In March, I conducted several seminars on the findings of our national research study, Philanthropy in a Turbulent Economy. I talked about what would motivate donors to continue giving during this recession; delegates told me what they were experiencing on the front lines. At the center of every discussion was the contribution that leadership volunteers make to fundraising.
Development Directors and CEOs noted that the recession has caused their Boards and other volunteer solicitors to become very reluctant to ask for gifts. It’s not that they’re afraid of getting a “no”; it’s that they’re convinced they’ll get, “Are you crazy?….You’re asking me to give in this economy?” Their reluctance is accelerated when it comes to donors they know personally. In good times, connection is a huge advantage; in bad times, volunteers worry about opening up embarrassing conversations with friends and colleagues who have been hurt by the recession.
Happily, our research says that these fears are unfounded. According to donors, volunteer asks could mean the difference between reaching goal and falling short.
42.5% of donors would give this year to a cause they had never supported before if asked to do so by a leadership volunteer or by someone they know personally. 78.6% of donors plan to give the same or more this year to organizations they had previously supported if they get a personal appeal from a volunteer or someone they know. And study donors who are volunteers themselves (and that includes over two thirds of all respondents) said they’d be more likely to double the value of last year’s gift if it were for an organization for which they volunteered, either now or in the past.
So, we seem to be in a fundraising catch-22. Donors can be influenced to give because volunteers make the ask; but volunteers aren’t asking for fear that donors won’t give.
Not only do people give to people, but people give to people they trust. And, volunteers are people donors can trust because they give their time and take responsibility for charities at the highest level. At a time when trust is a scarce commodity, not-for-profits’ leadership volunteers represent all that is still good and right with the world.
Editor’s note: We are very interested in learning more about how your Boards are reacting to fundraising in this economy. If this is an important issue for you, we welcome your feedback for a potential online, interactive session for leadership volunteers on this topic.