Recently in Getting volunteer help Category

May 26, 2011

Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising Newly in Print!

If you could only know the process that goes into creating a book like The Volunteers' Guide to Fundraising -- a bit like sausage-making, but in a good way.

FLIB.gifThis latest addition to the Nolo nonprofit series is meant for PTA parents, team and band booster volunteers, librarians who never realized their job was to include fundraising, church, synagogue, and other religious group members, and so on.

It's a guide to the most likely types of fundraising when your group is short on time, paid staff, and other stuff that an established nonprofit might have, such as a database of donors and a five-year plan.

 These include special events, selling candy (and many alternatives to candy), auctions (online and off), walkathons, home & garden tours, benefit concerts, and more.

Now, back to the writing process: To make sure the book didn't just recite tired instructions that you've heard before, I talked to dozens of people in the same categories just described. They generously shared their stories, favorite tips, nightmare mistakes, and so on. The book includes direct quotes from many of them, along with sample materials, checklists, and other advice. Here's a quick sampling:

  • Regarding scheduling an event, Emily Shem-Tov, a volunteer fundraiser with the Morgan Hill Library Foundation, warns: "One year we held our Silicon Valley Puzzle Fest on the same afternoon as the Super Bowl. That was a mistake. We thought that crossword puzzle people and Super Bowl people would be mutually exclusive, but no, attendance was definitely down."
  • Regarding planning house tours, Michael Crowe, of the Oakland Heritage Alliance, says, "Tourgoers do like to see big, grand houses. No matter how much you talk up the virtues of more modest homes on your tour, they may stay away entirely if you don't present at least some grand ones."
  • Regarding hiring a professional auctioneer, Jackie T., a parent volunteer, says, "Our hired auctioneer suggested clever ways to us to have the kids help out -- like having a little girl carry the quilt onstage that all the kindergarteners had helped make, with cutout patterns of their hands -- it sold for several thousand dollars, our top revenue -producer for the live auction -- or having the Cub Scouts get on stage in their uniforms to model the leaf raking that they'd do for the highest bidder."
That's just the beginning! Read and enjoy.
April 21, 2011

Your Nonprofit Website: Does It Truly Welcome Volunteer Help?

Two fabulous seminars came to the Bay Area this week: One by Kivi Leroux Miller, an expert on nonprofit communications; and one by Ted Hart, ACFRE, an expert in online as well as traditional fundraising.

Athough the two presenters covered completely different topics ("Three Stories Every Nonprofit Should Be Telling," and "Social Networking and Online Fundraising Success," respectively), both had strong opinions on how nonprofits can improve their communication with prospective volunteers.

Ted Hart placed "Recruit and manage volunteers online" right on his list of "Online Basics" - the seven things that every nonprofit should make sure its website includes. (Without these seven, said Ted, "You have no business asking for money online.") But, Ted added, although recruiting and managing volunteers is an important bottom line issue, "Most charity websites don't even mention volunteers."

Uh oh.

Kivi, meanwhile, in invoking the power of good storytelling, says, "Anywhere you ask someone to do something, tell a story about someone else doing the same thing." That can apply to many calls to action in many formats, of course, but imagine how including a story on your website could help people who think they might be interested in getting involved with your group in some other way than making a donation -- but feel uncertain about what volunteering with your group would really be like.

Uncertainty can be a huge hurdle to overcome.


Just imagine the questions a volunteer who's never actually visited your organization, or met anyone there, might have: "Will they think I'm too young/old? Will the work be too hard/boring? Will the people in charge be friendly, or order me around like I'm at the bottom of the pecking order? Will I actually meet anyone I can talk to, or be stuck in a back room with a teenager completing the terms of his probation?"

Now imagine how implicitly welcoming it would be if your nonprofit website featured an article authored by, or profiling, a volunteer who has been with your organization for a while. Maybe that volunteer helped your nonprofit with some important achievements, loved the work so much that he or she moved up to more responsible work or spearheaded a project, or, I dunno, married a fellow volunteer. It's all good information for the prospect. Add photos, too.

Don't wait -- take a look at your website. Is there a "Get Involved" or similar tab well placed on your home page? Does that page make "Volunteer Opportunities" easy to find? And is there a dedicated page describing volunteer positions, which makes them sound appealing, and includes a story such as the one described above? If not, this little bit of effort could pay off in a lot of increased volunteer help.

March 10, 2011

Hawaii Library Shows Link Between Fundraising and Volunteerism

The headline in American Libraries' magazine aptly reads, "The Little Library That Could." The article, by Brian Matthews, describes how the largely volunteer-run Makiki Community Library in Honolulu manages to stay afloat even without collecting library fines for overdue materials!

What I'd like to know is how, beyond the "aloha spirit" mentioned, the library manages to do such a great job keeping volunteers interested. They've got some volunteers willingly cleaning the bathrooms, for God's sake! That sort of commitment doesn't come without effort on the part of the organization, and good leadership -- which it sounds like the Makiki Library has, in the form of a former librarian turned Friends group president, Wendy Maxwell. 

In any case, it's a fine example of how rallying volunteers can supplant some of the need to raise straight cash.

November 2, 2010

Fundraising Kudos to the Atlanta Botanical Garden

. . . for its great website, in particular the section outlining volunteer positions, at

Here are some of the many things they did right when it comes to enticing volunteers:

1) Made it easy to find out about volunteer opportunities (from the homepage, a simple click on "Get Involved" and then "Volunteer" got me there).

2) Create named volunteer positions, instead of vague instructions to "call so and so" about volunteering.

3) Provide clear explanations of what's fun about each position -- as well as what's required. This helps get prospects enthusiastic while also realizing that they'll be taking on a serious responsibility -- not just something they can show up for one weekend and then forget about.

4) Include lovely photos, to make it seem real to viewers.

Gee, wish I lived in Atlanta . . . .

September 22, 2010

Bringing in New Nonprofit Board Members: The Nominating Committee Approach

Finding productive, skilled, and at least in some cases, moneyed board members is an ongoing challenge for every nonprofit. So I wanted to share the positive experience a friend of mine recently had. She was one of approximately 40 people who served on a nominating committee for a nonprofit seeking new board members. (I'll put this in her words for simplicity's sake, but, full disclosure and all, I'm paraphrasing based on my memory.)

"This happens to be an organization I really respect -- and would even like to serve on the board of myself, if I had any spare time. Why did I agree  to make time to attend the meeting? A friend of mine, who's already on the board, contacted me about it personally, so how could I refuse?

"The organization made it quite clear that the purpose of the meeting wasn't to ask us for money. They were looking for community movers and shakers who'd agree to consider what their organization does, and supply names and contact information for people who'd make good board members.

"The meeting itself was very well organized. We went around the room for brief introductions, watched some videos about the organization's work -- a great reminder of why we'd want to facilitate others getting involved  with it -- and then heard from the E.D. about what exactly they're looking for in new board members. That included community diversity, connections, an interest in fundraising, and more.

Toward the end, we were each given a form to fill out, where we'd provide the names of two prospective board members, along with an indication of whether we'd be willing to make the first overture. Toward the bottom were questions about whether we ourselves might be interested in board membership, and if not, whether we'd like to become further involved in the organization in other ways.

"I came away from the meeting with renewed respect for this organization. They'd respected my time (the meeting ended just when it said it would) and created an efficient process for bringing in new volunteer help. I'll bet they get some great new board members as a result."

Sounds like a model worth copying! 
June 15, 2010

Record Rise in Volunteerism: Is Your Nonprofit Ready?

A whopping 63.4 million Americans (age 16 and older) volunteered for charitable causes last year (2009), despite -- or perhaps in response to -- economic hard times.

As if that weren't impressive enough, it represents an increase of almost 1.6 million volunteers since 2008, and the largest one-year increase in the volunteer numbers since 2003. Women, particularly working mothers, were among the most active.

For more details and numbers, see the Volunteering in America 2010  report by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

In the meantime, the key question is, ARE YOU READY? Volunteers can perform a number of valuable tasks for an organization, from the menial to the skilled professional, in some cases reducing the need for paid staff.

Yet because many volunteers report being turned away by groups unable to handle them, or worse yet, quitting on their own because they didn't feel their time was being meaningfully used, you've got to think ahead of time about how to best choose, train, assign, and supervise them. I've learned this lesson the hard way, having had volunteers walk out because they were bored by the tasks assigned them -- and I've myself quit volunteer jobs because I felt my time was being wasted standing around waiting for instructions. 

Creating a volunteer program that both helps your organization and satisfies the volunteer's desire to feel needed, well used, and perhaps reach other goals such as learning new skills -- or even meeting other single volunteers (see previous post, "Volunteering for Charity May Lead to Romance!") -- isn't easy. But there's a lot of good advice out there on how to make it work, starting with this article, "Nonprofit Volunteers: Top Five Tips to Keep Them Coming." 
April 30, 2010

Fundraising Bake Sales: Beware the Cream Pie!

Is it my imagination, or was there a lot less regulation of bake sales when I was a kid?

I've been noodling around the Internet, and a surprising number of cities and counties -- from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to Lewiston, Maine -- require nonprofit groups (and others) to get a permit before holding a bake sale.

Not all areas charge for the permit, and the majority still let you go ahead without one. But even the no-permit areas are paying increasing attention to the health issues surrounding selling food to the public, and expect bake sales to comply. And I wouldn't want to be the group that makes the paper because of a "permit bust" or a Salmonella outbreak.

Who knew that the humble cream pie was such a villain? I'm seeing it over and over again, on everyone's "DO NOT SELL!" list even for groups that have a permit. Apparently all the milk and eggs make a lovely recipe for not only custard, but for bacterial growth when left outside a refrigerator.  

In the absence of any national rules, here's what I'd suggest if you're planning a bake sale:

  1. Call your local health or food service department to find out the permit and any other rules. Follow them.
  2. Take your own steps to avoid being the cause of health problems, such as reminding your bakers to be extra careful about cleanliness in the food prep process, wrapping or covering everything in plastic at the sale, and serving with tongs.
  3. Ask bakers to create labels with full and accurate lists of ingredients, in case buyers have allergies. (Peanuts, wheat, and dairy are common concerns.)
  4. Whatever you do, don't serve cream pies. Or pumpkin, or meringue.
How did we all survive childhood, I wonder?

January 8, 2010

Fundraising Successes Over the Holiday Season

Lest we think the news is all grim these days, here are reports of some nonprofits that have launched successful fundraising efforts despite the poor economy.

For example, the Salvation Army of Livingston County, Michigan reportedly brought in more than $180,000 in Red Kettle Campaign contributions over the holiday season, surpassing its 2008 total of $158,000. It took 900 volunteers working more than 1,150 hours, including bell ringers who stood out in the cold and snow for hours at a time, but they ended up overtaking even their own money-raising projections.

In Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Needy Fund -- which collects money for local individuals residents to them pay for food, rent, mortgage payments, utility and heating bills, medical bills, and more -- is said to have surpassed its holiday fundraising goal of $625,000, having reached $665,611 by December 31st.

Up in Canada, the "Polar Bear Dip" (billed as Canada's Largest Charitable Polar Bear Festival, in which 600 participants this year jumped into icy cold Lake Ontario on New Year's Day) brought in a record $230,000 for charity. It will go toward third-world water projects.

Is there any common thread between these? To me it looks like basic people power. Even though many people these days have far less to give, a lot of them (or us) joining together to give of their time, or at least a little bit of money, can add up to a lot. And if there's a bright side to the recession, it may be that we're all developing more compassion for how quickly one's luck can change, and becoming more willing to help others who've gotten the worst of it.

Here's hoping for more good news in the new year!  



October 15, 2009

Will Volunteerism in TV Plots Promote It in Real Life?

According to the article by Gary Strauss, "TV: It's prime time for volunteerism," in the Tuesday, October 13, 2009 issue of USA TODAY, there's a movement afoot: to promote, not only through public service announcements, but by actual examples in scripts of prime-time TV plots, the great things about volunteering for a cause.

Yes, you read that right. It's part of a project called "I Participate," and if you keep your eyes open and your tube plugged in, you might notice, for example, crime solvers on Ghost Whisperer donating blood; doctors on Private Practice treating the homeless; 12-year-old Louise on Gary Unmarried making videotaped greetings for U.S. troops; and more.

Of course, the question on everyone's lips is whether this will make a difference. But hey, Strauss points out, when the character Fonzie on Happy Days got a library card, kids all over the U.S. ran out to do the same thing.

All of which leads to another question: If more volunteers start coming your way, will you be ready? The world is full of disgruntled volunteers who started with great intentions, then dropped out because they were bored, frustrated, or felt like they weren't really make a difference.

This seems like a good time to remind readers of the basic principles of orienting and keeping volunteers (which are covered in far more detail in my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits), including:

  • Figure out their personal motives for volunteering, and try to satisfy those at the same time as you get some work out of them -- even if they just want to get some exercise or meet other singles!
  • Train them well, and ask for a specific time commitment. Counterintuitive though it might seem, demanding more of volunteers can make them understand their own importance to your organization.
  • Make their commitment as convenient as possible to fulfill, including finding ways they can work odd or irregular hours if possible.
  • Make it fun! You probably need a lot of tedious tasks done, but don't lay these on too thick. Also figure out how to integrate more interesting work into the time volunteers spend at your organization, such as working directly with people or animals.
  • Show appreciation much more often than you feel is normal. Everyone likes to hear a "thank you," or receive one in writing. Singling out volunteers in newsletters, throwing volunteer appreciation parties, or simply saying "See you next week -- and thanks again for all the great help!" are great ways to do this.
With committed volunteers at your side, you can get oodles more done, and need to fundraise less.
September 9, 2009

A Nonprofit Volunteer's Inspiring Life View

Reading the University of Washington alumni magazine (Columns) of September 2009, I was drawn to the story of Phil Smart -- soon to be 90 years old -- and his views on volunteering.

In fact, the subject of volunteering is so important to Smart that he's written two memoirs about it -- called Angels Among Us and The Real Angels Among Us (the proceeds of which benefit Seattle's Children's Hospital). (Hey, I volunteered there during high school! I mostly remember helping kids blow bubbles during recreational therapy.)

Anyway, here's the apparent crux of Smart's thinking: Every day can be conceptually divided into three eight-hour chunks. Two of those three chunks are usually spent working and sleeping.

But it's the third eight hours, he says, that define each of us as a person. Smart has chosen to spend many of those hours volunteering (mostly at the aforementioned hospital, at the bedsides of sick and dying children). Of his time with the kids, Smart says, "They taught me life and death and everything in between."

Of course, the first thing that occurs to me and probably everyone else is that we don't exactly have an extra eight hours waiting to be filled -- those hours get eaten up quickly by commuting time, errands, making dinner, maintaining relationships with friends, and so forth. Still, it's an intriguing notion. And when you think about it, things like making dinner and seeing friends DO define us as people in important ways, and reflect sometimes unconscious priority choices.

So where does volunteering fit in? I know the answer for myself, and hope the efforts of Phil Smart and others to speak out will inspire others to devote at least a little time to a cause.