Brewer Direct

The Cycle of Giving: Turning Volunteers into Your Most Valuable Assets

The Cycle of Giving: Turning Volunteers into Your Most Valuable Assets

Volunteering can be a powerful step in someone’s development journey – from concerned citizen to active participant to passionate supporter.


Volunteers are the heroes of your organization.

Not only do they offer their time and talents to you for free… they’re also some of your most dedicated partners in service to your community. Now that’s a hero! When looking for the people who will step in to help, no matter what, you often don’t have to look much further than your volunteers.

But organizations can “silo” their volunteers into that one box: They came in as a volunteer… so you never talk to them beyond volunteering. Since they typically work with your Volunteer Coordinator and Program Staff, your Development Director hears little to nothing about these committed supporters – and their potential goes untapped.

It’s critical that your Volunteer Coordinator communicate constantly with others on your Development Team so that together, you can move your volunteers around the “Cycle of Giving” – inviting them into new areas of service and involving them in your organization beyond just a Saturday of cleaning or a night of serving dinner.

Before we dive deeper into the Cycle of Giving, let’s look at who’s volunteering, and the value of those volunteers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking volunteer rates in the U.S. since 2002. As of 2015 (the most recent available statistics), the report notes that Gen X has the highest volunteer rate – 29.4% – then Baby Boomers with 27.2%, and Millennials turning in just 21.7% of their time as volunteers.

In 2015, the number of volunteers decreased to 24.9%, or about 62.6 million Americans (and roughly $184 billion of services contributed for free!). While it’s heartening to see a quarter of Americans volunteering, by contrast, in 2011, this percentage was 26.8%; in 2005, 28.8%.


graph of volunteering in America - non profit marketing



That volunteer rates across the country are decreasing should be a concern for nonprofits. Not only because volunteering is an excellent way to get community members involved in your work… but because your volunteers have the potential to grow into so much more, too.

According to “Volunteering and Civic Engagement in America” from the Corporation for National and Community Service, those who volunteer are TWICE as likely to donate financially compared to those who don’t:

graph of donations to charity - Brewer Direct advertising

This takes us back to the Cycle of Giving. By that, we mean the donor’s journey with your organization from their entry point to becoming a far more committed supporter. Notice we used the word “journey.” It doesn’t start and stop with how they came to be involved in your organization – it depends on continually developing their potential to connect even more deeply with your work.

Organizations often forget that volunteering can be a powerful step in someone’s development journey – from concerned citizen to active participant to passionate supporter. Just look at the ways a person can get connected to your organization:

cycle of giving - rescue mission

But moving people around the Cycle of Giving depends on intentional action from your Development Department.

It’s the job of the Development Department to always be thinking about how anyone connected with your organization – volunteer, prayer partner, donation drive organizer, financial donor – can be moved around the Cycle of Giving. Not everyone moves around, of course, but it should be top of mind for all Development Teams at all times.

Just look at the benefits of moving volunteers around the Cycle of Giving:

  • Mary goes to church and someone is speaking about the work of a local Rescue Mission. The Rescue Mission’s spokesperson asks for prayer partners, and Mary signs up. She begins to pray for the charity during her daily devotions.


  • Mary wants to find out more about the Rescue Mission’s prayer needs. She looks on the website and sees a call for volunteers from the Director. She calls the Rescue Mission and signs up to help. She begins sorting donated clothes and serving food.


  • While at the Rescue Mission, Mary becomes more aware of the gift in-kind items that the Rescue Mission always needs, and asks the Volunteer Coordinator about putting together a food drive. The Volunteer Coordinator connects her with the Development Team, who help her put together a food drive at her job. Mary tells everyone about the Rescue Mission and gets people to bring in food… clothing… and other critically needed items.


  • One day at the Rescue Mission, Mary and the Volunteer Coordinator are sharing about their families, and Mary says her husband is a manager at ABC Company. The Volunteer Coordinator knows that the Development Director has been hoping to get in the door of ABC Company to talk to them about sponsorships for months and now, because of this conversation with Mary, they have a contact name. The Volunteer Coordinator shares this important new contact with the Development Team, and a new corporate partnership begins.


  • Mary begins receiving the Rescue Mission’s direct mail and shares the letters with her whole family; together, they decide that they want to financially support the people getting help at the Rescue Mission. Because of her conversations with Rescue Mission staff, Mary knows that becoming an automatic monthly giver helps even more because the Rescue Mission can then count on her gifts – so she decides to give monthly gifts.


  • After years of volunteering, the Development Director approaches Mary to tell her about Planned Giving opportunities. Knowing from her firsthand experiences about all the areas of need at the Rescue Mission, Mary decides to put the Mission in her Will.


Look how each step leads to the next! Mary simply agreed to pray for the Rescue Mission – and it led her to getting personally involved, from serving as a volunteer and organizing donation drives to helping establish corporate partnerships and a planned gift. Notice that Mary’s journey doesn’t happen overnight – it took months and years of being engaged for her to take each new step. But those steps were possible because the Volunteer Coordinator and Development Team worked together to help Mary find new ways to express her passion for helping others.

Mary’s journey is a great example of how Development and Volunteer Teams can work together to guide every supporter through the Cycle of Giving.

If possible, your Volunteer Coordinator should be brought in as part of the Development Team, not exist in a separate department. Your Development Department should be focused on a strategy of engaging multiple types of supporters and moving them around the Cycle of Giving.

We can’t stress how important it is for your Development Team to communicate well within their own department and with all other staff. It provides the opportunity to engage with people you might otherwise not come into contact with – volunteers who can turn out to be real heroes for your organization. It takes time, but as with Mary, it has the potential to yield incredible benefits.

photograph of Shellie Speer - rescue mission marketingNeed input on your Volunteer program? Or help showing Volunteer Managers and Development Teams how to better partner? Brewer Direct’s Executive VP Client Strategic Development Shellie Speer is ready to help!




Tell us about your Volunteer heroes @brewerdirect!

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