Help your volunteer group to succeed

Volunteer groups, especially membership or organized volunteer groups within non-profit organizations often face a critical do or die decision while struggling with some of these issues:

• Dwindling membership – Does this mean we have outlived our usefulness?
• Reduced fundraising revenues – Will this be a downward spiral?
• Aging members – How do we attract new members and create a way for aging members to remain gracefully?
• Programs – Why are our programs attracting less interest and participants?
Work now performed by paid staff– Are we not be trusted to do this fulfill this role?

How can you turn an organization around that faces these struggles? I believe you must first go to the core where the energy first flowed.

I believe you must first go to the core where the energy first flowed.

Most non-profits could not exist without the involvement of volunteers.
The organization’s strength and credibility come from increasing and retaining volunteers and their role as advocates for the organization. Frequently groups believe they have no other recourse than to call it quits.

Here is a way to overcome this problem:
Start by gathering the group to answer the question:

Why did you join the organization in the first place?

Let everyone give their reason or explanation, list them on a chart for all to see. This discussion will energize the group.

Then remind people what volunteers bring to an organization

Credibility. Volunteers have a credibility that paid staff or consultants could never have. Volunteers can freely talk about the group and promote it with others. Volunteer stories are more believable to outsiders. Volunteer involvement demonstrates that the organization is worthy of support. (An engaged volunteer group is a good barometer of the health of an organization.)
It’s a personal choice. Volunteering is not a job; rather it is a personal decision, one that includes a healthy dose of self-interest and desire to help an organization succeed.
Public Relations/Ambassadors. The organization will always need to engage a wider group of supporters the involvement of volunteers essential. Volunteers have the potential to stimulate substantial support of programs and activities in the community.
Leadership. Volunteers lead the way. Volunteers create new services and programs and address unmet needs. They back off when it is successful enough to require full-time help. Volunteers were the first source of labour in the organization and created many of the paid positions.

To overcome these struggles, make plans to address the recruitment and retention of new members. Also, learn the hundreds of ways the group can be energized through fundraising. That’s in the next blog.

This is who I am – begging is one of the most primitive forms of fundraising

This is who I am
With my arm outstretched asking for your help
A lost son, a sad father, a distant brother or an unknown uncle
Living humbly to survive

This is who I am
No shoes on my feet
Only a coat as a cover and a hat for protection and my work
With a body propped by a cane

This is who I am
On a lonely path with a life of daily struggles
That takes away pride and hope
I want to survive today  – and I need your help

This is who I am
I stand in front of this church everyday
Because it attracts people who may care about me
I approach knowing that you may help  – that you will walk away
Never seeing who I really am

working on the street
begging, a primitive form of fund-raising

Begging is one of the most primitive forms of fundraising. This is what this man does for a living to survive. He is a productive worker.  It takes a brave and desperate person to ask for money this way.  There are few skills needed and unfortunately, it brings in small change. In my work as a fundraising consultant, I have witnessed many nonprofit staff and volunteers shortchanging the work of their charities by focussing on fundraising activities that attract small change. Begging has no place in charitable fundraising if real results are to be realized.

Charities have a greater purpose beyond serving individual: they have  causes benefitting a diverse group of people. The case of the solitary beggar in this image is a symptom of a bigger issue – that of the thousands of  homelessness people who need help. Offering dignity and a transformed life to people living in this situation can only happen with larger gifts.

There are many ways you can improve your fundraising to get out of the perpetual “begging” small change rut. Here are 8 of my favourite ways. Feel free to offer your suggestions as well.

1. Reduce reliance on special events and raffles that barely have break-even returns.  They  consume time and energy  that could be directed at obtaining  larger gifts.
2. Never ever put anyone on the spot by asking for a gift until they are ready to be asked – you will inevitably leave money on the table.
3. Have a clear, preconceived plan and longer range strategy that will really change lives and take your work efforts to much greater heights.
4. Implement fundraising strategies that set you distinctly apart from other charities. Innovation is the key.
5. If you do not have an experienced fundraiser on board, make resources available for training (online/offline)to get them up to speed quickly. Also, hiring a consultant to mentor your staff and its board of directors on the best ways to fundraise for your organization can speed up training schedule dramatically.
6. Communicate with, cultivate and steward your most committed donors through a major gift program.
7. Develop a monthly giving program that will make it possible for people to give progressively larger funds from a modest monthly donation of funds.
8. Use a reputable fundraising software system (not excel workbooks) to manage your lists of donors and prospects.

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