Volunteer Engagement

Jane Leighty Justis, Board President


Our nation is currently faced with shrinking resources and growing needs which will require a dramatic increase in the number of people willing to give their time and skills as well as their financial resources. However, the challenge may be less about increasing the number of people who volunteer, and more about building infrastructures to connect people with worthy opportunities and empower them to make a meaningful difference.

There is a growing awareness that even if Americans respond to the myriad of calls for service, charities may not be prepared to energize them. A recent survey found that more than 30% of charities do not currently have the infrastructure to effectively deploy volunteers. Volunteer engagement is not a program in and of itself, but cost-effective strategy to assist all organizations and community groups in accomplishing their missions. Now is the time for us as funders to seize this unique opportunity to offer the financial support to nonprofits in building their capacity.



The Leighty Foundation is a small family foundation committed to investing our limited resources in.ways that create the greatest impact,and ensuring the most valuable return on investment. Like many family foundations, we began by funding “good causes”. As we evolved, we chose to leverage our small grants by focusing our giving where we had time and talent to offer, along with our treasure.

During the 20 years prior to the creation of our foundation in the field of volunteer engagement– I served both as a practitioner and national trainer for organizations and communities. As a result our foundation recognized the value of investing in capacity building for organizations in the field of volunteer engagement.

My experience led to a passion for building the capacity of organizations to unleash the power of volunteers. We observed first hand how the dramatic effect of how organizations were transformed by the impact that well placed and equipped volunteers had on the missions of many nonprofit organizations across the country. They delivered direct services, offered consultation and leadership, opened doors in the community, served as ambassadors and raised funds.

In contrast the poor management of this energy resource often had a negative impact on all facets of their work. The leadership of these organizations often considered volunteers “nice but not necessary”, and therefore not worthy of investing resources in their recruitment, nurture and retention. Many funders understand the immense value of community volunteers, and the importance of a solid infrastructure, but failed to appreciate the skills, planning and support needed to harness their full potential. As a result of this disconnect there is a reluctance to provide the financial support necessary. We determined to tep into the disconnect by posing the question, “how can we achieve a greater yield on the dollars and efforts we are already investing in the sector? A critical and often overlooked response to these questions is to build greater capacity by supporting volunteerism and the infrastructure that sustains it. Point of light Institute. A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio.

Our Foundation has spent the last five years deeply invested in the creation and leadership of the Pikes Peak Engagement Initiative. The result is a body of work that describes a model for funders involvement and support. It also demonstrates the potential for a dramatic return on their investment, not only for individual programs but the organizational sustainability, mission accomplishment and community strengthening.

In 2016 we completed the update to the case study materials and expanded funder and nonprofit materials and added video clips, for more on the case for funder investment see, High Impact Volunteerism:Colorado’s Most Valuable Resource by clicking on the the “funder drop down” under the Volunteer Engagement bar at the top of this page.

The field of Volunteer Engagement has been built on the shoulders of many who have championed this immense effort. Thanks to many who continue by play pioneering roles in the field.  Among them are: Betty Stallings, Susan Ellis, Sara Jane Rhenborg Jill Freidman Fixler, Marlene Wilson, and Harriet Naylor.