Make it Personal: Notre Dame’s journey into volunteer fundraising

ND Loyal

Recently, we were joined by Ellen Roof, Director of Alumni & Parent Giving at University of Notre Dame, for a webinar all about ND’s journey into volunteer fundraising. Just three years ago, Notre Dame launched its first-ever volunteer fundraising program, ND Loyal. It’s grown every year since and now includes nearly 600 fundraisers who are organized around shared interests and support dozens of on-campus programs. They’ve helped increase alumni participation by 2,000 donors.

Many volunteer programs are organized by class year, constituency, parent programs, and the like. However, when Ellen was launching ND Loyal, her team knew that they wanted to allow their volunteers to choose who they reach out to, making each ask personal and impactful by eliminating the class-year barrier. 

Ellen has found strong affinities among former student-athletes, alumni that were involved with the university’s Center for Social Concerns, and groups that lived in different dormitories on campus. Of course, these will vary by institution.  

Through her experiences at ND Loyal, Ellen has disproved 5 major myths about starting and running a volunteer fundraising program. 

MYTH #1: “I don’t have enough support to start a volunteer program.”

Ellen started ND Loyal with just one other colleague. A volunteer program doesn’t need an army of staff; just the right people with the right attitude. In fact, Ellen says that to start, you don’t even need a separate strategy or agenda for your volunteer program. Work to fit volunteer activities into your existing annual giving goals and go from there.

Volunteer managers cite recruiting volunteers as the first major hurdle to starting a volunteer program. Ellen’s team at ND examined past year giving trends to create a list of alumni likely to donate in a given fiscal year and prompted them to have a conversation with someone on the team, no matter the size of their past gifts to the university. From there, the team was able to gauge interest in the program and recruit volunteers. 

EverTrue makes this easy. Use the EverTrue donor score to find your most-likely to give donors and narrow down by Facebook engagement, event attendance, or interests to quickly identify your best potential volunteers.

MYTH #2: “I have to have it all figured out before I can start.” 

Building a program from scratch allows a team to be flexible, adapt to constituents’ needs, and play around with the program as it’s built. Ellen believes that as long as you’ve identified WHY you’re starting a volunteer program and have established a mission, you can figure out everything else as you go. 

Build the plane as you’re flying it, so they say.


MYTH #3: “Once you have volunteers and a platform, your job is done.”

Recruiting volunteers and getting started with a volunteer management platform is a huge hurdle, but it’s just the beginning. Make sure you continue to invest time and energy into your volunteers, and ensure that they have a clear understanding of your expectations. Consistent communication is key. 

That being said, not all volunteers will work out. Personal issues arise, free time fluctuates, things come up. Your volunteers are just that, volunteers. They have to say yes every day. Build a rapport with your volunteers, nurture them over time, and keep communication open. 


MYTH #4: “Alumni will know how to fundraise.”

As we know, alumni come from all different backgrounds, and many may not be comfortable asking their peers for money. Volunteers need coaching to be confident fundraisers. Providing sample communications to your volunteers will help motivate them and understand how to talk to constituents. Many ND volunteers are surprised how easily their peers agreed to donate, they just needed the confidence to make an ask!

Ellen also hosts competitions for her volunteers with prizes for top fiscal year volunteers, sends volunteers handwritten “thank you” notes from campus leadership, and makes sure to celebrate the achievements and contributions of volunteers to Notre Dame’s mission.


MYTH #5: “I have to set up my volunteer program the same way as Ellen and ND Loyal.”

While the same guiding principles and best practices apply to most volunteer programs, every alumni base is different. You’ll never know the correct approach for your constituents until you try. So let’s get going! 

Watch the full webinar below…

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