Four Tips for a Successful Volunteer Program

Cheryl Pompeo

Cheryl Pompeo

Most nonprofits readily embrace the idea of a volunteer program. Every nonprofit has tasks they lack resources to complete and enjoy having help from individuals who support their mission. However, starting a volunteer program and keeping it running is something to approach with care. Here are some tips to ensure your volunteer program runs smoothly.

Spread the word. One of the best ways to recruit volunteers is to be highly visible in the community. This can take several forms. Spread the word about your activities by having a good website and being actively engaged on social media. Use current volunteers to recruit new volunteers — people sympathetic to your cause often have friends who also identify with your mission. It’s hard to predict who will be drawn to your mission or good works, so exposing the largest possible number of people to your nonprofit is the best way to attract volunteers. Make sure all your communications project a clear brand and message and get your name in front of community members as often as possible by participating in local events where you can interact with like-minded people.

Focus on fit. Often, a volunteer will say “I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” but a nonprofit needs to drill deeper and find the right role for the volunteer. It’s always best to go over the opportunities and help guide a volunteer to select a role in which they will find value and feel they can make an impact. Putting someone in a job just because it has to be done can backfire if it isn’t a good fit for the volunteer. Get to know your volunteers. Talk to them and find out what attracts them to the work you do. Once you know your volunteers’ interests and motivations, you can find roles in your organization that suit their preferences and personalities.

Show appreciation. The relationship with volunteers must be stewarded like any other. Talk to volunteers to learn what type of recognition is most meaningful. Some volunteers are modest and don’t want accolades. Some enjoy having their photo in Facebook, whereas others really feel adequately rewarded by a warm and heartfelt thank you note. Creating opportunities for regular interaction with other volunteers and holding volunteer events can reinforce your appreciation and keep volunteers connected to your organization.

Check in regularly. It’s good to have ongoing contact with volunteers. As the relationship develops, ask for their feedback. After an event, ask what they think went well or didn’t? How would they have done things differently? Invest time in showing that you value your volunteer’s opinion. The stronger the relationship becomes, the more likely it is that the volunteer will bring more resources and contacts, which would be a long term win for the organization.

Whether your nonprofit is starting a new volunteer program or wants to improve an existing one, Dunleavy can help. We work with institutions large and small to build programs that set them—and their volunteers—up for success. To learn more about what Dunleavy & Associates can do for your nonprofit, contact us today.

About the author: Cheryl Pompeo is Senior Project Manager at Dunleavy & Associates. She brings nearly a decade of experience in special event and volunteer management experience to the firm. Formerly a Director of Special Events and a Regional Executive Director for a Philadelphia area healthcare nonprofit, Cheryl also specializes in campaign fundraising, corporate development, donor cultivation, board and committee development, and program delivery. Cheryl uses her knowledge to help Dunleavy’s clients strategically plan and implement endurance events, including walks, runs, and marathon campaigns.

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What can be done to get our nonprofit board focused on fundraising?

Nancy Dunleavy

By Nancy Dunleavy

In a perfect nonprofit world, all of your board members would be fundraising champions. They’d flip their rolodex from back to front to back again, seeking donations from friends and colleagues, and even reach deep into their own wallets to ensure the financial stability of the organization they’ve committed to support.

While such boardroom all-stars do exist, it’s rare that an organization is fortunate enough to have an entire roster of them. It’s actually a more common problem for a nonprofit to struggle with board members who are disengaged or reluctant to participate in the fundraising process. So what can be done to drum up the support that your nonprofit needs?

Really, it comes down to inspiration trumping hesitation. Many board members are not accustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation that is required to land major donations, and are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with such board members to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.

Board members will often gravitate toward special-event fundraising such as selling tickets to a cocktail party or a golf outing, because it’s an easy way to solicit support without having to make the case in person. However, leadership should help board members realize that people typically only give major donations to other people, not to paper. Even the most inspiring newsletter can’t match the emotional connection of a face-to-face appeal.

Board members are best equipped to make these appeals when they’re passionate about what they’re “selling.” Leadership should help board members identify which services speak most to them, and make them the heart of each person’s appeal. For example, as chairwoman of the Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, I have gravitated toward supporting internship programs for students because I believe in the power of real world experience.

The success of these internship programs in helping students to secure jobs, and companies to cultivate promising employees, has given me confidence in asking for donations. It’s much easier for me to solicit donations for the programs when I believe in their purpose and have evidence of their importance.

Leadership can also help assuage the concerns of board members by reassuring them that success rates are higher than they might think. While its unrealistic to expect a 100 percent conversion rate, prospects will more often than not become donors when courted by an honest and enthusiastic board member. Even better, it only takes the landing of one major donor to receive a potentially transformative donation that even the best golf outing could never match.

About the author: Nancy Dunleavy is the President and CEO of Dunleavy & Associates, which she founded in 2001. Chair of Gwynedd Mercy University Board of Trustees, Nancy also serves on the Board of Directors of The Union League of Philadelphia, and is Treasurer of Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.  She is a popular public speaker and has received numerous accolades for her work and leadership, but most prides herself on being an “extraordinary talent scout” in recruiting phenomenal clients, colleagues, and collaborators.

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