For many fundraisers, there’s nothing more precious than a great volunteer. This individual can fill a spectrum of roles, from a million-dollar door opener to a late-night envelope stuffer. Either way, this volunteer is probably one of your best marketing tools. You want to keep this person on your organization’s side, and you can’t afford to lose him or her.
What distinguishes a great volunteer from a good one? Talent? Connections? Of course those qualities help, but more often than not, the answer is commitment. And what does it take to cultivate that commitment? We asked two vigilant fundraisers how they strive to enhance the volunteer experience.
1. Give your volunteers a proper orientation. “Be clear about your expectations,” says Sarah Varley, co-founder of Esteemed Events, a Toronto-based marketing and events consulting firm. “As a volunteer, there’s nothing worse than committing your time and standing around feeling useless.” A lot of people could be great volunteers but have a poor first experience, she adds. “If you ignore your volunteers, you do so at your own peril.”
2. Keep them informed and involved. We all feel better if we’re in the know, so share your organization’s plans with your great volunteers. “If your volunteers are engaged with the organization and equipped with information, they can act as your ambassadors,” Varley says.
3. Get to know them. Who are your volunteer’s families? What are their interests? Where do they go on vacation? “The more I understand a person, the more meaningful our conversations become,” says veteran fundraiser and active volunteer Gord Durnan. “Your job is to better connect your volunteers to their charity. Build the relationship. Listen, ask questions, and learn from them.”
4. Give them opportunities to be social. A lot of volunteers do what they do to be part of a community. “They’re much more likely to help you again if the experience is fun,” says Varley. Plan a social event—an annual holiday party or a bowling excursion, for example—and encourage volunteers to get to know each other and foster that feeling.
5. Recognize their commitment. Parties can double as opportunities to celebrate volunteer achievements, such as years-of-service milestones and other contributions. “Volunteers are giving you their time, their intellect, connections, passion, and interest in making a difference in the world and your organization,” Durnan says. “You can’t put a price on what they bring to the table. They give your charity validity.”
Volunteers are not just for now, Durnan adds. “Fundraisers don’t always stay forever with an organization, but volunteers sometimes do.” If you keep these basic things in mind, Varley says, no matter the size or scope of your event, campaign, or envelope-stuffing session, you can take advantage of volunteers and often count on their service for years to come.