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Creating Volunteer Opportunities—The New Role of Fundraisers

Resource Center - Foundation

(May 1, 2012) Think your organization’s volunteers and its development office are two separate worlds? Think again, says Emily Davis, author of Fundraising and the Next Generation, new from the AFP Fund Development Series.

Fundraising staff should spend more time with young volunteers, Davis says. In the past, nonprofit organizations have folded marketing responsibilities into the fundraising role; in the future, development staff may be asked to participate more in the volunteer development function.

Creating volunteer leadership opportunities for the next generation is important for long-term organizational success. Watch for young people connected to your organization who have great potential to be long-term leaders within your nonprofit and for your cause. Give young leaders the opportunity to tell your organization how they can help you—rather than simply assigning them tasks. Most of all, realize that energized volunteers have great potential to become long-term donors—no matter their age.

Tell Their Story

To harness the potential of young volunteers, ask them to share their stories with your staff in debriefing sessions after programs and events, and invite them to share those firsthand experiences to boards and committees. Your organization can use these stories as “mission moments” to help inspire others in your organization, especially at the board level. Whether your organization is gathering stories for internal or external purposes, remember to ask, Davis says. Volunteers will not spontaneously arrive at your desk to share their experiences. Gather this information through online evaluations, community debriefing sessions, informal conversations and one-on-one interactions.

Ask volunteers about the experience that they are looking for, listen to their interests, and match their skills to your needs rather than simply assuming the best roles for those individuals. This can increase their investment—of time, effort and financial contributions. Social media is an excellent platform for these conversations. Use your Facebook page, Twitter, blogs, and other social media to tell the stories of your volunteers and ask about their experiences. Use pictures, the written word, and any other creative tools you can think of to share experiences.

Remember, whether they have a positive or negative experience with your nonprofit, volunteers will spread their experience by word of mouth in the community. You can learn from negative feedback and use positive feedback to inspire others. Plus, you can leverage the peer networks of volunteers young and old to expand your outreach to the community.

Planning Events

Enlisting the support of Gen X and Millennial volunteers in event planning is a great strategy for engaging them in fundraising, promoting your cause to new donors, marketing your organization and simply saving staff time, Davis says. To do this, allow yourself as an organization to be open to volunteer fundraisers taking some calculated risks, but provide the tools and enough structure for them to be successful. Hold brainstorming sessions on new event ideas and provide training on effective fundraising and event creation, thereby deepening the knowledge and investment of fundraising volunteers. Delegate what you can and start off small, Davis says. Although any new event takes time to build and may falter along the way, patience and investment in long-term strategies for engaging the next generation at every level will help down the road.

The next generation of donors sees philanthropy as more than writing a check. Fundraisers are wise to work closely and seek out young volunteers for their skills and ideas, and let them have a voice, so that they can become fully invested supporters and donors.

Fundraising and the Next Generation: Tools for Engaging the Next Generation of Philanthropists, by Emily Davis, MNM, is a new title in the AFP Fund Development Series published by Wiley. Look for it and many other helpful and thought provoking fundraising books in the AFP Bookstore.

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