Volunteer groups leading to financial donation/sponsorships?

I’ve had an incredibly busy three weeks, preparing for, and then delivering, four trainings – two in Kentucky and two in Portland. Topics ranged from communications for small nonprofits (More Donors, More Volunteers and More Awareness: Doing It All With Better Outreach) in my home town of Henderson, Kentucky (more than 70 people attending – INCLUDING MY MOTHER) to a panel discussion regarding building relationships with current and potential even partners, part of the Arts Festival Conference 2013 in Louisville – which I was invited to partly because of this article I wrote in 2003 regarding finding sponsors (scroll down on the page to find it) and two all-day, intensive workshops on volunteer engagement essentials for AmeriCorps members serving in Oregon, hosted by Oregon Volunteers.

But I’m blogging today in particular about the presentation in Louisville, which was organized by ZAPP® / Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF).

There was an audible gasp from the audience when I suggested that a great way to build a relationship with potential sponsors  is to create volunteering opportunities for the employees of the company that festival organizers are targeting as a potential sponsor. People came up afterwards to ask, “Really?!”


There are many companies that are hungry to do something for communities and nonprofits beyond just buying a table at an event or having their name above the title of the event (“Acme Anvils Presents…”). Tell a company that 10, or 50 or even 100 employees could be involved in a one-day, just-show-up volunteering event and that company may very well ask you where to send the sponsorship check! And it seems to me that arts festivals present a terrific opportunity for this: event set up volunteers, tear-down volunteers, runners during the event, weather monitors, amateur photographers, tweeters and more.

True, Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities is not easy. But it’s an idea worth exploring if your event or program is in need of donors / sponsors.

How do I know? Because I’ve worked at a Fortune 500 company, directing its philanthropic activities, and I talk regularly with people who work at companies in the marketing or HR departments and do similar work. They love it when nonprofits don’t just come to them and say, “We need money – please give us some.” They like to hear about why the event or organization is important to the entire community, the real difference it makes, and how they can have a deeper connection than just a sponsorship check. They are being asked by employees for group volunteering events, and many companies see such events as ways:

  • to build employee cohesion
  • to allow people from different departments to work together in ways they never could in the work place
  • to allow employees to show talents and leadership abilities that haven’t been noticed in the work place
  • to give employees something fun to do

I also advised attendees to build a relationship with potential sponsors before ever asking for money: the first time they hear from you should NOT be when you ask for a sponsorship. Let them know about your events, let them know about your volunteering activities and invite them to participate, invite them to an open house – just meet to say “Hi, here’s what we do and wanted you to know. Tell us about YOU!”

I also talked at length about how arts festivals add incredible value to a community. Think about what people are looking for in a place to live: good schools, safe places, and LOTS TO DO, like farmer’s markets and festivals of any kind. Arts festivals – and arts activities of any kind (dance companies, live theatre productions, museums) add tremendous value to a community. Employers want to attract fantastic employees, and they OFTEN talk about community characteristics, including arts-related events and programs, to entice candidates to move or stay. So in making a pitch to a sponsor, talk about your organization’s value to the community – are you bringing a benefit to that company’s employees? THEN SAY SO.

Also see:

Creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities
Details on not just what groups of volunteers can do in a two-hour, half-day or all-day event, but also just how much an organization or program will need to do to prepare a site for group volunteering. It’s an expensive, time-consuming endeavor – are you ready? Is it worth it?

Short-term Assignments for Tech Volunteers
There are a variety of ways for mission-based organizations to involve volunteers to help with short-term projects relating to computers and the Internet, and short-term assignments are what are sought after most by potential “tech” volunteers. But there is a disconnect: most organizations have trouble identifying such short-term projects. This is a list of short-term projects for “tech” volunteers — assignments that might takes days, weeks or just a couple of months to complete.

One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers
Volunteers are getting together for intense, one-day events, or events of just a few days, to build web pages, to write code, to edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. It’s a form of episodic volunteering, because volunteers don’t have to make an ongoing commitment – they can come to the event, contribute their services, and then leave and never volunteer again. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved. This page provides advice on how to put together a one-day event, or just-a-few-days-of activity, for a group of tech volunteers onsite, working together, for a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), community-focused government program, school or other mission-based organization – or association of such.

Article by me from 2003 re: Finding Sponsors (scroll down on the page to find it)

Don’t Just Ask for Money!
Something much more should happen if someone clicks on your web site’s “Help Us” link than a message that asks only for money.

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