National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families

Right on the Money: Volunteer Fundraisers Drive Donations to Youth-Serving Agencies

Two young women celebrating their quinceañeras.

Deborah Edison’s Seattle-based organization, YouthCare, is often approached by people who want to help the city’s homeless youth but aren’t able to give money. Edison always urges people to find creative ways to follow their philanthropic instincts. The results are often more valuable than any one cash donation could ever be, like when one woman turned her 50th birthday party into a clothes and supplies drive.

“They ended up with a vanload of bras, coats, feminine hygiene products and other things that we always need,” Edison says. She now advocates for volunteer drives as one of the most effective ways the general public can support a nonprofit.

Since many youth-serving organizations have only one or two full-time fundraisers, networking is always a challenge. Volunteer-led drives help everybody: they increase an organization’s network of donors while pulling in more resources than most individuals could raise on their own.

Judy Whittier, director of community resources at the Bill Wilson Center in Santa Clara, CA, says that fundraising is all about “finding what each person can bring to the table,” and sometimes they bring their friends, faith group, PTA or work colleagues. Such was the case when the Bill Wilson Center learned that their federal grant for a maternity home prohibited federally funded supplies, such as cribs, from leaving the center. A volunteer quickly stepped in to lead a drive for extra materials, and now the Center has enough on hand to let every parent keep their baby paraphernalia.

YouthCare requires their drive coordinators to complete a two-hour training session, like any other volunteer for the organization. “We want people to have a better idea of why kids are homeless,” Edison says. By learning about essential youth-work topics—how to handle personal boundary issues and awkward situations, the need for confidentiality—fundraising volunteers become more effective spokespeople for the program.

With online social resources like Facebook making it easier than ever for non-professionals to seek donations online, asking volunteers to lead fundraising drives has become an even more viable way to enable community members to take ownership of your cause. Such people are more likely to donate more when they’re eventually able, Whittier and Edison say. They’re also more likely to recruit other similar-minded volunteers. In other words, drives are a great way to move volunteers from simply being helpers to being promoters, Edison says. “Our hope is to get our volunteers deeply involved so that they become ambassadors.”