Reimagining Engagement and Roles for Volunteers and Donors During the Holiday Season

Since Giving Tuesday I imagine many of your organizations have been gladly accepting financial donations and the like. It is the time of year of giving, and for many non-profits, more money will come over in this stretch towards Christmas than any other time of the year. There will also be a seeming abundance of people wanting to volunteer or get involved in a toy drive or want to deliver Christmas hampers or serve Christmas dinner. Some of this may make sense to you; some of it will not. There is a madness to it all that repeats every single year that can seem overwhelming. And there are legitimate questions like, “Where is all this help the rest of the year?”

I think there is an opportunity to use the outpouring of engagement to strategically gather allies for those other times of the year when help is needed and to get more out of volunteers and donors than just their once a year giving. It requires time to plan, but the payoff is worth it. Here are five ideas you may consider doing:

1. Survey

We make assumptions about motivations and giving all the time. Create a survey – paper or a quick link to an electronic survey – that lets you gather insights into why they felt compelled to give or volunteer and what other opportunities they may consider in the future. You could have a great candidate for a board position or committee chair or organizer for future events in your midst.

2. Invite

Engagement is an opportunity for invitation. You may want some of the volunteers to commit to future meal planning and service, or you may have vacancies on committees that could be filled through volunteers. Or maybe you are planning a new capital campaign or service campaign where you want to invite people to either give or rally others to give. Plan specific invites that you can provide to people.

3. Create opportunity

Rather than just accepting that the holiday season will bring its rush of volunteers and donors, consider creating other types of engagement opportunities throughout the year for the same volunteers and donors to get involved. Christmas in July! End of school year party! Harvest festival! True, it may not be as catchy as people’s natural inclination to give during the more traditional holiday season, but with the right marketing and education, it can work.

4. Advocacy

Every volunteer is a potential advocate. Many just need information on how to advocate and to whom to advocate. Jane and John Doe volunteers, for example, would be happy to sign a petition or write a letter to an elected official about, say, affordable housing needs. They just require instruction on how to do it. Create allies in the work through their engagement in giving.

5. Educate

Many of the volunteers and givers you experience this holiday season will know very little or nothing at all about homelessness, especially the solutions to it. Their joy often comes because of the feeling of donating time or money. With the right education, they can become better versed in the issue, assist with advocacy, and feel the joy of reorienting their work towards solutions rather than just a charitable response. Education can take many forms, from sessions and presentations to brochures and informal engagement with the volunteers are involved. Don’t miss the opportunity.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.


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