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The Development Committee Workbook: Managing Your Volunteers to Success

Resource Center - Foundation

Michele Berard, MBA, CFRE is the Executive Director of the Butler Hospital Foundation and Principal of Ascent Advisors in Rhode Island.  She is devoted to educating professionals and volunteers about nonprofit leadership and philanthropy. Her passion is developing tomorrow's leaders, whether they are direct reports, colleagues, executive directors, or board members. She’ll fulfill that passion when she shares her tactics for managing volunteers in her session at the 2014 AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio! Here she gives a sneak peek of the 17 tactics you can adapt for your own nonprofit board and volunteers.  

michele berardI know you have heard it. You may have even said it yourself.  It’s a common sentence uttered by frustrated development professionals when working with a volunteer development committee: “It’ll be easier if I just do it myself!”

If you have uttered this sentence and actually took your own advice, you realized two things: (1) it IS easier to do yourself, and (2) your potential is limited.  As frustrating as volunteer management is, we know that it is a necessary component to a successful development program. 

The rationale for volunteer engagement is effectively articulated in the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (2012) Special Report: Engaging Board members in Fundraising.  The report explains that our volunteers help our organizations with access and signaling.  Helping the organization reach new prospective donors is an example of access.  Signaling is done when the volunteer talks about their association in conjunction with the value of your organization.

Having worked in and consulted for many small shops, I know the time constraints of planning, staffing and managing a volunteer development committee.  I know you feel like you are spending most of your time “coming up with things for the committee to do” rather than working with your volunteers in a productive manner.  Which is why I am excited to share The Development Committee Workbook: Managing Your Volunteers to Success at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Antonio!

This session will provide you with 17 real tactics that you can take back to your shops and implement immediately. They are diverse and can be sized to fit your organization as they are marked as “easy”, “medium” or “hard”.  Some are educational, some are homework, some are exercises—all tactics have measureable outcomes and most can be applied to your board of directors.  Here are a few highlights of some of the tactics that you’ll pick up in my session.

Tactic #1 – The Development Committee Charter

One of the most important exercises of the Development committee is to determine its purpose and maintain that purpose.  We’ve all seen our Development Committees mysteriously transform into Marketing and PR Committees, taking the focus off fundraising.  Working with your committee to empower them to establish a committee charter will prevent committee-charter-creep in the future.

I like to use a template approach to get people started. Remember, these are generally smart, well-educated, connected individuals. However, they do not possess the body of knowledge that we as development professionals do.  With that said, we have to provide them with a starting point.  From there on, I advise development professionals to take an objective viewpoint and allow the volunteers to craft the charter.  Here is my template:

XYZ Organization Development Committee


- To ensure XYZ Organization benefits from a strong, stable and growing revenue stream obtained from philanthropy


- by:


1. developing and fostering a culture of giving of our internal constituencies




2. cultivating and stewarding resources (people, products, time, finances) 




3. soliciting financial and in-kind support






This is a great activity to do during a committee meeting.  Notice that the charter has three sections. The first section, “WHAT”, is the main goal.  It should answer the question, “why do we exist?” The “HOW” section includes objectives to meet the goal. It will enable committee members to understand the objectives that will create a solid committee. Take some time to discuss each of these and encourage committee members to come up with examples that apply to your organization. One example might be hosting a board campaign led by the members of the Development committee.  This one example will support objectives #1 and #3.

After the charter has been completed, the Development Committee should present it to the board of directors and request a motion for acceptance. This governance activity will make the charter part of the official minutes. It will also make it easier for the committee to recruit new members as expectations and outcomes are now clearly outlined.

Tactic #5 - Newsletter/Website Review

This exercise addresses two frequent comments that often create roadblocks in volunteer engagement in philanthropy: (1) “I don’t know enough about the organization,” and (2) “I don’t know how donations are used”. This exercise can be split into two by focusing just on your organizational newsletter or your organizational website. 

At your next Development Committee meeting, distribute copies of your most recent newsletter or donor newsletter. Acting as the facilitator/record keeper, the development professional should ask, “Are there any indications on how XYZ uses philanthropy revenue?”  You should record member responses on a white board or flip chart. It’s likely that they won’t initially make the connection that your social work department or your activities program is a beneficiary of philanthropic revenue. Once you are able to show them that all of your organizational programs benefit from philanthropy, your volunteers will be more empowered to talk about your organization and its good work.

Many organizations have robust websites.  However, our volunteers don’t utilize that source for information.  Another exercise used to orient committee members about your organization is a homework assignment based on your organization’s website. Ask committee members to list two programs at your organization that pique their interest.  This seemingly small exercise will force your committee members to peruse your website, learn about the organization and decide on two programs.  When the committee comes back together to share their results, you will have great insight about your committee members’ interests, which will serve your future proposals and solicitations well.

I hope these two samples get you thinking and leave you wanting more!  I look forward to presenting these two plus the remaining 15 tactics at the AFP International Conference on March 25, 2014.  If you have a specific question, or a great idea, please share with me on Twitter @micheleberard.    

See you in San Antonio!

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