January 2009 Archives

January 20, 2009

Follow Through After Passing Out Donation Envelopes

I attended a nonprofit organization's party for donors recently at which they did one thing very right and one thing very wrong.

Let's start with the right: After dinner, when everyone was in a good mood and not yet looking at their watch to check whether it was time to apologize to the babysitter, the E.D. got up, reminded everyone of the organization's great work, and made a pitch for immediate donations. Better yet, she invited a major donor to the stage to talk about her own motivations for giving. The donor seemed truly thrilled to both be recognized and to have a chance to talk about a cause that she has made her own. Volunteers passed out envelopes for donations, accompanied by a little thank-you gift.

Now for the problematic part: At the end of the evening, no one knew where to put their donation envelopes. They stood up, looked around, looked confused, and ended up handing their envelope to any staff member they could find.

That's not only a disservice to donors, but could irritate them enough to say, "Forget it, I'll keep my envelope." It would be so simple -- and not at all pushy -- to just plant someone at each door with a big jar in hand! Next year, I hope...
January 6, 2009

Do Volunteer Matching Websites Work?

I'm still in the mode of reading and summarizing scholarly articles so you won't have to. This next one is from the summer 2008 issue of Nonprofit Management & Leadership (vol. 18 no. 4). (Yes, I'm a little behind.)

This time around, it's an excellent article titled "A Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Online Volunteering," by Beatrice Bezmalinovic Dhebar and Benjamin Stokes. The authors evaluated more than 300 organizations' use of online volunteering services, talking to both staff members and the volunteers themselves.

Their conclusions are simultaneously more and less heartening than I would have expected.

On the positive side, a few groups have been able to use this seemingly random method of reaching out to people to get some serious help, particularly with technological, operational, or fundraising matters. Some have even built entire programs around online volunteers. The online services can create natural matches between nonprofit organizations that are either remote, small, or new, and volunteers who are busy during normal working hours, live far from opportunities for volunteering, or are physically disabled -- but want to help. Not too surprisingly, most volunteers chose assignments with limited time commitments, in most cases only one to five hours of work a week.

On the non-so-great side, most organizations find that a lot more volunteers say they want to help than actually follow through. Even those who complete an assignment rarely come back and do a second one.

But it quickly emerges that the problem can't simply be chalked up to flaky volunteers. Like any staff member, volunteers need training, management, and feedback. The article provides some concrete suggestions for giving this, including suggestions like:

  • ask volunteers about their qualifications before assigning them anything (they actually tend to like being taken seriously this way!)
  • send a "Thanks, but we've filled that volunteer slot" email to applicants whose services you don't intend to use
  • start with short test assignments
  • be clear about the scope of work and your expectations
  • keep in touch at least once a week (or more) about how things are going, and
  • tell the volunteers (effusively and often) when you're happy with their work and that it's making an important difference to your organization.

As with so many other human relationships, communication seems to be the key. The overriding lesson I took from this article was: While the Internet can be an amazing way to link nonprofit organizations and volunteers, it can also create a barrier between you. Nonprofit managers will get the most from online volunteers if they keep nurturing the human side of this relationship.

Oh and, for a bonus, here are links to the list of volunteer matching websites set forth in the article:

January 2, 2009

Giving Circles and Your Nonprofit

Happy New Year! And what better time to think about new-ish sources of funding. Angela M. Eikenberry contributed an interesting article on giving circles to the journal Nonprofit Management & Leadership (vol.19, no. 2, Winter 2008). I'll give you a brief summary here, to save you some reading time:

According to Eikenberry, giving circles aren't a huge phenomenon -- about 400 of them have been identified nationwide -- but they're nevertheless an interesting and growing trend. The idea is that people band together to make pooled, group gifts to an organization. The gifts most typically are one-time deals, but some circles have gotten interested enough to provide ongoing volunteer help or other support.

Eikenberry does a nice job of laying out the advantages and disadvantages of receiving funds from a giving circle. The advantages include a potential new source of not just funding but interested (and well-connected) donors and volunteers, and added prestige at being chosen. And your organization may not have to do much work to get the gift, much less comply with followup reporting requirements!

The disadvantages seem largely to do with the fact that these circles are made up of human beings, with all their various frailties and personalities, and few of them knowing much about how nonprofits work. Some of the nonprofit staff interviewed by Eikenberry reported frustration at spending a lot of time responding to a giving circle's requests for information and such, only to have the circle lose interest or shift focus before making a gift.

The bottom line? You probably shouldn't shift fundraising focus to currying favor from giving circles -- they, in most cases, want to find you, not the reverse. Just keep doing what you're doing, try to maintain a high community profile, and if you're lucky, a giving circle -- one of the more professional ones, with good follow-through -- will find you.