How do you create a team of volunteer “evangelists,” people who will always come through for you?
I was asked this question by a staff member the other day when we were discussing her upcoming board retreat, and I thought it was a great question.
Instilling Volunteer Loyalty
I recently saw a quick clip of Tom Ahern and Jeff Brooks at a storytelling conference, and Tom mentioned the giving done by Princeton Alumni.
Tom was talking about how Princeton indoctrinates freshman from the moment they step foot onto campus, that all of “this” (Princeton’s campus, courses, faculty, etc.) is available to them, thanks to philanthropy. I can’t think of a better way to create a culture of philanthropy — not only for donors, but volunteers too!
Of course, it’s unlikely that your organization is going to create the experience of Princeton University, so how do you create a culture of philanthropy at your organization AND prevent having volunteers who don’t follow through? What can we do to instill the kind of loyalty and dedication that Princeton does?
Barriers to Volunteering for Your Cause
Before thinking about ways to help make volunteers come through, let’s talk about barriers that prevent volunteers from serving your organization in ways you’d like them to.
Family is always going to be a top priority, and there’s nothing you could (or should) do to surpass this.
Work is probably a close second to family, and it’s always going to take precedence over volunteer work.
3. Other activities and volunteer work
Here’s where it gets a little grey… does another organization’s activity trump yours in your volunteer’s life? What about dinner plans with old friends? What if your board meeting conflicts with another organization’s board meeting — or conflicting galas? Whose would they choose?
As nonprofit staff members, I think we need to be extra understanding about some of these important barriers. Sometimes life just gets in the way of volunteer work. But hopefully you and your volunteers can work around it.
So the most important takeaway is this:
Have realistic expectations of your volunteers. Give them things they can do and be successful at, and be understanding when they don’t come through.
What Truly Motivates Volunteers?
I began to think about the organizations I volunteer for — including AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals), where I’m currently the president of the NJ Chapter. I also volunteer at my kids’ school and a local soup kitchen.
What motivates me to volunteer at those organizations? Of course, I donate to many other nonprofits, but those are the organizations where I give my time and my money.
So what can you do to motivate volunteers for your cause?
1. Provide a meaningful experience for donors, volunteers, and staff members.
Is there passion at your organization? Do people have fun when they’re there? Do they truly understand the importance and urgency of your work? Do they know who you’re helping and the progress you’ve made?
2. Provide meaningful, manageable work.
Do they feel valued and needed? Are board meetings full of reports, and it doesn’t really matter whether they show up or not? Or are you having meaningful discussions, and relying on board member expertise and input? Are volunteers utilized to their fullest potential, or arrive at your organization to find that the staff isn’t ready? In other words, don’t waste a volunteer’s time.
3. Practice real, sincere gratitude.
Do your volunteers feel appreciated? Maybe an annual volunteer recognition dinner isn’t enough. Do you take the time to thank your volunteers in a variety of ways?
If your volunteers aren’t coming though on a regular and ongoing basis, you can fire them. It may sound harsh, but it’s the right decision. If you need help, check out this book by Simone Joyaux.
This Week’s Task
Take action to create a team of volunteer evangelists. Are you providing a meaningful experience with real work? How can you improve in this area? Are you showing volunteers appreciation on a regular and ongoing basis? What can you do to show them even greater appreciation for their support?
Think of the best volunteer you’ve ever had. What made them stand out as a cut above the rest? Share your experience in the comments.
This post is part of my Year of the Fundraising Board series. Check out the entire series to learn how to create a stronger, smarter, and super motivated nonprofit board.