Investing In Volunteers

Dear Kim:

Most grassroots fundraising advice, including your own, suggests gathering a committee of volunteers to select and approach potential (or renewing) donors. Our organization has had mixed success with volunteers in general: in most cases it takes more of a quality staff member’s time to train a volunteer than it takes the volunteer to do the work, and then oftentimes volunteers do not show up, and the staffer has less time and more to do than before. Even with steady handholding and volunteer “perks,” many absorb the training and provide no work. Worst, volunteers show up to do what they want to do, which almost never involves fundraising. In fact, in many cases, the only thing they won’t do is raise funds! I’m happy to ask for money; it’s harder to ask volunteers to fundraise!

~Rather Do It Myself Read more…




Dear Rather:

Believe me: I am sure every staff person reading your statement is completely sympathetic to what you are saying. When I work with volunteers, I sometimes think to myself, “This is not worth it.” And as a volunteer, if I don’t do what I said I would, or don’t do it in a timely fashion, I think the staff have a right to complain about me.

However, I encourage you to step back a bit and remember why you have volunteers, even when it takes more time for you to get them to do the work than if you just did it yourself. You recruit volunteers for four reasons:

  1. You can’t do everything yourself—you don’t have the time. Further, you will not live forever, and you will not always work for your organization. So you have to take the time to train others in how to do your work.
  2. Grassroots organizations cannot afford the kind of staff ing required to do all the fundraising their organization needs to do, nor would that be an appropriate use of money. We rely on some unpaid labor to get our work done, and that labor often comes with very creative ideas.
  3. Most important, volunteers, like donors, legitimate our work. An organization that cannot find any volunteers is often an organization that the community does not care about.
  4. In terms of fundraising, volunteers are often more credible to donors than paid staff , particularly because fundraising volunteers are not only giving their time, but also their money.

So rather than focusing on how hard it is to find good fundraising volunteers, use what you know about fundraising to recruit and train a cadre of volunteers:

  1. Fundraising is a volume business. We have to ask at least four times as many people for money as they number of donors we need. We also have to recruit more volunteers than we need.
  2. People are more likely to give when the request is specific. “Can you help with something?” does not work as well as, “Would you consider a $500 gift?” Asking a volunteer to “help with fundraising” just about insures a bad experience, whereas, “Would you ask these three people for $500 each by next Friday” is much more likely to be successful.
  3. People are more likely to give when they have a sense of how their money will be used. “We need lots of money to help people who need help” does not work. “For $50 you can provide the coaching a woman on welfare needs in order to be prepared for a job interview; for an additional $50 you can make sure she has the clothes she needs for the first week of work.” Similarly, “Would you be part of a team of people we are putting together to raise $50,000 in the next six weeks so we expand our Meals on Wheels program to South County? We’ve been invited in there by another social service agency that isn’t able to serve seniors the way we do.”
  4. People are more likely to give when they are thanked and appreciated, and not treated like ATMs. Volunteers are more likely to do their work when their reward for doing the work is that their work ends. If they keep being asked to give more and more without any break, they will cease giving.

You get the idea. You can figure this out, but you have to first remember why it is worth it. I wish you luck.

~Kim Klein