Volunteers are at the heart of fundraising. They make all the difference in the world. They are passionate, connected, creative, and talented. And they need to be managed. Ask anyone who has served as a fundraising volunteer and you will quickly learn what made their experience great and what fueled disappointment. Perhaps you, as a volunteer, have experienced the joys and the pitfalls.
Here are some things to keep in mind. As an organization, make sure you know exactly what you want people to do before seeking volunteers. Create a one-page document outlining “roles and responsibilities” for each type of volunteer you need. Outline expectations for event volunteers, members of the phone-a-thon committee, or the corporate sponsorship committee. It may sound like a lot of work, but if people don’t know what you are asking them to do, it is hard for them to hit the mark.
If you are asked to help with fundraising, ask questions before saying “yes.” If you are not provided with written roles and responsibilities, request them. Here’s how to say “yes” while setting boundaries around your involvement: “That sounds like something I can do. Would you write up your expectations, and any dates I should be aware of? I will review and confirm.”
When you say “yes,” treat your volunteer commitments as seriously as you treat your personal and professional commitments. Apply your talents and creativity, ask questions, engage your network. You can provide valuable resources and leadership that are beyond the scope of staff.
As a volunteer you can make a difference by providing printing, web design services, meeting facilitation, a reduced or no-cost lease, food, legal services, transportation or products/services directly related to the organization’s mission. You can host a gathering at your office introducing the organization to your peers and encouraging them to give money and pro-bono services.
As a staff member, you need to be prepared to manage volunteers and respond to their requests and ideas. Allocate time for this. Be prepared to change how you do business. Volunteers may make requests that stretch your resources and your thinking. You may feel frustrated. That’s natural, but unhelpful. Be prepared to partner and to change.
Volunteers can take you to new levels; they can open doors that staff only dream of. Be prepared. Clearly communicating roles and responsibilities sets a framework for accountability. From there you can negotiate as volunteers bring new ideas to the table. You can choose to think of volunteers as “prima donnas” who take up your time. Or you can consider their requests and ideas as reasonable responses that arise out of their desire to help you. If your organization allocates adequate time to managing and supporting volunteers all parties can benefit.
© Copyright Saad & Shaw. Mel and Pearl Shaw are the owners of Saad & Shaw. They help non-profit organizations and institutions rethink revenue sources. They are the authors of How to Solicit a Gift: Turning Prospects into Donors. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.