Monetize the Crap Out of Your Volunteer Program: Your Job May Depend On It.

Nicole R. Smith
6 min readFeb 29, 2024

Since I have been laid off, I have had a lot of time to reflect. We in the profession of Volunteer Engagement understand that when things start to turn for the worse at an organization, the volunteer department is often one of the first on the chopping block.

Yes, volunteers provide tremendous value to organizations and extend impact and outreach exponentially; and yes, Volunteer Administrators provide crucial guidance for volunteer programs and their volunteers. Sometimes, for those in the nonprofit sector however, it quite frankly isn’t enough.

I had a heart-to-heart talk with a VP friend of mine and asked him point blank; what happens in those meetings behind closed doors when they have to make those difficult decisions that repeatedly dictates the volunteer program, or at least the paid volunteer manager position, has to be eliminated?

His answer was candid. “At the end of the day, in-kind donations can’t pay bills or staff salaries.”

I had so many internal rebuttals, but they fizzled out like a balloon losing air because at the end of the day he is right; and honestly I think it is fair.

This triggered my brain into working overtime thinking, how the heck can we make volunteer programs viable in tangible ways that make executive leadership rethink or even pause at the notion of the volunteer program being cut?

One Word: Money.

Many of us leaders of volunteers have been short-sighted of the fact that our programs are perpetual gold mines, full of hidden treasure. Think of the many volunteers who not only give their time, but also already give their money.

Volunteers are an organization’s greatest supporters and advocates. Why couldn’t they be your greatest donors?

There is a catch though. An organization can’t treat volunteers badly, then expect them to give to the organization. This is where the role of the volunteer manager plays a vital part.

Volunteers should be stewarded like potential donors…because well, quite frankly THEY ARE! What a great way to leverage the importance of treating volunteers well and getting buy-in from staff. Under the careful guidance of Volunteer Engagement Administrators, staff will see volunteers through a different lens and volunteers will be informed and feel valued; a winning combination that provides the vehicle to facilitate giving. When an organization treats their volunteers well and they see the impact of donations and how they benefit, support and further the mission, not only will they stick around (improving retention) volunteers will be asking YOU how they can give.

So, collectively as a profession, just like every other department in the organization, it’s time for us to make ourselves indespensable.

It won’t be easy, but here are some crazy ideas to try. I mean what could it hurt?

  1. Ask Development what their fundraising goal is for the year. When was the last time we ever asked or inquired about their work? We spend so much time trying to convince everyone to listen to us, but how often do we listen to other departments to understand what their needs are?
  2. Connect with your Development department to find out how many of your current volunteers are also donors. That is the fastest way to show the volunteer department’s contribution and monetary value to the organization, especially if they came in as volunteers first. Don’t sleep on individual gifts! If you have 400 volunteers and each of them give an average of $100 per month, that equals $480,000 annually. Not too shabby.
  3. Brainstorm different ways that the volunteer program can be a revenue source for the organization. Think big! This is a PERFECT task for your Volunteer Advisory Team. Then collaborate with Development to help bring the ideas to fruition.
  4. Have a meeting with your Development Director and ask how the volunteer program can be of help to them. Perhaps admin volunteers can help take care of repetitive tasks. If your program can’t bring in the money in the short term, if you can show that you are a huge help to those who are bringing in the money, that could be a good sticking point.
  5. Seek out grants and funding that support volunteer engagement that bring money into the organization (ex Volunteer Generation Fund and Corporate Volunteer Grants).
  6. Educate your volunteers on the various ways your organization accepts donations. This way, they can either give themselves, and/or they can share with friends, family and coworkers how they can give too.
  7. Leverage corporate volunteering. Brainstorm ways that you can work with corporations to get the donation dollars they HAVE to spend each year. Figure out a way to stay true to the organization, protect those being served and satisfy the corporations desire to give and make a difference in the community. I promise you, it can be done. You just have to spend some time thinking about it…or another great project for your volunteer advisory team. Check out this podcast episode with Traci Blu talking about how she did it.

As you begin to think about this process, be sure that you aren’t curating the volunteer program with the sole purpose of volunteers giving because that can backfire and feel slimy. Instead, curate it in such a way that the added value is that they will WANT to give, thereby perhaps actually saving your job.

Leaders of volunteers, we have to fight back. If it is just business, like they say, then let’s give them a strong business case to keep us around.

Game. On.

Nicole R. Smith Sitting at a table wearing a gray dress and looking between an orange purse and orange luggage

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, workforce development specialist, published author of Game On! Relentlessly Pursue Your Dreams and the 101 Note-taking Affirmation Journal Series, world renowned motivational speaker, bloggerpodcast host of From The Suggestion Box; Navigating Feedback The Good The Bad and the Say Whaaatttt??? and dancer. She earned her Bachelor’s degree via a Division I full-ride track scholarship and after graduating, she founded Step It Up! Inc., a non-profit dance organization that allowed her to perform for audiences nationwide and used dance to teach teamwork to kids in after school programs.

Her experience in sports entertainment, radio, TV, the performing arts and social services has spanned nearly 20 years covering the Chicago, Houston, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami and Orlando markets. She has danced and cheered for four Professional and Semi-Professional sports teams, has prepared more than 800 interns to enter the workforce and has inspired crowds upwards of 2000.

She has been a proud mentor for the Tessitura Network’s Early Career Development program for the past three years which is a free program dedicated to diversifying Arts leadership. She has the opportunity to mentor young arts professionals of Latino, Black and Asian decent to help them not only find their voice, but express it in the board rooms in arts organizations.

She was a contributing writer for The Life of a Single Mom for two years and has been published in several industry journals including The Volunteer Management Report, Human Capital Leadership Magazine and Chronicle Philanthropy Magazine.

As a nod to her belief in continuous education, in 2021 she earned her certification in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace from the USF Muma College of Business.

She has received several accolades to include being named in the Marquis Who’s Who for professionals, receiving an Emerging Leader Award from Alive Impact Awards for Volunteer Engagement Professionals, awarded the Amplifying Voices Award from United Latinas, being listed as one of WLRN’s “Local Women Who Inspire You”and being selected as one of Legacy Miami’s Most Prominent and Influential Black Women In Business and Industry of 2019.

She is passionate about giving back to her community and is a former Board member of Association for Leaders In Volunteer Engagement, Arts and Business Council of Miami and Ageless CHIC Magazine.



Nicole R. Smith

Nicole is a Panamanian-American, single mom, workforce development specialist, published author, dancer, and motivational speaker. Her experience spans 20 yrs.