support the organization are its heartbeats.

Courtesy: World Partnership WalkBut it can be difficult to get buy-in from upper management when it comes to budgeting for volunteers. As it is, non-profits are strapped on cash and it is counter-intuitive for them to spend on volunteers. But how do you survive without a heartbeat? The Walk has grown to over 10 cities across Canada since its inception 30 years ago. Much of this is due to volunteers who have been active for just as long, and I believe that the primary reason for this is that the cause goes to great lengths to encourage and show gratitude to its volunteers. So, while it is counter-intuitive to spend on volunteers, it is actually sustainable.

How to build stewardship with volunteers

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Free training: Offer volunteers training from industry experts. These skills will not only help volunteers do their work, it will also help them in their professional life. I have been fortunate enough to get noticed in the business world because of the enabling power of these trainings. Protip: Negotiate a deal with highly-coveted trainers to provide services in-kind or for a reduced rate. 
  2. Make them a vital part of success: Everyone wants to be a part of success. Tell your volunteers stories from the field about the impact the non-profit has had thanks to the dedication on part of the volunteers. Protip: Teach volunteers about story-telling. Before long, they will be telling your story for you, attracting more volunteers, donors, and participants.
  3. Food is important: Feed your volunteers. There is honestly nothing more distracting to a volunteer than their growling stomachs. And feed them quality food. Keep pizzas for game night. Protip: Many local restaurants and caterers love to give to the community. Build with them, relationships based on gratitude. They will offer food in-kind if the group is small, or at cost if the group is larger. This is their in-kind donation. Many donors also own restaurants. Keep this in mind.

What else would you add?

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5 thoughts on “For non-profits, donations are oxygen, volunteers are heartbeats

  • Catherine

    The easiest one is to simply thank volunteers for their time and effort. I did some writing work for an organization, and heard NOTHING when I completed and submitted about 5 hrs worth of work. I didn’t expect anything in return, but to not even get acknowledgment was poor volunteer management. The next time I heard from them was, “here’s more work for you!” My policy as a volunteer is to never give an hour’s worth of time if they’re not willing to give a minute. So… give a minute. It’s not hard, and doesn’t take much.

    Also… delegate. Be very specific about what you want the volunteer to accomplish. It’s great when volunteers show up, but it’s an enthusiasm-killer if they’re not directed into doing something. Volunteers want to feel like their time matters and that their contribution is lasting. If they feel like they’re wasting time, they won’t be back.

    • Tabish Bhimani

      Hi, Catherine.

      I should’ve thought of those! They’re simple but they’re so true! Thanks for the reminder, and I think that’s a good policy. It also shows you the values that guide the organization.

      The delegate part is also true. In our organization, each volunteer has a specific title and a list for Terms of Reference so they know EXACTLY what they will be doing.

  • Sadru

    Could you guide me and go about how to setup a BLOG such as yours?


    • Tabish Bhimani

      Hi, Sadru. You can email me, I will help you out.

  • Pingback: 5 Critical Tips for Non-Profit Start-Up Success – Tabish Bhimani

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