Fundraising Resolution No. 3 (Volunteering): Who, Me?!?!
Most lists agree that “volunteer” is one of the top resolutions people make each year. And as fundraisers, we know the importance of volunteers for running profitable events, preparing mailings, presenting our causes in the community and many other roles.
But as overworked nonprofit employees, it’s sometimes hard to volunteer ourselves. Time is limited, we already work more hours than we’re paid for, we can’t find the right fit or (worst of all, in my opinion) when we have volunteered, it’s been less than fulfilling.
My talents are not in volunteer management, and my own volunteering experience is checkered, to say the least. I’ve often been asked to serve in positions that fail to consider my skill set, and I’ve served on a few boards that could be the subject of “what went wrong” case studies at the next Association of Fundraising Professionals conference.
While we won’t solve all the problems volunteers face in 2014, there are things we can all do — for volunteers at our organization or if we want to volunteer — to make the experience more fulfilling for the volunteer and more beneficial for the organization. While there are many good resources available for learning the secrets of volunteer management, following are just a few that have been most elusive in my own experience.
Be honest about the job description
A few years ago, I was asked to take on a volunteer position. I agreed if the organization would agree to one caveat: There was one part of the role I couldn’t do because of a scheduling challenge. “No problem” was the response, but it was — that turned out to be the main thing this organization needed its volunteers to do.
Unfortunately, the eagerness to fill the volunteer slot overrode common sense. I spent the entire time I was in that volunteer position feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to meet the real expectations. And I’m sure the organization was frustrated with me.
Do your homework
If you seek volunteers, talk to the potential volunteer about what he or she wants to receive from the experience. Don’t just assume that a person wants a volunteer position that uses the skills he or she uses (used) at work. Sometimes the most appealing part of a volunteer job is that you can do something you’re passionate about but don’t earn a living doing.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.