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Ten Tips for Motivating Volunteers

by Ralfie Blasius

As a young volunteer for a local non-profit organization, I bravely offered to chair their biggest fundraiser of the year. The chair from the previous year assured me she would be with me every step of the way to coach me on my duties. Imagine my dismay when she informed me she would not be able to attend my first meeting because she had been transferred to another city to meet the demands of her job! I considered having a nervous breakdown, but thanks to the help of a few veteran fundraisers, we were able to come up with a means to "rally the troops" and get the project off to a flying start. Much of the information I learned was how to work effectively with people for a common cause. The following are ten tips to help you motivate and maximize your most priceless resource: your volunteers.

  1. What is your group's mission: Why are you here? Are you here for community involvement, supporting your church, to help your children? Clearly define the mission of your organization and keep it foremost in everyone's mind. This is the glue that holds your group together, your "raison d'Ítre" (reason for being). For example, as a member of the band booster club, you might be involved in raising funds for instruments and uniforms for your son's school marching band. Your mission is to provide support and help the band to be well equipped.

  2. Get to know your volunteers: What are their professions, strengths, and hobbies? Utilize the talents and knowledge they possess. Is one of your volunteers an accountant? Ask her to help you to devise an annual budget for the group or a projected budget for this particular fundraiser. Perhaps another volunteer is a graphic artist who can help you design professional-looking flyers and banners. Maybe another member does calligraphy for a hobby: ask her to help you letter certificates of appreciation for your sponsors. Do you have a persuasive speaker in your group? See if he would be willing to speak to potential sponsors.

  3. Communicate: Get feedback. Listen to your volunteers, do some brainstorming, then use the information to help make decisions. Let them know you value their input and make note of any information they give you that would be helpful on this or future projects. Be sure your people know the scope and intent of your fundraiser. Perhaps you need to raise $5,000 by September for band uniforms. Keep the lines of communication open at all times. Touch base with your volunteers often so you will know immediately if there are any problems. This will give you the opportunity to resolve the situation before it becomes serious. Sometimes it helps if you can be a coach, and give them a "Rah, Rah!" pep talk or an encouraging pat on the back.

  4. Be organized: Schedule regular meetings well enough in advance so your volunteers can plan to attend them. Set up a phone tree to call and remind people of meetings. Have a written agenda for every meeting. It doesn't have to be lengthy, but an agenda will give your meeting structure. Specify a time (preferably at the end of the meeting) for new business or discussion. This will allow you to keep the meeting moving without a lot of interruptions. An agenda is especially valuable if you have volunteers who want to chitchat or go off on tangents. Cover your business items first, keep the socializing and lengthy discussions for after the meeting. Time is a valuable commodity: Don't waste it!

  5. Be honest and straightforward: Let everyone know what the project entails, what you need your volunteers to do, and the importance of each person's part in the success of your fundraising efforts. Give everyone an exact description of his duties to avoid misunderstanding and last minute glitches. Don't be afraid to admit if you have made a mistake. Simply address it and move on with the project. Encourage your volunteers to do the same. Once, in the middle of a fundraiser, my publicity chair informed me she was having personal problems and could not fulfill her commitment. I was disappointed, but was able to call upon several other people to step in quickly and complete her duties. Had she not told me honestly and in a timely fashion, this could have spelled disaster for the entire project.

  6. Delegate: Share the responsibility, the work, and the glory of your project. Be a leader, not a dictator. After you have assessed the strengths, weaknesses, and talents of your volunteers, begin to delegate. Share the workload. Try to divide it up as much as possible, so no one single member is carrying an undue portion of the responsibility. Keep tabs on your assistants to make sure all is running smoothly. Offer help if they are in over their heads, stuck on a particular problem, or just plain burnt out. A quick phone call and a brief meeting can nip potential disasters in the bud and keep your volunteers working smoothly.

  7. Act now! Don't procrastinate! Cash in on the initial excitement of beginning a new project and furthering your group's mission. Give your volunteers specific assignments at your first meeting. Take time to plan a well-thought out event, but don't overdo the planning and risk losing your momentum. Develop a workable project, strategy, and budget. Then implement it. Pencil in specific dates for each segment of your project . Set the tone with enthusiasm and keep moving!

  8. Keep a lid on worriers: Find out any concerns your helpers may have, and address them directly. Be smart and don't take foolish chances on your fundraiser. On the other hand, don't let yourself be overwhelmed by the naysayers and the worrywarts. Discuss the concerns of your volunteers, get professional advice if necessary, then put the worries to rest. This will allow you to move forward with your project and keep your worriers in check.

  9. Be thankful! Let your volunteers know how much you appreciate them. Without them, you could not succeed. Remind them of the importance of what they are doing. Every job, large or small, is necessary for the success of the entire project. After large fundraisers that take months of planning, try to schedule an appreciation party (it doesn't have to be expensive, pizza and pop will do) for all of the volunteers involved. This gives everyone a chance to celebrate their success and builds camaraderie. Volunteers who know they are appreciated are more likely to help you out the next time you call.

  10. Last and certainly not least: Enjoy what you are doing! Remember your mission, why you're here, who/what you want to help. Take a break or delegate more of your responsibilities if you feel yourself getting stressed out or resentful. Attitudes are contagious-let your enthusiasm and optimism attract other volunteers to help you to make your fundraising efforts both successful and enjoyable. Keep in mind the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."

With a bit of psychology and a lot of love, you can cultivate and motivate your volunteers. I know from my own experience that working for a common cause, being treated fairly and honestly, being appreciated and respected are all factors that encourage volunteer participation. You can never go wrong when you use the Golden Rule: Treat your people as you would like to be treated. Good luck on your volunteer fundraising efforts!

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About the Author:

As an office manager and active volunteer/fundraiser for over 20 years, Ralfie Blasius knows the importance of keen organizational skills. She and her husband Chip have a long history of activity in non-profit organizations including scouts, churches and other clubs. Combining their business knowledge with their fundraising experiences, Chip and Ralfie have condensed the essence of many practical lessons on business, time, volunteer, and project management in their book, Fundraise Painlessly. The book is available through, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite bookstore.

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