Impact Giving | Our Most Valuable Resource: How Donations Support Volunteers

Last year, volunteers donated more than 200,000 hours of service to connect people with safe and meaningful outdoor experiences. Their gifts of time and expertise are essential for us to deliver on our mission and get people outside. When you donate to The Mountaineers, you support their efforts to provide accessible, world-class, community-centered outdoor education.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
March 01, 2022

On any given weekend, you can find hundreds of people enjoying local parks, forests, waterways, and more under the leadership of a Mountaineers volunteer. Last year, we had an average of 11 Mountaineers activities every day. 2,300 volunteers donated more than 200,000 hours of service in 2021 to connect people with safe and meaningful outdoor experiences. The Mountaineers has an administrative staff of just 25 people to support programs; this kind of impact simply would not be possible without our extensive network of volunteer leaders, instructors, lodge hosts, and committee members. 

Volunteers shape and lead every aspect of our mission priorities. Since our founding in 1906, Mountaineers have volunteered their time to broaden our community and help others enjoy the outdoors. It wasn’t until 1984 that they hired the first Mountaineers staffer. They needed someone to do the paperwork so that they could keep working on the fun stuff like course development and leading trips!

Today, volunteers are the mentors, the leaders, the cat-herders, the behind-the-scenes champions, and the magicians that run our programs. They eagerly welcome newcomers into the world of outdoor recreation. They guide young people in their discovery of adventure, community, and stewardship. They inform global best practices for our favorite activities. They create safe and hospitable environments in lodges and program centers. They balance budgets. They write courses. They tell stories. They clear trails. They shape policies to help more people experience belonging in our outdoor community. Their gifts of time and expertise are essential for us to deliver on our mission to get people outside.

When volunteers are supported well, they stay longer, add course capacity, provide better instruction, and inspire more people to engage with the natural world. This is why we invite donors to invest in our mission by investing in our volunteers. When you donate to The Mountaineers, you fuel accessible, world-class, community- oriented outdoor education. 

How donations support volunteers

Here’s how we use donations to sustain volunteers, our most valuable resource:

Enable volunteers to do what they want to do

As it turns out, we don’t need to convince people to share the activities that they enjoy the most. We just need to provide a platform and get out of the way! 

Nothing can match the energy and enthusiasm of someone sharing their favorite pastime. “I see the roles of instructor, leader, and various committee positions as being additional benefits,” says John Dunlap, 9-year member and volunteer. “They are another reason to belong to [The Mountaineers], not a cost that must somehow be paid. The courses offered are almost entirely the courses that individual volunteers want to teach.” 

Online tools help volunteers schedule and promote activities and manage rosters. Access to program space, gear, and course materials creates a smooth experience for instructors and students. And Mountaineers staff help volunteers get new ideas off the ground, troubleshoot technicalities, and facilitate connections within or outside of the organization. 

Improve leadership and outdoor skills

Volunteers are often taking more courses, getting more practice, and exploring new activities through The Mountaineers on their own. But they can also grow and learn through donor-funded leadership development programs. Weekend conferences or classes from our Leadership Development Series help volunteers hone technical and interpersonal skills. Regular classes cover topics like curriculum development, facilitating emotional safety, risk management, and navigating conflict.

Mountaineers leaders can apply for grants from the Leadership Development Fund. This funding allows them to pursue classes or certifications specific to their role and activity.

And based on feedback from our community, staff are currently developing a Foundations of Outdoor Leadership eLearning course to launch in 2022, which we hope will benefit new and tenured leaders alike.

With access to progressive training opportunities, volunteers become stronger leaders at The Mountaineers… and in their work and home lives as well! These valuable opportunities are a win-win: volunteers feel appreciated and the activities, committees, and courses they lead are enhanced for everyone. 

Innovate volunteer retention

One of the challenges we face is how to keep the most committed and talented volunteers engaged. Kyle Breakey, 12-year member and volunteer, put it well: “As an active and motivated member of The Mountaineers for several years, it wasn’t long before I ran out of climbing programs that would push my personal progression. The programs offered by The Mountaineers are great, but once you complete the Intermediate Climbing Course and have a baseline skill proficiency, the mentee or student role traditionally shifts to that of mentor. … All too often this means members either stagnate or look outside the organization for new partners and challenges, leading to a noticeable dilution of skilled volunteers and leaders running our programs.”

Through the Alpine Ambassador program, we pair some of our most talented climbing volunteers with world-class guides on intensive trips to level up their skills and abilities. The Alpine Ambassadors themselves then host mini-trips, sharing their new knowledge and elevated experiences with other volunteers who may not yet have the time or ability to join the program. Volunteers return from these excursions energized, connected, and ready to be better mentors.

“It is something that keeps the long-term volunteers engaged and interested, not just as a reward, but as a way to improve the way they teach and enhance their volunteering,” says Chase Gruszewski, 11-year member and volunteer. “It helped us improve our intermediate [climbing] course. It helped us better explore the region and find new places to practice and teach others. And it makes [The Mountaineers] on the whole better by going outside of our circle for more expertise.” 

Another unexpected impact is how it builds trust and communication between different branches and activities. “[The Alpine Ambassadors program] removes insularity from our programs and helps us learn from each other,” Chase told us. “I am a volunteer in Kitsap, but after my first trip I have friends in all 5 branches. These are people I’d happily rope up with again.” 

Recognize and appreciate those who serve at all levels

Volunteers - by definition - are not paid or compensated, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t getting anything in return. "We devote time and effort to things we enjoy. Lots of us really enjoy teaching,” says John Dunlap. “Lots of our volunteers are seeking social engagement centered around common values and goals. And of course, most of us find gratification in feeling the appreciation of others we have helped.” 

We want volunteers to feel great about what they do. Aside from personal development opportunities, we thank volunteers with gifts, special events, and public recognition. When we invest in volunteers they feel appreciated and energized, which benefits our whole community. 

Inspire new leaders

It comes full-circle! Happy volunteers inspire eager new leaders.

Volunteer leader and 20-year member Bernadette Lamarca shared, “The pleasant and encouraging attitude of the leaders before me inspired me to become a leader for The Mountaineers. Their passion was infectious and I caught the bug!” Bernadette has led hikes with the Everett branch for more than 17 years.

Most of our course instructors or activity leaders start out as students and participants. When volunteers are empowered to do what they most love to do - when they have tools to learn and grow, and when they feel appreciated for the time and energy they give in service of others - they will create high quality and meaningful experiences for others.

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Volunteer impact multiplied

Our grassroots programming is as unique today as it was in 1906. We don't guide tourists on excursions, we empower adventurers toward self-sufficiency, stewardship, and community. We began to ask - how could our approach impact adventurers beyond the PNW? 

In partnership with the American Alpine Club, the Colorado Mountain Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, and the Mazamas, we launched the Mountain Education Alliance (MEA) in 2019. Representatives from these organizations, along with internationally-certified professional guides, work together to create standards for volunteer-led climbing and mountaineering. Mountaineers volunteers speak to the best practices and have become some of the inaugural recipients of the certifications created by the MEA. 

By creating consistency in volunteer-led nonprofits across the nation, the hard-earned experience of our volunteers is now nationally recognized and transferable to other regions. Through the MEA, the effectiveness of volunteer-led adventuring at The Mountaineers is poised to have a nationwide impact.

Volunteers Give Back… and Give Back 

Many of our most-committed volunteers are also donors because they see firsthand the impact of The Mountaineers. They are on the front lines of training and engaging new explorers and advocates. Our volunteer-donors are investing in their co-leaders, teammates, and their community. Across The Mountaineers, those who give more of their time as volunteers are more likely to also donate, multiplying their efforts and creating an even greater impact. 

Furthermore, over $200,000 in funding for Mountaineers programs comes from corporate matches a year! Many companies match the donations and volunteer hours of their employees. If you support The Mountaineers as a volunteer or a donor, see if your employer will help multiply your impact.

003CC326-885A-48F5-997B-C67F9F25A900.jpgJunior Explorers learn how to build tarp shelters with staff and volunteer parent support. Photo courtesy of Mountaineers youth programs. 

As the popularity of outdoor recreation soars, the future of our activities and the future of the places we enjoy rely on volunteer leadership and mentorship. Mountaineers programs can only exist if we recruit, support, train, retain, and recognize volunteers. When you donate to The Mountaineers, you create opportunities for people of all backgrounds to get outside safely and responsibly with some of the best adventurers around.


The Impact Giving blog series exists to help our community better understand the impact of philanthropy. In fiscal year 2022, we hope to raise $1.6M in donations to support our mission through things like volunteer-led educational programing.

Donate

Learn more about how your giving makes an impact:

The Mountaineers® is a 501(c)(3) organization supported through earned revenue and elevated through charitable contributions, tax ID:27-3009280, 7700 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

If you are inspired to make a gift, please visit mountaineers.org/donate or reach out to us at 206-521-6006 or development@mountaineers.org.

Lead image of a volunteer helping teach a crag course at the Seattle Program Center. Photographer unknown.