Jolene Miklas, Copy Director  ●  4/11/2017

How Listening to Your Volunteers Can Help You Raise Money

animal shelter donors

Storytelling can be a fundraiser’s most powerful tool. When done right, the stories you tell will be memorable, moving, and powerfully motivating to donors. But sometimes, fundraisers struggle to uncover good stories.

Here’s a great place to start:  Build relationships with your organization’s volunteers. Whether they foster kittens, serve food to the hungry, or take outreach programs into the community, your nonprofit volunteers are likely to have a  treasure trove of good stories.


Start mining those stories for fundraising gold! It’s easier than you think:

  • Take a walk with a volunteer. Walk a dog or grab a cup of coffee, and ask about their best moment as a volunteer. What was the hardest? When did they know they were making a life-changing difference? Your donors want to hear these stories from the trenches.
  • Find out whose work puts them on the front lines, and check in with them often. For example, if you work in animal welfare, get to know your foster parents. They’re likely to take in the sickest pets and witness the greatest transformations. Make sure they have your cell phone number and a good camera! They’re going to have wonderful stories for your newsletters and appeals.
  • Some of your best photos may be on your volunteers’ cell phones. Hold a photo contest among your volunteers to discover your best, most appeal-worthy photos … and your best amateur photographers!
  • Shadow someone who volunteers with your outreach programs. You probably know all the stats about your program. But can you describe the relief on a hungry little girl’s face when someone hands her a hot bowl of soup?


Unfortunately, though, outspoken volunteers can sometimes make their voices heard a little too loudly — when they’re not speaking with expertise.

Make sure your volunteers’ well-intentioned advice doesn’t compromise your fundraising, like when they say:

  • “I read our newsletter cover to cover.”
    Sure they do! They’re your in-group. They don’t represent typical donors.

    Assume your donors are skimming. Grab them with strong headlines, captions, and call-outs. Serve up short stories with a strong call to action.

    And if your story is raising money, use it again. Then use it again. Your volunteers will get sick of it. They’ll want you to feature new stories. But donors will be spurred by recognition … and give again.
  • “This doesn’t sound like us.”
    This is a big one. Your volunteers see good work happening every day. Chances are, they have a rose-colored view of your mission — after all, they’ve dedicated themselves to helping! They may not appreciate it when your fundraising looks dire.

    But here’s the reality: Donors want to make a difference. And so do you! Show donors the life-changing — or even lifesaving — difference their gifts can make if only they give. Don’t water down your fundraising to spare someone’s feelings.
  • “What we need is a candle party/jewelry sale/lemonade stand/etc.!”
    Everyone’s got ideas for your next fundraiser, and everyone likes to be heard. This is how too many Development Directors end up hanging decorations and counting change — instead of fundraising and connecting donors’ passions to their mission. While some of these ideas might work for your organization, you must watch your return on investment. Volunteers should be empowered to fundraise on their own, without draining staff resources.


Volunteers can be some of your best resources, especially for uncovering great stories. Listen to them — when it counts — and report back to your donors.


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