How to Grow Your Volunteer Leadership

Leadership is at the core of successful fundraising. But who should provide that leadership? Should it be the executive director, president, or CEO? Should it come from the board of directors? Or perhaps from someone who is neither a board member nor a staff member?

Our experience has shown that fundraising is most successful when it is volunteer led. Because of this we advocate for the board to provide fundraising-related leadership and for staff to serve in a support role to the board. We also suggest participation by influential individuals from outside the organization.

Let us explain. One can feel quite victorious as an executive director or CEO when claiming, “I raised $1.2 million last year.” Even better, “I beat the fundraising goal by 7%.” But, if one person can meet or beat a goal, imagine what a team could accomplish. Fundraising is a “we” activity. Which is not to say that executive leadership doesn’t play a major role in promoting the organization and soliciting funds – it does. But that work is more successful when leveraged by introductions, recommendations, and the partnership of board members and members of the community.

Here is what our experience has taught us.

1.      When soliciting major gifts, peer-to-peer asks are most successful. In most cases a staff member is not a peer to a major donor. A staff member can help facilitate the process of one major donor asking another current or prospective major donor for a gift, but that is different from making “the ask.”

2.      Annual gifts are of utmost importance. Encouraging people to make small but consistent gifts to your organization builds a pool of individuals, families, businesses, and organizations who know what you do, believe in what you do, and tell others about your work. It certainly takes a lot of work to secure a large number of small gifts, but if you are using a volunteer-led model you should be more successful than if you use a staff-led model. A growing pool of annual donors can help convince businesses and foundations that you have strong support from your constituency.

3.      Invest in a volunteer manager. This position is as valuable as a development coordinator. This is the person who can engage, encourage, incentivize, and recognize people at all levels who host their own fundraising events to support your organization, who volunteer at events your organization hosts, and who ask their friends and others to give. A creative and engaging volunteer manager is a true treasure.

4.      Invest in a volunteer engagement strategy. With this in place you know what you want volunteers to do, how to find them, and how to recognize and reward their work.

If your executive director or development director is the one responsible for fundraising then you have not yet taken advantage of all your assets. Take a chance and engage others in meaningful fundraising. You will be amazed at what people are willing to do for you if you ask them and recognize their work.

© Mel and Pearl Shaw 2010.

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