The Power of the Volunteer
(Jan. 25, 2011) Working with volunteers is not easy. With the right support, however, volunteers can do more than any number of staff can do--it's just a matter of harnessing their potential.
How can you select the best volunteers and make the best use of their talents? The first step is to understand their value in the first place. In his book, The Nonprofit Development Companion, fundraising veteran Brydon M. DeWitt explains that when they are properly selected, trained and motivated, volunteers can do the following:
Extend the influence and credibility of your organization. The stature of the people whom you recruit to serve on your boards and other important committees sends signals to the public about the quality of your nonprofit and the validity of its needs.
Multiply the number and effectiveness of contacts for potential giving and influence. There is a growing trend on the part of some nonprofits to hire as many major gifts officers as they can afford and diminish the use of key volunteers. While it is always important to have a staff member serve on the major giving team, it is unwise to send signals to members of the board and others with resources and influence that they are essentially "off the hook"--staff members will make the calls without the need for their significant involvement in the process. No organization can hire enough staff members or people with influence to develop the relationships and raise the funds needed to meet your goals. The right volunteer can open doors to prospects that no hired staff member could approach. Further, it is unhealthy for nonprofits to excuse their chief advocates from involvement in the development process.
Be your goodwill ambassadors by helping people, groups, and communities better understand, accept and appreciate the work of your organization.
Provide expert advice and an outside viewpoint on your development efforts and your organization's service. If you let them--and show them respect for their insights and opinion--volunteers can give you a fresh look at your organization.
Keep you in touch with the perceptions of your organization in the communities and groups to which you relate.
Assist in learning about and putting down damaging rumors. This requires that there is a proactive effort to keep your volunteers informed. Encourage them to insist on being kept up-to-date. A trusting partnership with your volunteers will help your nonprofit keep and build a good reputation.
Harnessing Their Power
The next step toward developing your volunteers is to examine whether your current program offers volunteers meaningful participation. Is what you are asking a volunteer to do truly important to the organization? Is the role you are giving your volunteer appropriate to his or her abilities, interests and level of influence? It might be helpful to clarify the volunteer's duties and responsibilities by writing up a job description. Finally, there need to be levels of opportunities that allow the volunteer to move up into deeper levels of involvement in the nonprofit.
"Organizations tend to have too few rather than too many opportunities for the appropriate involvement of volunteers," DeWitt explains. "The key is to develop a sense of ownership--if ownership is felt by only the inside group who make all of the plans and all of the decisions, then the organization will have trouble getting the support of others beyond that inner circle."
Great care should be taken in matching the right person with the task to be accomplished. Further, make sure individuals are given sufficient training, information and staff support so that the volunteer feels confidence in his or her ability to accomplish the task. No one should be asked to do something they are not comfortable doing.
Volunteers can be an invaluable part of achieving your organization's fundraising goals and carrying out its mission. Invest in them and they will become invested in you.
Brydon M. DeWitt is president of DeWitt and Associates, Inc., and is the author of The Nonprofit Development Companion: A Workbook for Fundraising Success, a new book from the AFP Fund Development Series published by Wiley. It is available in the AFP Bookstore.Attending the AFP International Conference on Fundraising? Be sure to catch the session called Finding, Recruiting, Motivating and Training Fundraising Volunteers, Monday, March 21 from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. Visit the conference website.
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