I decided to start my blog with short articles about mistakes I have seen many nonprofits make, and identify some things that will work better. Number one was “Focus on Grants and Corporate Sponsors” instead of individuals. Today I want to focus on the second biggest mistake: Failing to ask volunteers for a cash donation.

Many fundraising leaders believe they can’t ask volunteers for money when they already give their time. Or they assume volunteers are not interesting in making a donation, which is why they volunteer, and that efforts would be better spent on donors who are more likely to give.

What’s the problem with these beliefs? Everything. When an organization makes an assumption about volunteers and their willingness to give or giving capacity, they almost always leave money on the table. What’s even worse is that they can create a strain on what was a positive relationship that can lead to hurt feelings or even the loss of a volunteer and a donor.

I once served on the board for a large organization involved in a capital campaign. This organization used hundreds of volunteers. When we got to the public phase of the campaign, the staff felt very strongly that the volunteers were already giving time and would be offended if asked to contribute cash to the new building. Those volunteers heard about the campaign through the newsletter and were never asked directly to give. I knew several of those volunteers personally and a few of them approached me as a board member and confided their feelings:
“I was really disappointed to find out the way everyone else did. You would think that since I’m here every week I would hear about the new building before my friend who has only been here once.”
“Why didn’t they ask me for a donation? Can’t they see how committed I am? Maybe they haven’t noticed.”

One person even said, “If they had asked me, my husband and I would have donated [a very large amount – enough to have a room named after them], but he’s so offended that I’m not sure what we will do now. Do they think that we can’t afford it just because I volunteer?”

You don’t want to risk having your volunteers feel this way! The Corporation for National and Community Service puts out an annual research report called Volunteering and Civic Life in America (www.nationalservice.gov/impact-our-nation/research-and-reports/volunteering-america). They found that volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity than nonvolunteers.

I’m not saying that every volunteer in your organization is dying to give you cash, but don’t leave them out of the loop. Don’t assume they are not interested in giving. They see what you do and how you help more closely than others, and they probably see how they money could be spent. Don’t deny them an opportunity to give in more than one way.

The next big mistake I see nonprofits make is when they spend more effort on finding new donors instead of cultivating existing or past donors. Is your organization guilty of this? Stay tuned!