Finding Volunteers for your Fundraising Event

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, and a soul generated by love.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

From auction item procurement to graphic design, day-of execution and post-event follow up, dedicated volunteers are critical to the success of any fundraising event.

Chances are you could use more help, expertise and/or manpower in at least some areas or committees that make up your next event.

In the first of a multi-part blog series, we are going to look at specific tips to assemble an all-star team of volunteers. Learn why most people are interested in volunteering at fundraisers, then we’ll cover how to tap into those motivations to find and attract potential volunteers to your cause.

Why do people volunteer?

When recruiting volunteers, you want to put yourself in a potential volunteer’s mindset. What do they hope to get out of the experience?

Here are some common motivations to keep top of mind as you’re crafting that exciting newsletter, flyer or post asking people to raise their hands and help out.

Most people volunteer in order to…

  • Gain new experience.
  • Build confidence and self-esteem.
  • Learn new skills or share existing skills and talents.
  • Expand your social network and make new friends.
  • Give back to the community.
  • Enhance their resume.
  • Gain a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction.
  • Have fun!

In your messaging, convey to prospective volunteers that they can expect a well-organized event, thorough training, recognition, and lots of fun. The more enjoyable and well-run the experience, the more likely they are to return next year – and recruit friends, too.

Where can you find volunteers?

Here are some places to look for volunteers:

  • Your organization’s database. Start by recruiting past volunteers; their experience is invaluable.
  • Seniors and retirees often enjoy volunteering and have large networks.
  • Organizations and programs your auction supports. Ask people who have benefited from your organization’s services.
  • Social media. Try local Facebook groups for volunteers and volunteer organizations in your community.
  • Sport teams and service clubs.
  • Local press. Put out press releases and free public service announcements (PSAs) on local radio, television, and in the newspaper.
  • High schools and colleges. Many educational institutions require service hours, so your event may be a good fit for students looking to pad their resumes or log volunteer hours.
  • Local churches.
  • Volunteer Center. Many cities have a Volunteer Center, both physical and online message boards, where you can post a request for help.

As for recruitment strategies, one popular method to increase your volunteer numbers is using the concept of “downlines“, where individuals recruited into the event are expected or incentivized to recruit others. Ask new volunteers to think about 2-3 friends and acquaintances they might invite to support your event. In this way, an effective volunteer base can be built in no time.

Auctioneer tips for volunteer recruitment

Finally, here’s a portion of a previous webinar we held with benefit auctioneer Renee Jones in which she shares many insights on the process of finding volunteers.

You can read the transcript below, or click here to view the entire webinar with Jones.


 Winspire:  Where do you recommend getting volunteers?

 Jones:  I look to universities, non-traditional students and service organizations. I also look at other business associations that have charity foundation outreach as part of their mission and vision. Many banking financial institutions, accounting firms and real estate firms also have volunteer programs or outreach programs.

It’s about alleviating any form of anxiety of the guests, and guests like to see other professionals volunteering their time. You are bringing a like-type demographic to your event attendees.

 Winspire You mentioned schools, fraternities and sororities. They have mandated hours they have to volunteer, don’t they?

 Jones:  They do. Some of my school events are a bit concerned to have scouts and high schoolers and things like that at an event. Check the venue rules and statutes, but keeping underage volunteers out of the function area where there’s alcohol being served typically avoids problems.

The main thing is that these are youthful, energetic people that want to contribute. What better way to recruit long-term volunteers and early investors in your organization than to grab them at the high school and college level? Those who you nurture are your next generation of supporters.

 Winspire:  Finally, this was a huge idea you brought up earlier: the idea of cross-pollination. Tell us a little bit about that.

 Jones:  Here’s how this started with my firm 25 years ago. One of my girlfriends was co-chairing an elementary school event, and I’d been working with her for nine months leading up to this event. The night of the event was very understaffed. I remember seeing her in a beautiful gown, crawling underneath a desk looking for an extension cord to plug in, and thinking ‘This is ridiculous.’ When the event was over, she didn’t get to enjoy and celebrate an amazing, record-breaking fundraiser with her team, because there was so much more to get done. At that point, I vowed I was going to figure out a way to make this better for parents.Idea exchange concept. Ideas agreement Investing in business innovation and financial commerce backing of creativity. Open lightbulb icon with gear mechanisms. Funding potential innovative growth

So what we developed was a program to cross-pollinate between schools. Based upon factors like the school district, faith and geographic location, we worked with different schools so that parents from one event can come and volunteer at another event. For example, say my event is on the first Saturday night of March. I am working with a team of parents at another school. They’re going to do my check-in and check-out and fulfillment of silent auction items. Then the following Saturday night, I’m going to work their school event.

What it does is, it gives parents an opportunity to see how other events operate and to assist. It promotes the sharing of knowledge, as the volunteers can turn around and train their own team to improve their event. It promotes a mirrored demographic of volunteers to guests and brings about cohesion between software products.

Another big bonus is that it eliminates a tremendous amount of cost. For years, I had a warehouse with just about every event theme you can think of. Some schools had incredible budgets and did all new set designs through their class or high school in a design or theater group, while other schools had very little budget, and going to Party City and spending $25 was a huge undertaking, or a parent had to pay for it themselves. So we swapped out themes as well.

Visit with peers at other schools, within your district or region, and see if you can work on a collaboration like that. It doesn’t have to be specifically a dinner or gala; it could be a fun run, a golf tournament and more. I’s about empowering parents to be able to help each other and ultimately raise more revenue for their children.

 Winspire: I can guarantee you that other parents out there who are volunteering and putting on these events have the exact same challenges that you do. If you’re worried about how receptive they may be, don’t. If you propose something that is going to save them time and help them with their event, they’re going to be all ears.

 Jones:  It’s amazing, and it’s fun.

If you found this material helpful, stay tuned. In the rest of our multipart volunteer series, we will look at tips to match volunteers to the tasks at hand, day-of team management tips, reward and incentive ideas and much more.