Happy Volunteers Boost Major Gifts
I heard a story recently about a very gifted, wealthy and influential major donor who decided to accept an invitation to become a member of the organization’s board. This gentleman had founded his own company, had thousands of employees and was extremely successful. He joined the board, looking forward to making an important contribution. But his advice and attempts to participate and contribute were ignored.
He said: “Richard, it’s as if I was an idiot. I felt shamed and violated. It was one of the worst experiences I have ever had.” And so, he went away. And so did his giving.
Or there’s the story of the very successful woman who talked to a volunteer coordinator about giving her time and was treated so ineptly by the employee that she not only started volunteering with another organization, but shifted her giving there as well.
Why do we do treat volunteers this way? Because we do not value the gift of labor, and we don’t know what to do with them when they show up. It is an amazing thing to watch. A person gives time, and the gift is trampled and misused.
By the way, the managers and leaders who abuse volunteers and maintain systems that violate them are the same managers and leaders who abuse and mistreat their employees. They should not be in the organization. And if they’re in your organization, get out.
The gift of labor is a precious thing. And that gift should be valued and stewarded for two very important reasons. The first and most important reason is that it is the right thing to do. The second reason is that the giving of time is closely tied to the giving of money. Since this is true, you would think that self-oriented volunteer abusers would at least value the money and clean up their act. But they don’t—it’s amazing.
So, what can you do? Well, you need to re-orient your thinking and your practice, as it relates to volunteers, so you create a happy place for them. And what makes for a happy volunteer? Some colleagues we have worked with are taking important steps in two areas to make that very thing happen.
First, they have created a system for board recruitment and assignment that identifies the work that needs to be done in the organization, then matches those categories of work to a professional who has experience and skills in that category. Think about the order of things here. First, what needs to be done is identified. Then they will go out and find the labor. And this is real work inside the organization matched to a real person outside the organization who will give the gift of labor to get the work done. Genius!
And this makes for a happy volunteer. Why? Because there is real work to do, not a conjured up place to put a volunteer “because we have to do something with them!” And because there is a match between the skills and experience necessary to do that work and the volunteer who has gifted her labor.
Secondly, they have revamped their volunteer recruitment function—the system that exists to find and manage volunteers to serve in many areas of the organization—they have reorganized that function to include the following four important steps:
1. Identify the work that needs to be done. Do you notice a theme here? They actually want to figure out what really needs to be done. Nice. They call this step: “ID volunteer opportunities.” This content can go into a job description for the volunteer.
2. Recruit and train the volunteer. This is that matching thing again—matching the job to the skills and experience of the volunteer. And there is training. Goodness, how novel. They’re actually going to train a volunteer! I love this point because it proves that these folks are serious about stewarding this gift of labor.
3. Place the volunteer. This means there is an actual place that the volunteer goes to complete the match of work and labor.
4. And then (I really like this one) steward the volunteer. Do you mean you actually are going to care about how the volunteer is doing? You’re really going to check in and solve problems and redirect? Wow. Steward the volunteer. Here is a genuine expression of valuing. Here is a recognition that a great gift has been received and is appreciated. This is pretty cool stuff.
You can see how both of these volunteer philosophies and systems shepherd the volunteer into a happy place because there is a match of skills and passions to the work and all of this a girded with kindness and valuing. Makes me happy just writing about it!
You can also see that a major donor who contributes his time and is treated this way can’t help but fall deeply in love with the organization and want to do more. That is how it works. And this is what you can do in your organization. Set about making a happy place for your volunteers using these ideas. It will be the best thing for them, your organization and you.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.