When to Listen to Your Volunteers (... And When NOT To)

How Listening to Your Shelter Volunteers Can Help You Raise Money (… And When NOT to Listen!)

A great way to connect with donors is through good stories. And whether they walk dogs, socialize cats, or take your outreach programs into the community, your volunteers can be a treasure trove of fantastic experiences.

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

  • Join a volunteer on a dog walk. Ask her about her best moment as a volunteer. What was the hardest? When did she know she was making a life-saving difference? Your donors want to hear these stories from the trenches.
  • Form relationships with your animals’ foster parents. Chances are, these volunteers take in the sickest pets and witness the greatest transformations. Check in with them. Make sure they have a good camera! They’re going to have wonderful stories for your newsletters and appeals.
  • Your shelter animals’ best portraits are probably 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 about pet therapy or humane education, but can you describe the joy on a sick child’s face when a dog climbs into his hospital bed?

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 animals. But donors will be spurred by recognition … and give again.
  • “This doesn’t sound like us.”
    This is a big one. Your volunteers may devote hours to shelter enrichment activities, pet spa days, or just making sure your shelter animals are as happy as possible. They might not appreciate it when your fundraising looks dire. But here’s the reality. Donors want to save lives. And so do you! Show donors the life-and-death difference their gifts make. Don’t water down your fundraising to spare someone’s feelings.
  • “What we need is a candle party/bake sale/lemonade stand/etc.!”
    Everyone has 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. 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. Listen to them — when it counts — and report back to your donors.

Jolene Miklas Schneider

Jolene Miklas Schneider has dedicated her life’s work to nonprofits and animal welfare. She spent a decade in marketing and fundraising for Animal Friends in Pittsburgh, PA, where she served as Director of Communications. Now she serves animal welfare clients across the US as Senior Copywriter for TrueSense Marketing. She loves her rescued Beagle and 17-year-old cat.

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