How to Recruit First-Rate Volunteers for Your Capital Campaign
Your capital campaign’s success depends heavily on the work of volunteers. The right sort of highly capable campaign volunteers add a breadth and depth to your campaign that your staff simply can’t replace.
Volunteers won’t just open doors, solicit gifts and help with all sorts of tasks, but they’ll also be generous donors to your campaign.
That said, recruiting effective volunteers is one of the most challenging aspects of a campaign.
10 Ways to Recruit Awesome Campaign Volunteers
Try incorporating all of these strategies into your capital campaign volunteer recruitment process.
Invite people to do what they are likely to be able to do successfully.
Enlist the most powerful and most important people first.
Provide long time horizons between asking someone to do something and the actual task.
Assign a person of similar class, wealth and position to help enlist a particular volunteer.
Prepare a list of clearly written expectations before asking anyone to volunteer for anything.
Define the end of every volunteer project before you recruit people for the beginning of it.
Break volunteer activities into small, manageable bits that combine to create a longer chain of activities.
Let "no" be an acceptable answer. Don’t push a volunteer into something they don’t want to do.
Explain why he or she is the right person for the job.
Make the work fun.
Avoid These 10 Volunteer Recruitment Strategies
There are also some things you should avoid during the capital campaign volunteer recruitment process.
A casual and careless approach to enlisting volunteers.
Telling people how hard it is to get volunteers for the job.
Twisting someone’s arm to do something he or she really doesn’t want to do.
Keeping someone on board, because you can’t find anyone else.
Expecting someone to do a better job than the model you set.
Asking someone to volunteer halfheartedly.
Understating the importance of the task.
Giving people permission to do a lackluster job.
Minimizing what’s really involved in the task.
Not acknowledging when someone does a great job.
A Hard Truth: People Are Consistent
There is a general rule you should keep in mind and follow when considering your campaign volunteers: People are consistent.
Those of us who struggle with our own foibles know how hard it is to change. More often than not, our basic patterns of behavior have a way of recurring despite our best efforts.
This may be a curse when you are struggling to stop smoking or resist sweets, but it’s a blessing when you look at your strengths. Remember this: It is a great help when you’re choosing your campaign volunteers.
A Cautionary Tale
Take the case of Rose, the director of a community center in Pennsylvania.
Rose was planning a campaign to build a new facility for her growing organization. Rose’s board member encouraged her to consider Bill for the campaign chair. He served on her board and had been active on the development committee. He was also powerful in the community and headed up one of the large foundations. Bill sounds like an ideal choice, right?
But time after time, Bill would show up at meetings and dominate the discussion. And as Rose watched him closely, she saw something that troubled her. While he talked a lot, when the time came for taking assignments, he seldom volunteered. And when he did, he seldom followed through. Rose concluded reluctantly that, although Bill liked to be a big shot, he didn’t like doing the work.
What did Rose do? She convinced her board chair to invite Bill to serve on the committee, but not to be the campaign chair. Had she chosen him, his habitual behaviors would have likely undermined the campaign. And chances were slim to none that he would’ve risen to the occasion on this one project, when he had failed to on so many others.
What happened? Bill did serve on the steering committee where he did no harm and his foundation did give a big gift to the campaign—a win all the way around.
Don’t Expect Volunteers to Change Their Behavior
For better or worse, most people behave the same way most of the time. Some people are always on time. Others are always late. Some people do what they have committed to do. Other’s don’t. Some people are generous. Others aren’t. Some people bring energy to the task. Others sap it.
Don’t expect that someone who shows up late or often doesn’t show up at all will change their patterns for your campaign.
Don’t expect that your ho-hum volunteer will suddenly turn into a star performer.
That said, a well-managed campaign can bring out the best in people. So, while the characteristics of the volunteers you recruit will make a big difference, the way you organize and manage the campaign will be powerfully important too.
I have drawn this story from my book "How to Raise $1 Million (and More) in Ten Bite Sized Steps." This short book is an ideal way for your board members to learn the fundamental lessons of capital campaign fundraising. It’s peppered with simple stories like this one about campaigns that went awry and also many that got it right.
Andrea Kihlstedt is a co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She is the author of "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work," now in its fourth edition, as well as "How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite Sized Steps," in addition to other books. Andrea has been leading successful capital campaigns for more than 30 years.