Invest in Recruiting donors or volunteers?
A lesson from the NFL.

Invest in Recruiting Donors or Volunteers?

What every Christian leader should know: A lesson from the NFL.

by Al Newell

To approach the topic of whether an organization should invest in strategies to garner donors or approaches to recruiting volunteers may be like asking a rabid football fan who’s going to win the big game. My bias: I am a volunteer ministry development consultant. Yet, over twenty years of experience in consulting and training countless leaders of Christian organizations and churches has definitely informed my opinion.

For the purpose of this article, let’s define a donor as a person that gives money to your organization and a volunteer as we would define a High Impact Volunteer that is a person that is regularly serving in your church or organization as a tutor, advocate to churches, Bible Study leader or Life Group leader.

For decades NFL running backs were not only the most sought after draft picks but also were highly paid. However, over the last decade the value and pay of the running back and wide-receive has decreased. While quarterbacks are the highest paid, pass-rushers and offensive linemen are now considered more valuable than running backs and paid accordingly. Is it possible that Christian organizations have also misplaced their value on direct donor or marketing and missed the incredible value that a volunteer ministry brings? Is it time for a change?

Let me point to five reasons why a volunteer strategy may be a much more powerful way to leverage God’s resources.

1) Almost all volunteers are donors but not the reverse. Some years ago an Independent Sector study on giving showed that 88% of Americans donated and yet 46% volunteered. However of the 46% that volunteered, 95% also gave.1 Volunteers are donors! Anecdotally I’ve witnessed this reality in many organizations.

2) Volunteers are the best donors. High Impact volunteers are not just multiplying your ministry effort, typically they represent the best donors. All things being equal those that serve regularly are the best and longest lasting donors in acquisition profiles. Bill became an advocate at Compassion. A lung disease prohibited him from carrying out his volunteer ministry, but Bill felt so much part of the volunteer team, he shocked us when he personally sponsored thirty-three more children and gave a $250,000 check. All things being equal, volunteers will far out give non-volunteering donors.

3) Volunteers recruit more constituents, more volunteers and more donors. Satisfied volunteers are a magnetic force, drawing more volunteers and donors to your ministry. They do so effortlessly as others observe their joy and sacrifice. “Hey I want to do that?” I’ve met countless Operation Christmas Child Volunteers that became involved because of another passionate team member. Grass roots volunteers reach constituencies far beyond and far better than our marketing strategies could dream.

4) Volunteer focused ministries create fantastic leverage. Think of it, in a High Impact organization a Regional Director of volunteers or a pastor may lead 30-200 volunteers. Keeping #s 1-3 above in mind, the impact of paid staff in a volunteer ministry multiplies exponentially creating enormous leverage. In a development department a donor relation’s manager may manage many direct relationships. The best donor relation’s staff may realize a 2-4 to 1 return on investment, some much more and some far less. However in an organization that applies High Impact leader volunteers often manage key relationships the ROI can exceed 20 or 50 to 1 in terms of ministry impact.

5) Volunteer ministry is a clear opportunity for believers to live out their faith, so beside the many benefits mentioned above, perhaps this outweighs them all. Volunteers have an opportunity to present their bodies as a living sacrifice (Heb 12:1) through their service in a very real way. So for those us of strong Bible believers not only does ministry multiplication through volunteers make enormous sense on a practical level but also it aligns so easily with biblical truth. Of course giving obviously aligns biblically, but High Impact volunteers demonstrate more of a whole soul life stewardship that includes giving.

Don’t get me wrong, Development staff are crucial as they recruit, retain and upgrade generous givers. In addition those donors serve as a great pool for High Impact volunteers. And some Development departments have partnered with volunteers effectively within their ministries creating that leverage. The message here to the Christian leader is not that we should abandon donor recruitment or marketing strategies but maybe like the NFL, the time has come to reassess and realign our budgets to reflect the realities of the strategy that can create the greatest leverage and the most effective stewardship.

1). Independent Sector, Giving and volunteering in the United States (2001)

© March 2016 Newell and Associates

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