The Gift That Keeps on Giving: How Recurring Donations Can Transform Your Organization

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

Scott Russomanno runs a small nonprofit powered by volunteers. As the only full-time employee of the organization, he manages all programming, outreach and fundraising efforts for All-Stars Club Central, an organization providing a place of belonging to community members with developmental disabilities and nights of rest for parents and caregivers. All-Stars’ programming depends greatly upon the generosity of their community and their financial lifeline, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been recurring donations. 

In this spotlight, we will share how recurring donations can be a sustainable foundation for organizations to make an impact, as well as how your organization can develop a consistent base of recurring donors just like All-Stars. 

Recurring Donations Make for Better Planning

Recurring donations make All-Stars’ work easier by providing a steady stream of income that allows them to plan programming and ensure that their constituents receive important and necessary services.We encourage our donors to make recurring donations because it allows us to plan for growth far more accurately since we can rely on a base of income each month” says Russomanno. “One time donations are great, but can make it much more difficult to project. Focusing on growing our base of monthly donors allows us to be smarter in our financial projections and far more accurate in our decision making process.”

“Focusing on growing our base of monthly donors allows us to be smarter in our financial projections and far more accurate in our decision making process.”

Recurring Donors Give More

Recurring donations have been proven time and time again to increase giving, engagement and donor retention. Although a donor may set up a monthly recurring donation at a lower amount than a one-time donation, the cumulative effect of those smaller monthly donations will quickly surpass the amount a donor would’ve given with a one-time gift. The average recurring donor gives $332 annually to All-Stars Club Central’s general donations page, while the average one-time donor gives $204. National statistics show that average online recurring donors give 255% more than one-time donors.

Increasing Community Dedication & Donor Retention

Many of All-Stars’ recurring donors also serve as volunteers with the organization. Russomanno encourages all volunteers to set up monthly recurring donations of any size or sponsor an “All-Star” for $20 a month. In doing this, he has noted increased engagement and dedication from volunteers. Volunteers who donate are generally far more engaged with our programs. Those who give of their time and financial resources feel a stronger sense of ownership and thus more likely to stay involved for the long term.” 

In addition to being a tool to increase engagement among volunteers, recurring donations are a great way to keep your existing donors from abandoning your cause. Donor retention rates across the country run low with the average around 45%. Increasing donor retention allows your organization to focus on growing programming and support long term instead of worrying about how you’re going to meet your end of year fiscal goals. Industry research shows that recurring donors have an average retention rate of 90% and are six times more likely to leave an organization in their will or make a legacy gift. 

“Volunteers who donate… feel a stronger sense of ownership and thus are more likely to stay involved for the long term.” 

Sustainable Funding During Unpredictable Times

COVID-19 has caused economic uncertainty for millions of people, creating a challenge for nonprofit organizations. Most nonprofits need financial support now more than ever but feel uneasy asking a constituency potentially facing financial hardship to increase their giving. Recurring giving is a simple way to create sustainable financial support that is realistic for donors on a budget. While some donors experiencing financial uncertainty may hold back on giving a gift of $100 right now, donating $10 or $20 a month can feel like a more manageable way to support your organization, allowing them to continue support and actually donate more than they would have otherwise. 

Business Partnerships

All-Stars has also harnessed the generosity of their community and the power of recurring giving through a local business partner. Local businesses who commit to your mission are incredible resources for potential donors,” says Russomanno. “We have established a relationship with a local business who offers a monthly service package but requests payments are made as donations to our organization. This is a win/win/win as the client receives great service, we receive a base of monthly donors, and the business receives an additional touch point to help diagnose larger issues that bring in greater revenue.”

Community partnerships with local businesses and corporations can be extremely beneficial to your organization, especially when it comes to recurring giving. Find businesses whose values align with the mission of your organization and rather than asking for a one-time donation, encourage them to start a recurring giving program that deducts from employee paychecks or sets up monthly gifts from customers in exchange for services. This will allow you to create a sustainable funding source and build stronger relationships with businesses and donors over time.

“Local businesses who commit to your mission are incredible resources for potential donors.” 

Takeaways and Next Steps

You may be wondering how you can tap into recurring giving to reach and maintain a strong donor base like All-Stars has. Here are our top three takeaways from Russomanno’s experience: 

  1. Start a membership or sponsorship program: Just as All-Stars encourages donors to subscribe to a $20 per month sponsorship, you can create a membership program to help donors recognize the impact of their giving. Consider implementing multiple donation tiers and specifying the milestones that can be accomplished, showing the direct impact the donor’s contribution will have on the community. For example, food banks might include different tiers to correspond to a number of families that can be fed through a monthly donation. 
  2. Start a volunteer giving program: Russomanno noticed that volunteers who donate are likely to be more engaged with the organization overall. Encourage volunteers to donate by including links in communications and reinforcing how recurring donations relate directly to their work in the community. 
  3. Partner with a local business: For All-Stars, a partnership with a local business has been key to their recurring donations program. Consider partnering with local businesses to reach new donors and stay connected to your community. These businesses may even ultimately find additional ways to give back to your organization, such as volunteer time off programs, payroll deductions, and gift or hours matching

Start Accepting Recurring Gifts

Recurring giving programs are easy to maintain through online giving platforms such as GivePulse, which offers recurring giving to all users of the platform. For Russomano, the flexibility and customization of giving pages has allowed him to bring in more recurring donors. “GivePulse has allowed us to create specific fundraising campaigns that we can use for each of our fundraising events or programs. It allows us to offer targeted campaigns with recurring and one-time options as well as opportunities for our volunteers to get involved and lead their own fundraising page.” 

Here’s how you can start accepting recurring donations for your organization: 

  1. Create an ongoing fundraiser
  2. Attend a Fundraiser 101 class this spring

No matter how you set up your recurring giving program, we know that it will create a base of sustainable funding to help you and your organization make an even bigger impact in your community. 

Questions? Set up a fundraising consultation meeting or email

Thank you so much to Scott Russomanno and the whole team at All-Stars Club Central for your dedication and service to your community. Your work provides valuable services and a place of belonging that makes our world a better place. Learn more about All-Stars Club Central and support their work here

9 Tips for Virtual Engagement Success: Learnings from our education and nonprofit partners

In this blog, our first of the new year, we provide a foundation for effective and impactful community engagement in a virtual environment. Whether you are a program coordinator for a nonprofit, a faculty member for service-learning courses, or a director in community engagement or philanthropy, we hope you will be able to use these tips as you plan programming for 2021! 

For Devon, a guest speaker representing the volunteer perspective in our recent virtual engagement webinar, the COVID-19 crisis coincided with changes in her personal life. She started as a first year medical student while facing several of the most intense challenges COVID-19 can offer: family members became sick, and her family was unable to grieve after the untimely passing of her grandmother from the virus. 

Although these challenges made it more difficult, Devon knew she wanted to remain fully engaged in her community. “My desire to volunteer is still very much there,” she said, adding that because of her own experience with COVID-19, finding virtual opportunities is of the utmost importance.

This story is indicative of broader challenges facing communities: in our recent partner survey, 94% reported that participants had shared COVID-specific struggles with their organization. Communities are being impacted by this public health crisis, with consequences for productivity, sense of safety, mental health, and more. Perhaps due to these factors, 75% of survey respondents reported that participants were much less engaged than they had been before COVID. Yet participants like Devon want to engage, and to make an impact, despite these setbacks.  

On December 10, GivePulse brought together a few of our community partners to form a panel, discussing shared virtual engagement challenges and successes during COVID-19. In this post, we have gathered our nine tips for virtual engagement success to help you approach these challenges with an empathetic mindset while continuing impactful work for your organization or community.

1. Pivot and Rebuild

The first hurdle to virtual engagement is to develop engaging opportunities for your organization or partners. Many of these opportunities may meet a new need stemming from staff or organizational changes, such as fundraising, grant writing, and social media. Others incorporate interactive elements into virtual activities; for example, Devon, now volunteering with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, set up a crafting session with her little sister. She delivered supplies for a project to her little sister’s home, and the two were able to work on the project “together” over Zoom. Our full community safety guide includes detailed information about how to develop virtual and remote opportunities that, like Devon’s project, are interactive and flexible.

2. Learn From and Activate Your Network  

As we all work to pivot our engagement efforts in a virtual world, lean on your existing network to learn what others have done to maintain community involvement. Lindsey Payne, the Volunteer Coordinator at San Antonio’s The Doseum, recalls reaching out widely in March and April: “We were talking to everybody — what’s working best for you? What’s not working for you?” Your network might include similar nonprofits, peer institutions, local businesses, or even community members such as volunteers, students, or employees. Open virtual feedback sessions or surveys can facilitate communication for new ideas and activities. In addition, attend webinars and virtual conferences, or even form your own online community with peer organizations and institutions. Check in regularly to see what has worked for others, and come together to develop guides that can be shared with others. If you are partnering with organizations in your community, particularly as an institution of higher education, use this network to come up with flexible opportunities, bearing in mind that capacities may have changed due to COVID-19. As we all learn how to work in the new normal, having a strong community to learn alongside is invaluable. 

3. Provide Consistent, Relevant, Everyday Opportunities

Realizing that consistent, everyday opportunities were more appealing to his students, Dustin Perry, a teacher and service coordinator at Christian Brothers High School, Memphis,  “pivoted”  to opportunities such as making and delivering packed lunches, creating homeless care packages that students can keep in their cars to hand out, and other similar activities. To accompany these everyday opportunities, learning focuses on the social issues behind these small actions in order to connect the dots between small actions and larger social issues, informing a lifelong understanding of how to stay involved. Your organization, business, or school can set up similar consistent, everyday opportunities, offering increased trainings on the social justice issue behind your mission and finding ways to make engagement a lifelong element even beyond your programs. 

4. Compassionate Communication 

All participants will benefit from clear and compassionate communication. GivePulse has found that regular communication, check ins, and reminders right before events increases engagement and participation. When possible, augment these reminders with personal conversations. Individual check-ins can help you get a sense of the challenges facing each volunteer or student and adjust as necessary, as well as making the individual feel more connected to your cause and mission. Open space for your participants to be honest about their concerns, and address them when possible. If you are not hearing back, make sure to follow up — inboxes are more full than ever, and an extra check-in can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call!

5. Short and Sweet

We’re in a new reality where we often rely on Zoom calls and virtual presentations to share information. You may have found yourself wondering, “What’s the best length for my presentation? How can I keep everyone interested and make sure that they remember what I said?” Luckily, the team at TED studied this exact question. Backed up by cognitive neuroscience, TED Talks are required to be under 18 minutes long. With this in mind, figure out how you can make sure that any presented portions of your engagement opportunities are under 18 minutes. Once you hit the 18 minute mark, think about  how you can change up the content. For example, if you’re running an hour-long training or class, break it up into multiple 15-minute sessions, using breakout rooms for small group discussions in between. These same rules can apply to your opportunities for virtual or remote engagement: when possible, offer engagement that can be done in short chunks at any given time, and make very clear the availability for engagement (for example, is it weekends only? Afternoons? Mornings?). The clearer you are, the more likely you are to reach those who are willing and able to engage at those times.

6. Make Things Fun! 

Many of us are spending more time in front of screens than we’re used to. Make your presentations and opportunities stand out by adding fun, new content. Including short videos, like TikToks, can create a more visually appealing and engaging presentation, helping participants better retain knowledge and keep their energy up. Music can set the tone and catch the attention of those who may be drifting off. Know and work with your audience — if you are engaging older populations, you may need to offer more assistance with using technology in advance of the meeting to ensure participation; if you’re working with younger populations, you are more likely to need to focus on making your presentation fun using clips and interactive elements. 

7. Mix Things Up with Interactive Activities, Polls, and More 

During any presentation or activity, maintaining participant attention is key. Interactive activities, such as Devon’s virtual crafting session with her Little Sister, are one example of how to maintain engagement. Other opportunities for engagement include using virtual features like polls and breakout rooms to encourage communication between participants. Allow participants to meet each other by setting up breakout rooms in pairs or fours, and then come back together for large-group discussion after the breakout room portion. Encourage participants to continue communication and engagement beyond your organizations organized activities by creating Facebook groups or Slack channels. And if needed, provide restroom breaks or brief breaks to stretch, meditate or do breathing exercises.  

8. Establish Groups for Clear Accountability

To track progress, evaluate outcomes, and ensure engagement, establish consistent groups of students, volunteers, and employees who can keep one another enthusiastic and accountable. In addition, use the project-based event feature to establish clear deadlines and milestones, encouraging participants to be accountable to one another and to particular deadlines throughout the semester. This can also be an easy way to ensure some sort of evaluation metrics for outcomes. For example, students may be required to complete both a self evaluation and an evaluation of each group member at the end of the semester to provide feedback on the level of engagement. Accountability is crucial to effective and impactful virtual engagement! 

9. Recognize New Possibilities 

Above all, recognize and welcome the new possibilities introduced over the past year. Payne says that the most important suggestion she has is for organizations to “set goals and recognize — things are possible. Have expectations for yourself and your programs, but don’t make them unimaginable where you’re never going to reach those goals. We are all in this together.” And remember: in order to take care of your community, you need to take care of yourself. Lean on support systems, turn off notifications during off-hours, and decrease screen time when possible. Find opportunities to be active and don’t forget the importance of your mental and physical health. We’re all in this together!

This has been an overview of our December 10, 2020 webinar “Increasing Engagement During a Pandemic: Overcoming Virtual and In-Person Challenges.” For the full recording, see here

7 Steps for Crowdfunding Success

As we adjust to the new “normal” in the age of COVID-19, nonprofit and higher education fundraising teams are adjusting as well. Hosting an in-person gala, organizing a marathon or meeting face to face with donors are things of the past (for now), and organizations must find new ways to augment these usual fundraising methods. Nonprofit organizations and institutions across the country are now turning to a solution that has long been seen as a supplementary form of fundraising revenue or a once-a-year event – crowdfunding. With a little hard work, some simple math and the strength of a community, crowdfunding can be an incredible form of fundraising income for your organization or institution all year long. 

Here are 7 steps to make sure your next crowdfunding campaign is a success: 

1. Start early

Your crowdfunding campaign starts at least 1 month before your page officially “launches.” During the month leading up to your campaign launch, you will collect contact information for everyone you intend to solicit, segment your lists by audience, organize peer-to-peer fundraisers (see step 5) and start pre-soliciting your audiences by reaching out to those supporters you think are most likely support you, explaining your cause and asking if they’ll commit to making a gift when your page launches. This is also a great opportunity to recruit peer-to-peer fundraisers! Experts say you should have between 30-50% of the gifts you need to reach your goal committed BEFORE your campaign even starts. Crowdfunding campaigns are all about momentum, so ensuring that you can get to 50% of your goal early in your campaign will make you much more likely to succeed (see step 4 for goal setting strategies). 

2. Create a varied communication plan

Getting your communication plan worked out before your campaign starts is another great way to set yourself up for success before your campaign launches. Start with the basics, drafting as many emails and posts as possible with varied messages for different audiences, but know that you’ll also need to draft new posts and messages with updates as your campaign progresses. Just asking your donors to “give now” over and over will get old quickly, but focusing on individual stories and varying your content media with photos and videos will keep your donors engaged. Videos don’t have to be high tech. Especially in these times, taking a one-minute video on your phone is more acceptable than ever! Make sure to keep all communications concise. For emails, try to stick to the 3 paragraph rule and always have a clear path of action. That action should be to give, first and foremost, accompanied or followed by the ask to share your campaign with their personal networks. You should also draft email templates for your peer-to-peer fundraisers and be prepared to send out weekly communications to your fundraising team with weekly tasks for how they can help your campaign succeed. 

While mass emails and social media are extremely important to the success of your campaign because they keep your cause top of mind and tell your story, be aware that most gifts to crowdfunding campaigns come from peer-to-peer personal messages. Sending a personal message (via email, text or call) encourages a response on the recipient’s part, even if that response ends up being a no, whereas mass emails and social media posts allow your donor to feel anonymous and disconnected, leaving room to not take any action at all. 

Download our crowdfunding communications calendar template to start your plan now!

3. Use impact and time limitations in your messaging

When donors learn about your campaign, they’ll ask two questions:

  1. Why should I give?
  2. Why should I give NOW? 

Impact is the answer to “WHY should I give?” A time limit is the answer to “Why should I give NOW?”

Impact is a happy dog that got adopted after receiving a life-saving surgery. Impact is a student who was the first in their family to graduate from college because they received a scholarship. Impact is a volunteer testimonial describing their engagement in the community. Whether the cause you’re fundraising for is specific or general, find tangible examples of impact to show what a donation will help accomplish. If this is a new initiative without previous examples, describe the impact that donors will have in the future!

Time limitations can be an actual timeframe in which you need to receive the funds to accomplish what you’re trying to do or it can be a timeframe you impose superficially, meaning you don’t have a specific deadline or your deadline is abstract, but you set a campaign timeframe and use the urgency of your campaign ending to increase donations. Your message of urgency will only get more powerful as your campaign comes to an end, so use that to your advantage! 

4. Set a goal you can hit – then exceed it

When setting a goal, be sure that you do the math to ensure that your goal is realistic. People like to give to campaigns that are successful so by setting a realistic goal you can actually raise MORE than if you had set one that was out of reach. The factors you should consider are how many email addresses you have access to, the number of peer-to-peer fundraisers you have, your social media following, past fundraising experience from your audience and how many engaged volunteers and constituents you have. The goal calculation worksheet provided below is the best way to figure out a realistic goal for your next campaign. 

Reaching your goal is all about knowing how you’ll accomplish the “micro-goals” on the way, communicating effectively with your constituents, and expanding your network as much as possible by asking for others to share and promote your campaign. 

Once you’ve hit your goal, be prepared to set “stretch goals.” Donors won’t stop giving just because you hit 100%. In fact, once you hit your goal you’re likely to go over it because donors love giving to successful campaigns! Have an idea for what more you could accomplish with X more dollars and then be ready to set stretch goals incrementally.  

Download our goal calculation worksheet! 

5. Utilize peer-to-peer (p2p) fundraising

Crowdfunding is primarily peer-to-peer, meaning most donations will come from individuals who are giving because someone they know asked them to do so. The best way to expand your network of donors and receive more gifts is to utilize a peer-to-peer (p2p) fundraising tool that allows volunteers to create their own mini-campaign with a goal that goes toward your overarching campaign. From your goal setting exercise, you should know how many p2p fundraisers you need and what you need them to raise to reach your goal.

Peer-to-peer fundraisers can be anyone who has a close relationship with you, your organization or your cause. Some examples of great p2p fundraisers are your board members, staff, volunteers, past event attendees or friends and family of campaign leaders. If you use GivePulse for volunteer management or events, you already have a great database of potential p2p fundraisers at your fingertips! Treat this as you would any volunteer opportunity and invite your supporters to be p2p fundraisers for your cause. 

This fundraising campaign has enabled p2p fundraising. By clicking “+Help Fundraise”, donors can share this campaign to help your organization reach their fundraising goal, as shown below. 

For best results, you’ll want to manage your p2p fundraisers throughout the campaign. Send them at least 1 email per week with updates on your campaign and specific tasks that will help them ask for donations. Give them an array of options that allow for time or technological limitations, such as forwarding an email, sharing a social post or calling/texting 5 friends. Don’t be afraid to ask your p2p fundraisers to also make a donation to your campaign! It’s always easier to ask others to donate once you’ve made a gift yourself, no matter the size. To learn more about GivePulse’s peer-to-peer fundraising tools, click here.

6. Incorporate matches & challenges

The only thing more effective than a time constraint to incentivize giving is a match or a challenge. Funds for a match or challenge can come from many different sources. It can be a larger donation that the donor has agreed to let you use as a match, it can be a gift from a business or corporation that cares about your cause and wants some name promotion to your community, it could be pooled donations from your board members or community or it could be internal general use funds that your director designates as a match for a specific area of your organization.

Matches are very effective to make your donors feel like their gifts are going further. Dollar for dollar matches are the most popular method, but you can also match donations at 2x or 3x. If you’re worried about your match not going far enough because of its size, add a time limit or gift cap (example – all gifts up to $250 will be matched). You can also work with a local business or corporation to see if they will match all employees’ gifts to your campaign

Challenges work in a similar way to matches but can be easier to implement and allow you to get creative. The simplest method is to implement an “unlocking” challenge that unlocks a large gift for your campaign once you hit a certain threshold. If you’re fundraising for multiple areas of your university or organization, you can have time-limited challenges that award a prize to the area that receives the most gifts in that period. You can also do social media challenges, participation challenges, scavenger hunts, and more! 

Giveaways are a popular way to incentivize giving, especially when tiered based on giving level. Just be careful to only give away inexpensive or donated items and be sure that mailing those items and postage costs are feasible for your organization before promising anything to donors. 

7. Keep donors updated and engaged after your campaign ends!

It’s inevitable there will be potential donors that don’t complete the donation process. Provide these donors ample opportunities to engage in other ways, be it volunteering or registering for upcoming events. There will be opportunities in the future to re-engage them in other fundraising initiatives. 

For donors who have contributed, the end of your campaign is just the beginning of your relationship. After thanking them, you should continue to update them as you are able to accomplish the things they donated to help you do! Send photos, videos and stories of the impact! Invite them to engage with you in other ways like volunteering, receiving your newsletter or attending events. Leverage GivePulse to streamline donor communications. If you continue to share authentic stories of impact, you can convert them from one-time donors to forever donors. 

GivePulse is here to support you through all of these steps to help your next crowdfunding campaign succeed. From our gift matching capabilities and peer-to-peer fundraising features to our storytelling platform, we are here to help you create the most effective fundraising campaign possible.

Contact for more information. 

Want to learn more? Join us Tuesday, August 4 from 2-3 PM CT for our upcoming webinar on Crowdfunding Basics. 


Start your crowdfunding campaign on GivePulse today!

United We Stand (6ft+ Apart): Best Practices for a Safe Reopening

As of May 20, all fifty states have begun the process of reopening. Your institution, organization, or office might be considering what this means for the upcoming months. While some will opt to continue working, learning, and engaging remotely, others will decide to return to in-person activity in some capacity. For those who choose to reopen common spaces or return to some form of in-person engagement, it is crucial to implement thorough safety measures. 

Our COVID-19 taskforce is dedicated to supporting safe reopenings for our partner organizations, institutions, and corporations. In this guide, we will delve deeply into what the Phase 1 and 2 reopening advice might mean for you, including:

  1. How to prepare for a safe reopening 
  2. Day-to-day steps to maintain a safe work environment
  3. Specific risk mitigation strategies

We also offer suggestions for volunteer opportunities that might be safely offered as organizations start to reopen; if you feel ready to start planning these opportunities, you can skip past the preparation guide to read these ideas. 

We hope that this guide will help you to implement and adhere to crucial safety practices, particularly in contexts in which you might engage with your community and vulnerable populations. 

Note: All of the information contained within this article is based on the CDC’s recommendations and is not intended as business advice. As always, please follow state and local regulations, and remember that reopening plans are not mandatory: your organization decides for itself when and how it feels ready to reopen. 

Preparing to Reopen  

If you are considering reopening, you must consider whether you are equipped to do so safely. From gathering supplies to cleaning common spaces, you will need to ensure that every possible precaution has been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Use donation drives to gather supplies

In order to effectively prepare, you will need to make sure that you have the materials you need to protect against the spread of COVID-19. This includes sufficient hand sanitizer and soap for everyone in the workspace to use multiple times throughout their days, sanitizing wipes to wipe down all shared spaces both before and after use, and in some cases PPE for all who will be in the space. If you are not sure whether your organization will be able to personally procure sufficient materials, you can organize a donation drive and rally your community to help. If you are a business with the capacity to support your community partners, reach out to them to help fill their gaps! 

Check for potential allergens 

Allergens may mimic several symptoms of COVID-19, which can lead those suffering from allergies to ignore concerning symptoms, or can lead to widespread fear within your environment. Symptoms of allergies such as sneezing or coughing can also lead to the spread of COVID-19, as droplets may spread even from those who do not yet know that they are infected. In order to alleviate the spread of coronavirus, check all buildings and workspaces for potential allergens such as mold or dust. In residential universities, for example, all dormitories must be thoroughly cleaned and inspected in advance of allowing any students to return. 

Set up physical barriers and diversify office time shifts to avoid person-to-person contact 

In situations where you may need face-to-face communication, such as reception desks, seminar classrooms, or check-in tables, set up physical barriers wherever possible. A plastic screen, partnered with masks for those on either side, can limit the potential for spread of coronavirus. Wherever possible, close common areas (such as shared kitchens) to prevent spread from their use. In general, make and implement a clear plan for limiting in-person presence. In the case that some or most folks want to be at the office, continue to provide flexibility to work remotely, and identify diverse time shifts to decrease traffic and office concentration. 

Day-to-Day Realities

In the below infographics, our Best Ever Volunteer, Bev, details what day-to-day life might look like during Phases 1 and 2 of reopening. From sanitizing frequently to offering virtual and remote opportunities, Phase 1 allows you to begin opening to small numbers of people; Phase 2 offers additional safety guidelines for larger gatherings. Again, it is crucial that you follow any local or state regulations as well as proceeding with an abundance of caution. We do not recommend that you allow for gatherings of more than 10 individuals if you can avoid doing so, and we encourage you to take every opportunity to decrease your density of individuals in any space. 

Phase 1

Phase 2

Risk Mitigation

As Bev shows us in the infographics above, preventing the spread of COVID-19 may involve extensive risk mitigation measures. Such measures include the following: 

HIPAA-compliant symptom monitoring

HIPAA protects patients’ privacy and personal information. Symptom monitoring, such as temperature checks, must be compliant with HIPAA while simultaneously preventing unnecessary risks for uncomfortable or inappropriate situations in the office or workspace. The most effective way to ensure that privacy, HIPAA, and personal comfort are not violated is to request that anyone considering coming to a shared space self-monitor symptoms, particularly temperature. You might even consider providing thermometers to anyone who will be coming in on a regular basis. Check with local health officials to determine whether your system for symptom monitoring is HIPAA compliant, and make sure to bear in mind ways to mitigate risk of uncomfortable or inappropriate interactions if you make the decision to monitor temperature in person. 

Contact tracing 

Contact tracing is becoming an increasingly prevalent method for rapidly diagnosing and treating new cases of COVID-19. This method identifies all of the contacts with which a newly infected patient has interacted over the past few weeks. These contacts are then warned that they may be ill, asked to isolate, and, if need be, tested for COVID. We will be posting a more detailed guide to contact tracing, including how your volunteer base might be able to help with this method, in the upcoming weeks. 

Isolation of cases

For cases in which reopening means also opening communal living spaces, you may need to isolate cases should they arise. Universities, for example, may find that residence halls quickly spread COVID-19. If a student or resident is suspected to have or is diagnosed with COVID-19, there must be measures in place to immediately isolate this case, including an available living space that minimizes exposure risk (for example, public restrooms, kitchens, etc.), options for food delivery in the case that they are unable to procure food for themselves, and how or when the individual will be moved to an alternative location. 

Liability waivers

Your liability waivers will need to be updated to reflect the new risks that will be present for those who are entering shared spaces. In your updated waivers, you should make clear what the new risks are, describe any safety precautions that the individual is responsible for (such as providing their own protective equipment, staying home in the case of illness, etc.), and detail the mutual choices that must be made in order to prevent spread in either direction. 

COVID-19 task force 

Especially if you are unable to avoid larger groups (for example, more than ten people), having a dedicated medical response team or COVID-19 task force ready to respond to medical emergencies is key. This might be a group of individuals who each know a specific role to play in the case that it becomes clear that an individual is ill (for example, where cleaning supplies are, how to clean, etc.), or, in the case of an event, it might be made up of medical professionals. In either case, being prepared for an individual case or an outbreak is crucial. 

Safe In-Person Volunteering

Over the past months, we have supported partner organizations as they implemented thoughtful and creative options for their volunteer base to engage with their community while sheltering in place to flatten the curve. Even as the country reopens, many volunteers will continue to prefer virtual options. We hope that our guide to virtual and remote volunteering can help you to plan effective and safe options, and that we can help you to evaluate your organization’s readiness to support virtual and remote opportunities. 

In addition to these virtual options, organizations may cautiously begin offering in-person options in order to best support the populations they work with. With the above plans and procedures in place, you can work within your organization or partner organizations to come up with some ideas for safe, in-person volunteering. We hope the below ideas will help to get you started: 

Creating virtual tours

While you may not yet be ready to reopen with large groups of people, even the most rudimentary reopening will give you the chance to let individual or smaller groups of volunteers create virtual tours. For universities, parks, museums, and science centers, this option can showcase attractions and features that would normally be open to many people at once. This can also be accomplished through asking that visitors and volunteers share their photos; our partners at the Austin Parks Foundation encourage visitors to share pictures through their collaboration with El Arroyo, placing signs with clever safety reminders across their parks and asking visitors to share the images.  

Clean-up crews

Similarly, individual or smaller groups of volunteers can enter spaces to help with important clean-up operations. For example, local schools, parks, and cities/municipalities such as our partners at the city of Austin can organize limited and targeted groups of volunteers to safely remove litter that may have accumulated while volunteers were unable to engage in person. 

Food preparation and delivery 

Food justice is increasingly critical at a time with so much financial instability. For organizations that help to combat food insecurity, such as our food bank partners and campus kitchens from institutions like UGA, the opportunity to reopen may also mean the opportunity to begin operating kitchens and delivery services. With the right safety precautions and options such as curbside pick-up or contactless delivery, the fight against food insecurity can continue with help from the in-person volunteers who make it possible. 

Animal care

For our partners at humane centers and animal shelters, reopening can offer the opportunity to bring volunteers back to interact with the animals who most need their care. Dog walking, cleaning pens/cages, and washing dogs are all activities that can be done in smaller numbers and that make a huge difference to the lives of the animals in these shelters. Of course, continuing to promote foster care as an option for those who are working from home will help just as much — our friends at Austin Pets Alive have seen incredible community support for their foster program! 

Delivering goods 

Our partners at Inspiring Minds had a great idea early into the pandemic: they delivered books and craft materials to the students they normally would be able to tutor and mentor in person. This type of volunteering can continue during reopenings! Volunteers can help organize and deliver packages with important materials to members of their community who can benefit from the help. Whether it’s children’s books and packages with the materials needed for interactive activities, food, or hard-to-find items such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there is no doubt that these deliveries will make a world of difference. 

Contingency Plans

Perhaps the most important part of planning to reopen is recognizing that your plans may change. Information is shifting regularly; experts have warned that states’ reopening may lead to new surges, which will alter regulations and guidance. Remember to include contingency plans as you look forward to reopening. If you will be moving individuals into shared residential areas, make plans for how to efficiently and safely move out large groups of people in a short amount of time; if you will be opening in-person engagement options, consider how these can be continued online or remotely. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best — and take every step you can to make sure the best-case scenario is truly safe. 

Did we miss anything? Let us know by contacting We want to make sure that we are supporting all of our partners through these challenging and transformative times. We know that our communities are strong, and have seen first-hand how all of our partners have rallied to make necessary changes while still finding ways to better their communities. We are humbled and proud to work with all of you, and look forward to helping in any way we can, now and moving forward.