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Volunteer Program Budget: 8 Steps to Success

Why volunteer program budgets matter and how they can help you grow your programming

In this article we will explore how to prepare a volunteer program budget effectively and efficiently.

Your goal is to create a volunteer program budget that is comprehensive, detailed, and accurate.

In this article you will see how the 8 preparation steps tell you what you need. You will also see:

  • Why Volunteer Program Budgets Matter.
  • How a Volunteer Program Budget is an integral part of The Big Picture.
  • Ways to Get Volunteer Program Funding.

Careful budgeting and budget monitoring delivers greater success in growing and developing your volunteer program.

Why a Budget for a Volunteer Program Matters?

Your budget is the foundation on which so many other parts of your program stand. Your annual and your individual program budgets:

  • Enable and encourage the best use of resources.
  • Get, and keep, managers and volunteers focused.
  • Enable stakeholders and board members to approve future plans.
  • Encourage your partners and donors to join, stay, and contribute.
  • Result in grants you apply for to be approved.

A volunteer program may be small and short-lived, or it may be a major and long-lasting project. The greater the complexity and cost, the greater the need to plan, fund, and monitor every expense incurred, and to show how grants, funds, and volunteer hours have been used.

Volunteers must have the tools and resources to fulfil their roles and achieve program goals. Creating and using a budget helps you deliver volunteer program benefits.

What Do Volunteer Budgets Do for a Nonprofit Program?

Budget for Volunteer Program

Budgets for volunteer programs are not just a set of numbers listed next to topics that accountants, potential donors, and bank managers look at. Budgets are powerful tools for so many people, the organization, and for volunteers who are part of the programs.

Budgets provide a structure and a basis for the decisions and actions volunteers and program managers take. Those decisions include approving an idea, funding a volunteer program, making best use of resources needed to complete the program, and monitoring progress.

A comprehensive program budget also makes sure the little things volunteers need are there for when they need them.

Tied to all of those, is that budgets make it easier for the program manager to prioritize what gets done, how it gets done, and when it gets done. Effective planning and allocating replace off-the-cuff decision-making and do-your-best actions. To help with these, you will see budgeting tips for volunteer organizations.

How a Volunteer Program Budget is an Integral Part of The Big Picture

As well as their practical, down-to-earth value, budgets also have a broader benefit. Budgets help:

  • Everyone involved to focus on longer-term strategic goals. By reviewing previous budgets' funding, resource allocations, resource use, and results, it is easier to accurately prepare future plans.
  • Board members to understand which earlier programs performed well, which could have performed better, and how any poor use of resources can be avoided next time. This detail enables the board to suggest and advise rather than spend time simply trying to understand past results and future goals.
  • Donors and partners to see where their money is being spent and how their money is helping the community. When they see how the programs are using resources, they can make direct connections to the results the programs delivered. and the funds they provided to the program.

When board members and donors know how much money is needed to run the volunteer program, because your budget is detailed and accurate, they are more likely to approve it.

Efficient use of funds and good results encourage existing donors to contribute again and for new donors to climb on board.

The 8 Steps for Preparing a Volunteer Program Budget

All 8 steps are important and these budgeting tips for your volunteer organization will enable you to create  and then manage your budget knowing you have touched all the bases.

Some of these tips are more strategic and some are more step-by-step practical.

How to Build Your Nonprofit Volunteer Budget

1. Decide on the General Budget Categories

When you know the general categories, it is easier to break them down into relevant line items. Use these tips as your sample volunteer program budget. For example:

Staff Salaries and Benefits

Depending on the size of your volunteer organization and the state where you are based, you will need to budget for cetain specifics. These may include:

  • Full and Part-time salaries for management and operational staff.
  • If part-time, when during the budget period will they be onboarded, and for how long.
  • Payroll taxes.
  • Insurance premiums.
  • Staff training.
  • Additional salary costs to account for promotions.
  • Future pay raises and when they may kick in.
  • Overtime pay.
  • 401(k) contributions.
  • Paid sick and vacation leaves of absence.
  • Disability and healthcare insurance premiums.

Overheads

There are fixed and variable overheads.

Fixed overheads include such items as:

  • Office, warehouse and equipment rent.
  • Property taxes.
  • Asset depreciation.
  • Property insurance premiums.

Variable overheads include, for example:

  • Office supplies.
  • Repairs and Maintenance costs.
  • Shipping costs.
  • Legal costs (unless pro bono work is always available.)

If this is your first budget exercise, it pays to check out previous, similar budget spreadsheets to know what you should include.

Program Marketing

This may include:

  • Brochure and flier design, printing, and mailing.
  • Website page design.
  • Social media advertising. (Just so you know, Google provides grants for online advertising. You can get up to $10,000 per month to advertise your volunteer program. This article on Google Ads gives you more detail. If you want to go straight to Google Ads FAQ page, click here.

Recruiting New Volunteers

This is always important. You may find  our management software will help you save time and get more volunteers.

  • Posting and monitoring recruitment ads.
  • Visits to schools, clubs, etc., and presentations to recruit new volunteers.
  • Carrying out applicant background checks.
  • Distributing fliers and brochures.
  • Gas, toll fees, meal, and other associated costs.

Volunteer Support and Reimbursement

  • Gas, toll fees, meal, and other associated costs.
  • Office space, parking fees, utilities, admin supplies, etc.
  • Volunteer recognition gifts.

2. Clarify the Present and the Future, and Learn from the Past

Budgets are planning, decision-making, and monitoring tools, so realistic estimates matter. Over-estimating in one area in case you come up short somewhere else is not safe. And it is not fair to volunteers or donors.

  • What resources and management decisions are you working with? Seek clarification if yo uneed to.
  • If you see any practical problems which could affect resource needs or allocations, address them now. These include volunteer hours, overhead costs, and direct operating program costs.
  • Look ahead to the program's end goals. Are you (and others who are involved) clear about the overall picture?
  • Look back to previous, similar programs and see if there were shortfalls, surpluses, etc. that you can learn from.

Use Volunteer Management Software to Automate Data Collection

Collecting all the data and stats you need, both to prepare your budget and to monitor resource usage may seem daunting. Data collection can become automatic if your non-profit makes the best use of this volunteer management software. 

3. Involve Others

Including team members in planning and resource allocation gets them involved and inspires them to do their best.

Volunteers who have specific experience can make the budget more accurate. They may also know of other funding sources.

Many volunteers work for, or have retired from, major corporations who fund volunteer programs. There are many ways to leverage corporate philanthropy.

If you need sign-off by the board, involve them and include their suggestions and advice.

Use their line-item terms in the budget, so donors see how their contributions will be used.

4. Notate and Explain Grants, Contributions, and the Costs of Funding

Include written explanations to support budget sections and some line-items. Include the source of funds, the amounts, and when you expect to get them or have already received.

There are many sources you can go to for grants. Your budget notes should include which you will contact, how much you will apply for, and your estimate of success. You will see a list of suggestions later in this article.

Include in your explanations:

  • Contingency funding. If you see future excess costs, explain how you hope to solve the problem.
  • Management and other paid staff involvement. Include their roles and salary costs.
  • Management and volunteer training time and costs.
  • Suppliers. Who they are and the cost of what they will provide.
  • Events. Their purpose and cost elements.
  • Volunteer and program beneficiary recognition.
  • The basis for your calculations.

5. Work With Real Numbers

Learn from the Past

Previous volunteer programs often have similar budget categories. Use them as starting points and line-item generators. Vary your expected budget needs up or down. Past performance can be a good guide. Where you do not have real numbers to work with, make a separate note and adjust it when you do get clarity.

6. Know Your Program Funding

Your program will involve hours contributed, money, equipment, and materials donated, and premises to be occupied.

  • When you know what you have to work with, you can tailor your program and allocate those resources in the best way.
  • Separate those donations into, say, A = Definite, B = Probable, C = Maybe. When you prepare your budget, you can allocate those donations as 100% certain or less, depending on your estimate. So, if you need $1000 for something, but think it is probable a particular donor will fall short, decide how much you believe you can rely on, e.g., $600, and input that more realistic estimate.

That gives you two choices:

  • Reduce your spend or reallocate funds from a less important area of the program.
  • Look for ways to get the $400 shortfall from somewhere else.

By involving board members and volunteers in your preparation, they are more likely to want to help find the messing numbers.

You should also agree with donors whether they want certain amounts used in a specific way. If they do, then those amounts must be budgeted accordingly, and considered restricted donations.

7. Know Your Program Expenses

Divide cost areas into appropriate program expenses such as:

  • Advertising the program
  • Overheads (building space, utilities, etc.)
  • Administration (phones, technology, paper, etc.)
  • Special clothing (aprons, gloves, etc.)
  • Operational items (include expenses volunteers may submit for working from home, childcare costs, etc.)
  • Client costs (anything spent on clients who are the recipients of the program.)

8. Monitor Throughout the Program

Budgets are tools to monitor progress and performance. Every month compare the budget line items with actual income and expenses. If there are differences, work out why, so the next program will be budgeted and managed even more efficiently.

It also enables short-term modifications to either spend less or seek new contributions, so the final goals are achieved without having to rob Peter to pay Paul. One advantage of involving volunteers, board members and partners in the initial budget preparation is they are more likely to understand when there is a problem and more likely to help solve it.

Volunteer Program Funding Suggestions

As mentioned earlier, you can see an in-depth article on growing and developing your volunteer program. But here is a list of nonprofit program funding for you to check out. We covered Google Ad Grants in the Program Marketing section. Remember, up to $10,000 a month may be available.

And always remember

  • Word-of-Mouth is a powerful way for current volunteers and donors to use their own contacts to become new donors.
  • Community Involvement and Partnerships are also powerful revenue generators. Schools, colleges, faith-based organizations, clubs, and local businesses are often keen to become involved in helping to organize or raise funds for your volunteer program. As well as being socially responsible, it helps to grow and project their brand as involved members of the community.

When you plan for these sorts of contributions, you have a new line-item for your revenue section.

There are many other sources of funds. Check out specific federal and state options, as well as potential donors with interest in your area of operation and who are geographically close to where you operate and who are part of the community you will be serving.

Your Takeaway

Successful volunteer programs deliver results and support your overall mission.  Use these ideas and resources to create detailed, comprehensive and accurate budgets. This background plus the 11 steps of research and preparation will form your sample budget for your volunteer program. The stages will become the bedrock for creating a sample budget for all volunteer programs as you move forward. Then to use the budget to monitor progress.

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