Volunteering: Why Donations of Time Are a Path to Giving

Christina Balotescu

July 16, 2018

Many hands together with a heart painted on them, implying generosity

Volunteers can offer vital help to your institution and to your alumni community, but the benefits can be even greater for the volunteer. By offering volunteer opportunities, you provide an outlet for alumni to gain experience, develop skills, improve career prospects, meet new people and increase their affinity to your institution.  Asking alumni to share something other than money cultivates lasting committed relationships. These deepened relationships, as well as a focus on time versus money can also impact their willingness to eventually donate.

Research helps shed light on the relationship between time and money when it comes to volunteering.  A study by Fidelity Charitable* reported that “Eighty-seven percent of volunteers say there is overlap between the organizations they support financially and where they volunteer, with 43 percent describing significant or total overlap with the organizations they support financially and as a volunteer.”  It’s unclear which comes first - the volunteering or the donations but they are certainly connected. This report finds that 42% volunteer before they give to an organization.

Another study “The Happiness of Giving: The Time Ask Effective” further substantiates that asking alumni for their time might very well help enhance their giving over time.  The study delineates the connection between time and money through a series of experiments in the lab and in the field. This study “examines how a focus on time versus money can lead to two distinct mindsets that impact consumers’ willingness to donate to charitable causes. Their experiments, reveal that asking individuals to think about “how much time they would like to donate” (versus “how much money they would like to donate”) to a charity increases the amount that they ultimately donate to the charity. Fueling this effect are differential mindsets activated by time versus money: one that leads to the consideration of feelings and emotional meaning derived from an action and another that leads to the consideration of economic utility. Thinking about time activates goals of emotional meaning/well-being and beliefs involving personal happiness. In contrast, thinking about money suppresses such emotional goals and instead activates goals of economic utility and beliefs about attainment of such goals. Consequently, answering a question about one’s intention to volunteer time makes salient the emotional significance of the event, whereby people view charity as a means towards happiness. This mindset in turn leads to a more positive inclination towards giving to charity and hence an increase in actual contributions.

Time to Increase Your Corps of Volunteers?

Since affinity begins while on campus, take advantage of that time to begin cultivating the volunteer spirit.  Opportunities to be involved in peer organizations such as clubs, fraternities and sororities, participation in intramurals, community service opportunities, attendance at athletic events, student leadership opportunities and opportunities to interact with alumni all foster engagement.  All of these types of actions and activities relate to donations to an alma mater.

Post graduation, reach far and wide for alumni volunteers!  Capitalize on the affinity, personal connections and relationships developed during their time with you. Cast a wide net to gain as many volunteers as you can and promote volunteer opportunities through all available channels.  Create a broad range of opportunities to help “non-volunteers” get involved. Make it easy to participate. Include some opportunities that may involve long-term commitment, and others that may only take a few minutes of an alums time.  Enabling constituents to give in even simple ways can help kindle happiness - and they will feel invested and more willing to engage in the future. It’s never too late to get alumni involved.

Looking for new alumni ambassadors to help swell your volunteer corps?  Seek out alums that have been the most involved.  Using an online alumni community such as 360Alumni or other similar platforms can help you tap into your “Super Alums”.  By viewing analytics that aggregate actions and activities of hyper engaged alumni in a single view (they have joined multiple groups, posted jobs, attended events or reunions, commented on threads, helped with interviews etc.) you can easily hone in on these special alums and seek their help.  As they are already very active, they are the perfect resource to evangelize the power of participation.

Volunteers Will Help You Get It  Done!

Setting the connection to donating aside,  adding volunteers to your team will help you  to accomplish more and free up resources for more robust alumni initiatives.  While it may take a bit of extra time to develop and coordinate a wider range of volunteering opportunities, that time is more than paid back through work done and higher levels of engagement.  

Consider providing volunteers with tools to help them help you!  Online alumni communities and social media groups provide a host of ways to help volunteers connect with fellow alumni - and with you. By providing them with these weapons, you empower them to lead the charge.  Now they can post information, answer questions, brainstorm with peers all on your behalf. Encourage them to reach out to fellow alumni and form groups, committees, and dialogue with one another. It’s also a great way for you to support, congratulate and share successes them.  

Easy Ways To Get New Alumni Volunteers

Provide a wide array of opportunities with varying levels of talent required and time commitments


  1. Career panel - speaker or panelist.
  2. Host a student for a 1-day job shadowing.
  3. Attend a student-to-alumni mentorship event.
  4. Assist at an alumni event (help with registration; set up chairs etc.)

Provide work that can be done from home.


  1. Lead a group in your online alumni community on a topic that the alum is passionate about - facilitate discussions and answer questions, online, at a time that’s convenient for them.
  2. Be an online fundraising ambassador for specific campaigns - promote to your network and facilitate interest and participation online.
  3. Write blogs, content pieces or promotional materials that relate to alumni interests or initiatives.
  4. Participate in phone interviews or online discussions via specific groups for prospective students.
  5. Promote a reunion event within your social network (1-2 posts or more)

Provide work that can be done with other alumni

To foster networking and sense of community beyond campus, encourage your alumni to:

  1. Join the alumni admission council.
  2. Serve on a committee.
  3. Be a reunion committee leader/volunteer, and help promote/manage the online event registration through the online community.
  4. Lead or join a local chapter - participate in local events.

Capitalize on a volunteers professional skills


  1. Invite alumni to join your online mentoring program.
  2. Seek out alumni with business experience that could be helpful for job seekers (possibly in specific industries)
  3. Request an assist from marketing professionals, graphic designers or copywriters to help promote alumni activities.
  4. Solicit expertise from alumni event marketers on strategy, logistics, and resources for events.
  5. Encourage  alumni that represent large companies or brands to share their expertise, goods or services for activities, fundraisers, events etc.

5. Get social

Use social media to promote your needs and opportunities. Let alumni know how they can make a difference, and show what others are doing. Examples:

  1. Use your online alumni community to highlight needs and showcase activities.
  2. Push out messaging unique to all social channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Alumni Community) regularly; not everyone uses the same channels day-to-day.
  3. Make it viral - encourage “likes”, “shares” & “tagging”.  Ask alumni to please “pass along” volunteer opportunities friend-to-friend.

More Volunteers = More Potential Donors

While some may feel awkward soliciting financial donations from volunteers who are already giving their time, studies we’ve cited (as well as many others) show that volunteers are already more inclined to give more - much more - than those who don’t volunteer. For some, their time is more valuable than money.

Volunteers have already demonstrated a commitment of time and energy to your institution showing that they believe in your mission.  For this reason, while tracking your volunteer-donors, you may also want to tap them as ambassadors to fundraising campaigns they care about. The key is to provide inspiration to alumni to give of their time and talents, keeping them engaged and feeling good about their involvement.

In 360Alumni, we have built a platform to cultivate engagement and volunteerism through many paths. Check out some of our features in action:


  1. The Role of Volunteering in Philanthropy
  2. The Happiness of Giving: The Time-Ask Effect
  3. Factors that lead Millennial Alumni to Donate to their Alma Mater

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