Message to Funders



Transforming Limited Assets into Boundless Resources

We as funders must recognize that volunteer engagement is not a program but a critical strategy to assist all organizations and community groups in accomplishing their missions in this time of rising needs and decreasing resources. –– Jane Leighty Justis


  • Effective volunteer engagement has been shown to reap a $6 return on every dollar invested when considering the financial value of volunteer involvement.1 In addition to such strong return on investment, improved volunteer engagement has far reaching benefits.
  • Research shows nonprofits are stronger in all capacities and are more adaptable and capable of going to scale when they successfully engage at least 50 volunteers.2
  • Volunteer engagement is a critical component in helping nonprofit organizations deliver on their core mission by boosting human capacity cost-effectively.
  • Funding volunteer capacity leverages your existing investment in the community—across all impact areas—and aligns with every type of grant making strategy.


Organizations at all levels are recognizing that they must actively commit to volunteer engagement as a core strategy in addressing the challenges of rising needs and decreasing resources. Our foundation saw an opportunity to help local organizations expand their impact by tapping into the rich pool of local human capital. Since 2011, we have convened community leaders, funders, and organizations at the board and executive level as well as staff and volunteers. We have partnered with them in offering vision, training, coaching, peer learning, cohort projects, and networking opportunities. “Time and talent” were required from us as well as “treasure,” and it has produced powerful results in terms of impact and mission expansion.




  • An increase of thousands of pounds of food was distributed by a local food pantry through restructuring and adding supervisory volunteers.
  • A volunteer speaker’s bureau was created and trained for a local advocacy organization.
  • Student and adult volunteers created a donated clothing store for other students in foster homes.
  • A pilot project was created through partnership between an organization and church to recruit mentors for kids aging out of the foster care system.


The high impact volunteer experiences of 25 organizations have informed numerous other nonprofits in our community.

  • Innovation has emerged as a key strategy in many organizations for expanding resources as well as developing a deeper reservoir of talent.
  • Executive directors, development staff, and volunteer engagement leaders are recognizing the value and impact of volunteer resources and are willing to invest staff time and money to support and develop more effective partnerships with them.
  • Corporations are joining the conversations and expanding their employee volunteer efforts.
  • Directors of Volunteer Engagement are meeting regularly to share best practices and engage in peer learning. Many are working toward their national certification in volunteer administration.
  • People who volunteer give ten times more money than those who don’t and they usually give where they are involved.3
  • The work of the Initiative will continue under the leadership of our local Center for Nonprofit Excellence. The momentum will be sustained and we will be able to step into a support role.
  • The Leighty Foundation will now turn its attention to the creation of capacity building resources for national distribution to grant makers and organizations.



Effective engagement of volunteers is about achieving mission and making volunteerism core to a nonprofit’s strategy, not about engaging volunteers as an afterthought.


Convene funders in your community to discuss how you might build this capacity in your grantees.  It’s not about investing in a new cause; it’s about supporting the causes you care about!


  • Well-supported volunteers can create significant value, but we have to invest in effective engagement to unleash this potential by:
  • Requesting basic information in grant applications about applicant volunteer engagement practices and how volunteers are involved in accomplishing their mission.
  • Welcoming a budget line item that reflects volunteer resource needs and staffing.
  • Encouraging your staff and family to volunteer in community organizations to gain firsthand knowledge of what it takes to make volunteering successful.
  • Collaborating and sharing critical learning with other grant makers.


  • Support training and building capacity to improve volunteer engagement practices.
  • Fund a “volunteer engagement audit” to help grantees evaluate their current practices.
  • Fund volunteer engagement staff positions
  • Fund Service Enterprise Certification for the nonprofit.
  • Fund national certification for volunteer management (CVA).
  • Make volunteer involvement and demonstrated effective volunteer engagement practices a condition for larger funding.

For more information, contact Jane Leighty Justis

Questions to Assess Organizational Capacity

Asking the right questions can help in three ways:

Grant makers have specific information to use in deciding whether a request is viable and worthwhile.

Grant makers and grant seekers can initiate dialogue that plants the seeds for improved relationship-building.

Grant seekers respond by assessing how their organization or program measures up to a set of generally recognized standards for volunteer involvement.

The questions below may be used to assess an organization’s overall capacity to manage volunteer resources and volunteer-based projects. Grant makers can learn much of this information by talking with the executive director and other project staff, including the director of volunteer resources. The answers should provide a relevant overview of an organization’s capacity and readiness to engage volunteers and other community resources effectively.


  • How does the organization determine the best way to involve volunteers in meeting its mission?
  • Does your organization have a statement of philosophy regarding the value of volunteers?


  • Is there a budget to support volunteer involvement? What percentage of the agency budget does it represent?
  • Do additional staff members supervise volunteers in the agency? If so, what training do they receive to prepare them to manage their unpaid staff?
  • What degree of coordination and communication exists between the agency’s volunteer resources and development functions?


  • How are volunteers trained or oriented about their work and the agency?


  • How are volunteers recognized for their contributions to the organization’s mission?


  • How does the organization evaluate the overall impact of volunteer involvement?
  • How have volunteers contributed to the goals and objectives of the organization?


  • How will the proposed project involve volunteers?
  • How does the involvement of volunteers enhance or support the project goals and the organization’s mission?


Support Strategies for Funders

Support for volunteer involvement can take many forms, depending on the structure and culture of the organization. Use this checklist as a benchmarking tool or as a springboard of ideas on how you might support effective volunteerism in an organization or a community.


  • Articulate your values and beliefs about volunteerism in the foundation’s mission statement and other written materials.
  • Inform prospective grantees that evidence of a strong volunteer component, where appropriate, will be considered favorably in grant proposals.
  • Request basic information in funding applications about a prospective grantee’s volunteer program and how volunteers will be involved in the project.
  • Discuss who will be managing and supervising volunteers and meet with appropriate staff during site visits.
  • Welcome a budget line item to fund a volunteer resources manager.
  • Ask for feedback in written reports or evaluations about the successes and challenges of involving volunteers.
  • Work closely with local volunteer centers, corporate volunteer councils, nonprofit management assistance programs, and networks of directors of volunteer resources (DOVIAs), to support volunteerism and effective volunteer resources management in the community.
  • Collaborate and share information with other grantmakers in the community to leverage support and services for local nonprofit organizations.
  • Review the list of organizations and projects you currently fund. Are there coalitions or community-based collaborations on the list? If so, the funding source is already supporting an important type of volunteer program because successful coalitions and collaborations utilize volunteer resources extensively. Check to see whether these projects are supported by staff with strong volunteer management or community organizing skills.


  • Facilitate or convene dialogues in the community on nonprofit and volunteer management principles and best practices.
  • Involve grantees in developing measures to assess the impact of investment in volunteering. Share those measures with colleagues.
  • Sponsor a survey or case study on current management practices and/or challenges among nonprofit organizations.
  • Create innovation awards for managers of volunteer resources who demonstrate unique approaches that address common management challenges.
  • Support existing professional development, training, and networking opportunities for managers of volunteer resources. Provide scholarships to enable those managers to participate.
  • Partner with other grantmakers and corporations to pool financial resources that provide professional development opportunities for volunteer resources managers. Invite volunteer resources managers to attend in-house training programs or conferences.
  • Encourage academic centers to improve their curriculum on volunteer or nonprofit management and corporate philanthropy. Provide applicable support.
  • Provide grants to local libraries and volunteer centers to build their volunteer management collections.
  • Provide training on different generations of volunteers and pro bono volunteers and how to effectively engage them.
  • Support the creation of a corporate volunteer handbook, model and training, with corporate partners. These materials would be shared with the numerous local corporations to enhance employee involvement as volunteers in the community.
  • Support the development of videos or webinars to bring the latest training to more nonprofits through technology. This approach could exponentially expand outreach to nonprofits.
  • Fund strategic planning sessions, with facilitators, to focus on assessing needs, developing and/or strengthening volunteer engagement and capacity building. The attendees could be members of the board of directors, executive director, volunteer manager, resource development manager/director, and program managers.

Adapted from A Guide to Investing in Volunteer Resources Management: Improve Your Philanthropic Portfolio