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Fundraising Idea of the Month:
Volunteers

by Doug Nash


The two most critical requirements for a successful non-profit organisation are money and people. There is no point in having one without the other. Both require skill in attracting, keeping and fully utilizing. Here we will have a brief look at the people side of the things.

The only thing in abundance in fundraising is work and ideas. The work can only be done by people. Ideas are only as good as the people who try to make them a reality. The common factor and the critical factor is people. People who are properly recruited, motivated and engaged.

The first step is to ask. Very few people will actively go out of their way to volunteer. You have to find them and ask them to give of themselves. Asking appears to be a simple thing to do. However there are a few points to consider to help your success rate in achieving the 'yes' to your request. Once again a little homework or preparation can go a long way.

Treat volunteers as you would a major donor. A major donor can give you the money you need and attract a lot of attention but without the volunteers you can't do much with this money.

People like to be asked. It makes them feel good. By asking for their assistance you are recognizing that they are of value and are needed. People like to feel needed and valuable. Your asking shows that the person is seen as an individual, not just a number or another face in the crowd. You are giving them an opportunity to stand out, be recognised as well as a chance to develop new skills or use skills that may not have known they possessed. Volunteering is a two way street, both parties should have some clear benefit from the participation of the volunteer.

Before asking you need to know two things: what needs to be done and the abilities and interests of you members. Knowing what needs to be done is well catered to by meetings and other functions of the organisation. The area a lot of organisations fail in is knowing their membership well enough to make to fully utilize to the benefit of both the organisation and the individual members.

By having and maintaining a Members' Resource List is a good starting point, but this is not all you need. Talk to your members, notice how they behave at meetings and social events. It this deeper knowledge of the individual that will dramatically affect how well you match people and tasks. Are they shy, confident or verbose? OK they have a degree in computers but do they have good communication skills? No? OK, do they want to try to improve their communication skill by taking classes to raise funds for the organisation? Who can we pair with this individual to assist them assist us?

Part of the asking is having a valid and relevant reason why you are asking this individual instead of another. You must be able to answer all questions that may arise once you have popped the request. If can't answer straight away, say so, then find out what you need to know and get back in contact with the prospect as soon as possible. Never lie to them nor be deliberately misleading. This will lead to discontent and word will spread quickly. You have enough hurdles to jump without erecting your own that can be avoided.

The initial request should be from someone the prospect knows, likes or respects. Do it in private and allow the prospect the time and space to give appropriate consideration to the request. This helps avoid a hasty acceptance leading to the sticky situation later, of the volunteer having to withdraw or being unhappy about some aspect of the agreement.

RECRUITING VOLUNTEERS

Always remember that volunteers are satisfying their own needs when working for your organisation. While they can satisfy their needs while satisfying your needs, all is in order. It's when the two needs are no longer mutually supporting that you lose valuable people. Talk with your volunteers so you know what their needs are. This way you will less often be taken by surprise by a change in their needs. This change if not anticipated nor catered for usually means you will lose the volunteer. By talking to volunteers you may be able to better satisfy their needs and produce a more effective and longer term volunteer.

As the needs of your organisation change so do the needs of your volunteers. By talking with your volunteers you are showing respect and helping yourself to help your volunteers, by keeping track of these changing needs. The needs of a volunteer will not remain the same forever, so it is to your advantage to endeavour to maintain a symbiotic relationship between the two.

If you take the time to find out why someone became involved you can use this factor to maintain motivation later on. Also you may be able to build on this motivating factor as the volunteer becomes more involved with your organisation. You will be able to use this factor in more accurately assessing what you can expect from the individual.

Asking an individual for a commitment is the same as electing them to a position. So it is your obligation to show them the same respect as an elected official. You need to make sure they understand what it is your asking them, the level of commitment required, and the period of commitment. Ask for their feedback so all issues can be covered before a final agreement is reached. This way you can tailor your request instead of receiving a 'no' and having to start all over again with someone else.

At the beginning ask them to participate in ways that they are already comfortable with. Ask them to provide a service that they already do well. If possible try to partner them with another member they already know or respect. What you are trying to avoid is a new volunteer feeling unsure or facing a situation where they may feel embarrassed if all does not go as expected. Later when they feel more comfortable or feel they are an accepted part of the organisation you may be able to interest them in doing tasks that they are less experienced at.

Let each volunteer know how their input fits into the overall operation or organisation. This encourages them to feel a part of the team and fundraising is a team effort. The volunteer will realize this fact and will feel better knowing that others rely on their efforts as they will rely on others.

By knowing where they fit in, each volunteer will feel needed and not just a winner of an 'idiot lottery'. Thus they feel needed and important and will bring this sense of responsibility to all that they do.

Promote an atmosphere that encourages questions about the organisation and it's activities. You learn much from the type of questions a person asks about your organisation. The asking and answering is a great way to promote the circulation of information in an informal manner throughout the ranks.

As in other matters the personal touch is best in this matter. Phones, letters and newsletters have many useful functions- this is not one of them. By investing your personal time and effort the volunteers will feel important, respected and needed. As they should be. It is easier to hold on to a volunteer then to go out and find a replacement.

It is critically important that new members (and old) see that you are proud and enthusiastic. They will pick up very quickly and respond in a similar manner. Enthusiasm is extremely infectious, don't try and vaccinate them. If they see a lack of pride in you towards the organisation or activity, they will wonder why should they get involved and you will hard pressed in convincing them that they should.

Make sure all new and prospective volunteers receive a proper and warm welcome. First impressions can be lasting and if that first welcome is not warm and friendly then you may not get a second chance to recruit.

KEEPING VOLUNTEERS

Keep in touch with progress of new volunteers. They will soon drift away if they feel that they have been forgotten or worse taken for granted.

Dull, boring and lonely tasks are a major threat in losing volunteers. It is well worth the effort to apply a little imagination and thought to make theses kinds of tasks more enjoyable or at best less unenjoyable. You can do this by assign more people than necessary so the job is over as quick as possible and adds a social dimension.

Try to keep the tasks as relevant to the why the volunteer joined. Not easy but efforts in this direction are usually repaid in the outcome.

Make sure the goal of the activity is clear and measurable. This way the group or individual will have a sense of achievement at the completion. If there is no challenge or clearly understood reason for the task the volunteers' sense of worth and value will quickly diminish and they will fade away.

Avoid burnout. Overworked volunteers will resent being 'used' and will withdraw their services. Always make sure the load is shared as evenly as possible. The hardest thing for non-profit groups is getting more volunteers than they need. When you have ample people doing a task the 'social lift' comes into action. The task stops being a job and turns more into a social gathering and this increases the fun factor.

Be very careful who you entrust leadership roles to. All your good work can be quickly harmed if you put the wrong person in charge.

Pay attention to those who over a period of time do not meet your expectations. Take them aside in private and have a talk to them. Be open in trying to find out what the problem is and what the best solution is. Volunteers are one of your prime and most valuable assets and you so treat them accordingly. If necessary give them something else to do or more training in what they are doing. Invest your time in them and they will try their best to repay you.

You can not say thank you enough. Reward good work and do it so everyone can see that you do recognize and reward those who deserve it. How you do this is depends on your organisation. Putting aside one night of the year and dedicate to this celebration is a good idea. Don't miss an opportunity to mention the successes and achievements of your volunteers at your regular meetings. It only takes a moment to do but the effects last a long time. You don't need to spend lots of money, simple certificates have a powerful effect.

Listen to what your volunteers are saying by actions as well as words. Listening is a proactive skill that needs follow up action.

Keep a file on each volunteer for there are many advantages. You can remind your self not to forget birthdays so you can say 'happy birthday ' on the right day. You can keep an accurate record on what each individual has done so you can better plan a variation to their tasks and so keep them as fresh as possible. At the end of their service, or on request you can provide them with an excellent record of service that they can use as a reference or simply as a record of their achievements.

***********************


    About the Author: Doug Nash lives in Logan City in Queensland, Australia. He has graciously consented to share a fundraising idea with us every month. Although many of the ideas aren't new, each of them has a unique flair that comes from being developed and refined half a world away from ours. Visit his web site at http://www.home.gil.com.au/~dnash/ for more fundraising ideas.

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