man holding a credit card in front of a computer to make a micro-donation

How to Activate Volunteers as First-Time Donors Through Micro-Donations

Did you know that your volunteers are prime candidates to become lasting donors? According to Funraise's 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report, people are two times more likely to donate to causes and organizations that they volunteer for. And a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund report from 2009 (PDF) showed that volunteers will donate 10 times more money over their lifetimes than nonvolunteers to the cause they're involved in.

drawing of a man using a smartphone in front of a computer screen showing a coin being dropped into a donation box

It makes sense — after all, when volunteers invest their time and energy into your cause, they become emotionally invested in your success, making them more willing to offer you their financial support.

By making a tactful request for a small one-time gift, you can encourage your volunteers to take that next step and become supporters for the long term.

The Power of Micro-Donations

According to The Fundraising Coach, the number-one reason volunteers don't donate is that they were never asked to do so. But when asking volunteers to donate, you don't want to pitch them on becoming a monthly donor right away. Instead, start by asking for micro-donations.

These small one-time gifts can be as little as whatever change a donor has in their pocket. Since micro-donations have a low barrier of entry, they can serve as a crucial starting point for volunteers who want to become regular donors. They are easy to give and require no monthly commitment. And since they can be gifts of any size, micro-donations give more volunteers an opportunity to financially support your cause.

A micro-donation often represents the initial gift — or "first dollar" — that a person donates to an organization. When a volunteer makes their initial small contribution, it opens the door to larger donations in the future.

How to Encourage Micro-Donations from Volunteers

Encouraging those first-dollar donations requires a little thought and care. Here are a few strategies you can employ.

Create an Engaging Volunteer Experience

To start, you need to foster a sense of belonging among your volunteers. Work to create a supportive community where volunteers feel valued and appreciated. Try to make it easy for individuals to volunteer by offering flexible opportunities that align with their skills and availability. Again, focus on keeping a low barrier of entry.

You also want volunteers to feel recognized. Regularly acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of your volunteers and recognize their efforts to strengthen their connection to the cause. Send appreciation letters and emails after they volunteer, create recognition awards, or spotlight volunteers on your social media platforms. Switch up the way you thank your volunteers so they feel like their hard work is valued every time.

Provide Plenty of Opportunities to Give

Prompt volunteers to make micro-donations when they are most emotionally invested — during or immediately after a volunteer activity. To make micro-donations more accessible, try to streamline the donation process by integrating micro-donation options into your volunteer checkout process so they can make a small gift right then and there.

Highlight Volunteers' Impact

Make it clear to first-time donors that their donations matter by communicating how micro-donations will further their support of your organization's mission. You can share stories that illustrate the positive impact of micro-donations — perhaps the cumulative impact from previous campaigns. Real-life examples can drive home the significance of their contributions and inspire volunteers to give.

Show the Impact of All Gifts, No Matter How Small

Demonstrate how even the smallest donations contribute to achieving your organization's goals. Every dollar counts, and volunteers need to see the tangible results of their contributions.

Ask with Tact

Not everyone will appreciate being asked to donate after they stepped up to volunteer, so you will want to be thoughtful in how you ask for contributions.

One way to target high-potential volunteer donors without alienating them is to collect their feedback. Ask them about their experience immediately after they volunteered because that is when they are feeling most inspired by your organization (and you're top of mind). Only ask for donations from volunteers who had a good experience because no one likes being asked for money if they have had a poor experience.

The amount of the request should also be relatively low. We would recommend $5 or $10 (or even lower) to ensure that your volunteers feel the donation is incremental to the contribution they just made. Larger donation requests can alienate volunteers — they will think you don't value their time and that you're only interested in a donation.

Long-Term Benefits of Repeat Giving

Harnessing the power of micro-donations from volunteers can be a transformative fundraising strategy for nonprofit organizations. By creating engaging volunteer experiences, integrating micro-donation options, and highlighting the impact of even the smallest contributions, you can build a culture of giving that sustains your organization in the long run.

About the Author

As CEO of Civic Champs, Geng Wang leads a team of passionate change leaders to help nonprofits of all sizes track, manage, and engage volunteers. Customers who use Civic Champs have eliminated up to 85 percent of manual data entry while growing their volunteer programs by up to 400 percent with no staff increase. Prior to Civic Champs, Geng co-founded and sold two companies, (an apartment search engine) and Community Elf (a social media management firm). Geng is also a former McKinsey & Company consultant and is a graduate of Michigan State University and Harvard Business School.


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