Recruiting and Retaining Outstanding Fundraising Volunteers
Nonprofit organizations that do not have the support of high-powered, committed volunteers could still succeed in their fundraising efforts. Nonprofits that have a strong base of committed and skilled fundraising volunteers are always successful.
Most organizations would accept this truth without debate, but they face a number of challenges in the wake of this realization. So while they accept that high-quality fundraising volunteers are desirable and will yield superior results, they also recognize that there is increasing competition for those volunteers, and the level of expertise they need to bring to the table is increasing.
For the moment, let’s assume that your organization has learned the valuable lessons of why people volunteer. Let’s also assume that there is a common grasp of the distinctions between fundraising volunteers and other program and governance volunteers. Finally, we shall assume that top quality fundraising volunteers are helpful in our work in some of the following positions:
* Special event chair and committee
* Development committee member
* Campaign chair
* Prospect advisory committee
* Host of fundraising event
* Personal solicitor
There are some reasonable expectations a development director should have of fundraising volunteers. Each of these expectations should be stated at the beginning of the recruitment process and mutually agreed upon. Among them are dedication, access, information, insight, attendance, enthusiasm and loyalty.
Unfortunately, many nonprofit organizations get to this point and then expect the volunteers to just “show up.” It’s not very different from an organization with a wonderful case for support that simply expects donors to start pouring money into its mission.
At this point, the job of recruiting volunteers has just begun. Before lining up the “warm bodies” to fill fundraising volunteer position vacancies, the leadership of the nonprofit should ask itself the following questions:
1) What are our organization’s needs?
2) Who is drawn toward our work?
3) Who are our advocates?
Throughout the recruitment process, there are two potentially dangerous situations that can arise. Nearly every nonprofit manager with some experience has negotiated these at one point or another, and they are somewhat tricky to deal with. The first is the problem of the nominal volunteer. This is the individual who simply is using your agency to pad his resume or advance himself personally. Sure, it’s great to have volunteers claim a portion of their fame through your work, but beware the volunteers for whom that is the prime motivation. The priorities simply are out of order and typically will not benefit your organization over the long term.
Next, beware of the volunteer with an identifiable and perhaps non-negotiable conflict of interest. For example, the person who owns a graphic-design company might step forward to serve on your board or committee simply to have a better opportunity to acquire business from your organization. In this instance, it’s critical that your organization have a clear conflict-of-interest policy.
Now that you know the characteristics you are seeking and the expectations you have of prospective volunteers, you need to determine where to look. Just like the major-gift process, the recruitment of volunteers is based on relationships. Consider the following sources as leads to help you identify your high-powered fundraising volunteers:
* Current volunteers
* Feasibility study participants
* Members, donors, alumni, friends, auxiliaries, etc.
* Community leaders
* Other volunteers
* Service club members
* Professional group members
* Event attendees
Understanding the value and importance of your recruitment efforts, it’s now time to treat the selection process with as much care and attention as you would the identification and solicitation of donors. Essentially, you will be inviting your target volunteers to make a gift of their time and talent to your efforts just as you invite prospective donors to join you in your philanthropic work. Use of a nominating committee is strongly encouraged.
In your nominating committee, you will be seeking candor, and at the same time requiring a high level of confidentiality from your participants. It is essential that this is understood from the beginning. Welcome all suggestions at first, guiding the conversation to ensure there is a critical mass of candidates. Ultimately, you will need to rank and decide which candidates best meet your needs.
Now comes the actual recruitment effort. There are many models you can follow, and you might even find that for certain activities you will need to recruit differently from one project to another. This is the time when you must truly exercise the art of your work more than the science. For example, you might choose a highly formal approach whereby the CEO or equivalent sends a letter inviting candidates to “apply” for the volunteer job. Applications are then reviewed and candidates even interviewed. This might seem a little stuffy, but it demonstrates the seriousness with which you are approaching the process of recruitment.
At the other end of the spectrum could be a somewhat informal process in which members of the nominating committee begin inviting volunteers as soon as the meeting ends. It all depends on your organization and your personal style and comfort level.
Regardless of which approach you choose, it’s important that you never minimize the commitment you are requesting or the value provided by the job for which you are requesting volunteer help. Too often, nonprofit directors tell the candidate how little work they need to do because they fear asking for the substantial commitment they really need. Again, treat the prospective volunteer like a major prospective donor and you will be alongside those organizations that always enjoy fundraising success.
John A. Scola, CFRE, is executive director of development at the Catholic Diocese of Orange in California. He can be reached via www.rcbo.org