What Stops Nonprofits from Mobilizing Donors and Volunteers at Scale (and What to Do About It)

What Stops Nonprofits from Mobilizing Donors and Volunteers at Scale (and What to Do About It)

Do you have enough money and people to power your mission?

It takes resources to change the world, but many nonprofits struggle to attract and retain those resources, both dollars and volunteers. Why is this?

It’s not because people aren’t generous.

We see generosity in action all the time. During the early days of the pandemic, amid great uncertainty, we saw donors show up to give. People, for the most part, want to make the world a better place.

So why don’t more people volunteer? Why do nonprofits turnover almost half of their donors every year? If a sudden wave of selfishness isn’t the problem, then what is?

It’s a mobilization problem.

It’s an issue of getting people across the bridge from “I want to make a difference,” to “I actually did it.” How do you help them activate their good intentions?

Bridge the Mobilization Gaps

To start mobilizing donors and volunteers, you need to bridge three specific gaps.

  1. Desire > Deployment
  2. Expectations > Experience
  3. Collaboration > Silos

Watch Rob Peabody, President of Virtuous Volunteer, explain these gaps and the habits of flourishing nonprofits.

https://virtuous.wistia.com/medias/6hxdtuehnn?embedType=async&seo=false&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=640

#1: The Activation Gap

Desire > Deployment

We talk a lot about doing good. Many people want to get involved with charitable causes…in theory. The desire is there, but many stay on the sidelines. They keep it on their “to-do” list, never quite making it to action.

With family, jobs, commitments, and more, it’s hard to make time for doing good, volunteering, and getting involved. But while busyness accounts for some of the activation problem, there are two other barriers to taking action.

Complex Processes & Too Many Hurdles

If your process of signing up to volunteer or make a gift is too complicated, many prospective donors and volunteers will drift away before they finish.

Do volunteers have to fill out several forms, deliver them in-person, and complete several trainings before they can start volunteering? A lot of people simply won’t complete the process. (That’s not to say you can’t have robust training programs for volunteers, but you’ll have to work to streamline where you can and remove confusion from the process.)

Complex processes can negatively affect fundraising, too. Is the process of making an online gift confusing? Does it take a long time, or even just seem like it might? Most donors abandon donation pages before completing gifts.

Signs of This Issue:

  • Your giving form has unnecessary fields or a confusing layout
  • Volunteers have to give the same information in multiple places
  • There’s no clear signup process for volunteers on your website

What to Do About It:

Lacking Awareness of Needs & Opportunities

You know everything about your nonprofit, but your supporters aren’t paying the same kind of attention. Don’t assume that a person who’s volunteered in one capacity, or given to one program, understands the full scope of what’s needed or available. Donors don’t automatically know what you need or why you need it. Potential volunteers may not be aware of all the ways they can get involved. Often, the reason someone isn’t participating isn’t that they decided not to; it’s because they don’t know they can.

Signs of this Issue:

  • You don’t have a clear description of volunteer opportunities on your website
  • You don’t communicate new opportunities as they arise
  • Your fundraising appeals focus on the organization rather than the cause (“It’s our annual fundraiser!” vs. “This is the need we’re all working together to address.”)

What to Do About It:

  • Regularly communicate with supporters about volunteer opportunities
  • Dedicate a section of your website to volunteering, with clear volunteer role descriptions
  • Make sure your fundraising communications show why contributions are needed and how they will help

Looking for a Solution to Streamline Your Volunteer Management? Watch Virtuous Volunteer (formerly VOMO) in Action!

Gap #2: The Expectation Gap

Expectations > Experience

Your supporters receive personalized experiences from every brand they interact with. When streaming services can offer the next best shows they’ll love, and their favorite shops offer them personalized recommendations for products, it creates an expectation of personalization. It’s a personalized world, yet most nonprofits are handcuffed to impersonal strategies.

These impersonal strategies have real-world implications in low engagement and donor retention.

Inappropriate Asks & Impersonal Messages

Giving your money or time is deeply personal, and one size does not fit all donors or volunteers. When for-profit brands can offer your supporters personalized recommendations and relevant information at every step, generic and impersonal messages from your organization feel alienating.

Generic gift asks can also fall short. If someone has consistently given you $20 donations, suddenly asking for a $500 gift would certainly seem off. Likewise, approaching a major donor with an ask to give $10 a month isn’t the best, most relevant suggestion either.

Signs of this problem:

  • Are you sending the same messages to all your supporters without segmenting them by their giving history, interests, intent, or involvement with your organization?
  • Are your gift ask amounts related to the donor’s past giving?
  • Can you greet supporters by name in all your communications? (Watch out for those “Dear Friend” letters)

What to do about it:

  • Segment your supporters by their behavior and send targeted communications
  • Use a tool like Virtuous’ Smart Gift Arrays or crunch the numbers to make gift asks based on giving history, not guessing.
  • Use merge tags to personalize your communications with names and relevant details
  • Map donor and volunteer journeys
  • Use automation to deliver personalized experiences to the right people at the right time

Lacking Acknowledgement & Transparency

Imagine that you’re incredibly moved by a fundraising message. A story resonates with you and you want to help. So you make a donation.

And then…nothing.

When supporters aren’t recognized or never hear what happened with the gifts they generously gave you, they may not feel motivated to give again. Likewise, volunteers want to hear about the results of their projects. Are people using the house they helped to build? Are literacy rates improving, thanks to their tutoring? Close the loop with every supporter by letting them know what’s going on.

Signs of This Problem:

  • You have a plan for appeals, but not for impact reporting
  • Your thank you letter is more of a tax receipt than an expression of gratitude
  • Your first impulse is to hide from your supporters when something doesn’t go to plan

What to Do About It:

  • Take a good look at your thank you letters. Can you make them more personal? More emotionally satisfying?
  • Schedule regular impact updates as part of your campaign planning
  • Commit to practicing radical candor with your supporters

Gap #3: The Internal Gap

Collaboration > Silos

Is your nonprofit playing an internal game of tug of war? Are fundraising, marketing, finance, and volunteer services all on different planets? Data and departmental silos result in disjointed communications, supporter confusion, and internal frustration. Yet they remain a problem for many organizations.

Silos impact your supporters, too. It results in a fragmented experience, instead of a cohesive one. But your audiences may not be as distinct as you think. Donors may be volunteers. Volunteers may run peer-to-peer campaigns. They’re having one experience with your organization, and it’s confusing when communications from multiple departments tell different stories or work against each other.

Signs of This Problem:

  • Your volunteer data and donor data are in entirely different systems and you don’t share or report on it across departments
  • You don’t have a coordinated communication schedule
  • Finance and fundraising spend a lot of time and effort on reconciliation

What to Do About It:

  • Connect your donor and volunteer data to get a complete view of each supporter’s generosity.
  • Create a regular cadence to share data, projects, and priorities
  • Examine where your technology doesn’t support collaboration or visibility

You have to break down these walls to work effectively across the organization. One strategy is to form a Generosity Ops team. This team sits outside the other departments and stewards organizational data and collaboration. They help everyone else see the big picture, and bring up opportunities for relationship building with supporters.

What Happens When We Mobilize

Tackling these three gaps unlocks generosity. While it requires a mindset shift, the result is an organization that engages whole-heartedly with supporters, and a community of passionate supporters who are ready to give their time, money, talent, and influence for the long haul.

Want to learn more about unlocking holistic generosity with Virtuous?

Book a Demo

 

Fundraising insights you won’t delete.
Delivered to your inbox weekly.
See The Big Picture: Nonprofit Technology Ecosystem Mapping

See The Big Picture: Nonprofit Technology Ecosystem Mapping

If you’re thinking about making a technology change or even simply want to use your existing technology better, there’s one thing you need to do before you take action. Is…
5 Tips For Better Change Management 

5 Tips For Better Change Management 

A lot of nonprofit folks are hesitant to change technology, but it’s not for the reasons you think. It’s not because they love their current systems. It’s not because they…

Grow generosity with Virtuous.

Virtuous is the responsive fundraising software platform proven to help nonprofit organizations increase generosity by serving all donors personally, no matter their gift size.

“Virtuous truly understands nonprofits and the importance of our mission. And their open access to data and built-in custom reports gave us access to the data we need.”
Todd Shinabarger​
Chief Information Officer