Engaging Volunteers in Your Organization

As part of our ‘Leadership Orlando’ experience, we were to put together a service project of some sort. As is often the case, there were several people who signed up immediately. Everyone was excited and waited for the next step to happen. And nothing happened. We had a great group of people, all leaders in the community, all eager to do something, but no one knew what to do.

As the organizer that I tend to be, I started asking questions to better define what we wanted to accomplish. Then I broke that into roles and put together very brief job descriptions about what we needed accomplished. And then, I called people and asked them to commit to one of those areas.

In the end, it was a very successful project that benefited an urban elementary school in Orlando. We collected school supplies and some of us volunteered to read in a class or two. Perhaps it would have been just as successful had I not laid the groundwork, but I was pleased to be a small part of getting things off the ground.

Based on that experience (and several years of developing fundraising programs that engage volunteers), here are some of the steps I now recommend that organizations take as they are preparing to involve people in their fundraising programs:

  • Clear expectations. People generally want to help, but we can’t assume that they have enough knowledge to intuitively know the next thing that needs to be done.
  • Materials available. Make it as easy as possible. For fundraising volunteers, have a packet of information available.
  • Identify specific people to approach. Rather than a general request to ‘talk to people they know,’ ask them to think of 3-5 people who might have an interest in the project. This helps your volunteers visualize themselves have a conversation with those specific people.
  • Ask for involvement. Just as we need to ask for a gift, we need to ask people to commit their time. A general request in a newsletter won’t cut it. If we’re asking for a significant commitment, we need to make a specific request.
  • Develop goals together. It may be tempting to develop your own goals in a vacuum. Ownership of goals is one of the greatest indicators of success with any project. If we engage our volunteers in the goal-setting process, their feeling of ownership will be much higher.
  • Provide feedback and encouragement. Sometimes in organizations I’ve seen board members taken for granted (although I’m sure that doesn’t happen in your organization). Saying thank you goes a long way. Our board members and other fundraising volunteers take time away from other activities and our gratitude will help reinforce how important – and appreciated their work is.
  • Lead by example. We can’t ask others to do what we won’t do. By actively being involved in asking – and communicating that back to the volunteer fund development team – we’ll again be showing how important that work is

Hopefully this will provide a little information to help you begin to develop your fundraising program.

Those are just a few of my thoughts. What are yours? Are their approaches that you’ve found helpful (or unhelpful)?

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