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How To Turn Volunteers Into Donors And Get Your Board To Give – The Case And Process For Making An Ask

This guest post was authored by Ryan Ginard. Ryan is a Steering Committee member of the San Diego Chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and will be talking about civic technology in philanthropy at the 2015 SXSW Conference in Austin.

It is widely agreed that modern philanthropy is comprised of an individuals time, talent and treasure.

What has not yet been agreed to however is how the non-financial measures of this equation are calculated and how those skills are cultivated to either maximize their ongoing impact or get to a point where those volunteers become regular financial donors.

How can we identify and develop talent concurrently with their propensity to give? When should we ask volunteers to give and how much should we ask for? And one of the most painful recurring questions for nonprofits, how do we get our board members to give?

Answers lie in the ability to track each step in someone’s civic evolution placed against a corresponding set of measures identifying the differing levels of participation.

There are five steps to becoming a civic leader;

1. Learn – Attend meetings, get connected.
2. Support – Volunteer for a cause or organization.
3. Influence – Share your passion with personal networks to create more awareness for the cause and recruit new supporters.
4. Give – Give financially to your cause.
5. Lead – Organize a community movement or project.

The different needs of nonprofits necessitate a flexible scale to guide this “evolution” and calculate any eventual financial ask. Understanding further the gifts of time, talent and treasure we can utilize these important coefficients to ascertain an appropriate value based on their ongoing involvement with your organization.

Time – Not surprisingly, many charitable gifts correspond to an individuals volunteer efforts. The more hours an individual spends supporting an organization, the deeper the connection to their mission.

To evaluate the engagement of a one-time supporter vs that of a ‘super volunteer’ we use the annual hour thresholds as set out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Volunteers by annual hours of volunteer activities table which provides the percent distribution of total annual hours spent volunteering at all organizations.

1. 1- 14 (annual hours volunteered).
2. 15 – 49 hours.
3. 50 – 99 hours.
4. 100 – 499 hours.
5. 500+ hours.

Talent – As with any prospect, an evaluation process must take into account their interest in the organizations goals and objectives. If giving their expertise and ideas is their preferred currency in the first instance it is important that you provide avenues to get them more involved in the organizations activities before you ask them to give more significant gifts.

Using the widely accepted prospect rating codes for nonprofits and assigning the interest code to our 5 point scale, the following should be attributed to ones involvement in an organization;

1. Not involved, no record of interest.
2. Minimal interest, occasional donor, attends meetings infrequently.
3. Moderately active or formerly very active.
4. Very active, member of club, donor of annual fund, committee member.
5. Member of governing board and executive committees.

Treasure – The final measurable is that of financial contributions and should be calculated by the industry standard Annual Fund Gift Range Chart. This is calculated on incremental values based on your annual fundraising goals. The chart below illustrates these figures as an inverted funding pyramid to represent higher donations and the amount of donors needed to achieve these annual targets (noting that 70% of your donors generate 20% of your year-end goals while only 10% drive 60% of your gifts).

So, to answer our original question of “how organizations can develop volunteers into donors?,” we have developed a chart that will help our nonprofits visualize and ultimately guide this process.


The premise of this chart is that when a new volunteer joins an organization they will start at the bottom of one of the volunteer triangles – either time or talent – which is determined by how your supporter begins their relationship with you. The goal is to then help them progress up the chart by providing more opportunities to get them involved until they reach the plateau of that volunteer triangle.

The next step is to steward that individual up the opposite side of the chart concurrently with the inverted “treasure” triangle until they reach the top level of all the charts and reach the self-actualization stage of becoming a civic leader (Lead). Reaching the “Lead” level in this process indicates someone who has become a board member, donated over 500 hours of their time annually to the organization, and gave at the top gift range level.

Example 1: Based on an annual fund of $60,000 a board member who is volunteering between 1-14 hours per year should be giving a gift of at least up to $100.


Example 2: If one of your super volunteers (over 500+ hours a year) is also serving on one of the organizations committees then they should be asked for a gift on the fourth level which would be a gift in the $500 – $1500 region based on an annual fund goal of $60,000.


Example 3: A board member should be asked for a gift in the $500 – $1500 region based on an annual fund target of $60,000 and volunteering between 100-499 hours per year.


Using these charts as a guide, organizations will have a blueprint to cultivate their mission driven champions and avoid the pitfalls of either fast tracking people that do not understand how the organization works or whose appointment does not yield mutually beneficial dividends. While there are always exceptions to the rule, it is envisioned that people will transition into the “Lead” phase of a civic leader’s development over a 3 – 5 year period, providing ample time to identify new talent, develop internal succession plans, and focus on bolder annual fund targets.

In the end, time and talent should be used as a stewarding mechanism for your supporters to develop into regular financial donors. With the sector continuing to evolve and giving occurring in a myriad of forms, now is the time to ask yourselves – how will your organization chart a course for mutually beneficial philanthropic engagement?

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