I recently began volunteering for three organizations at different stages in their development. On a virtual basis, I’m helping a social entrepreneur on the West Coast who is applying for her 501c-3 designation. We’re working to narrow her focus in terms of both audience, program and delivery. I’m also helping a local charity that’s been serving our community for the past four years with a wonderful educational program. We’re developing a strategic fundraising model leveraging the support of several very generous donors that are already committed to the success of the organization. Finally, I’m about to begin extensive training to work directly with clients for a long-standing government/nonprofit agency that provides services for young people in challenging circumstances.
I feel privileged to have the chance to do the above – these organizations are doing transformative work. Volunteering also allows me to learn, practice and utilize several very different skill sets. With the entrepreneur, I’m taking on a coaching role by sharing what I learned when I launched my nonprofit organization. With the educational nonprofit, I’m taking on a project that will move the organization forward. It provides me with an opportunity to consult and take on a need that taps into my existing skill set. And finally, as a volunteer with the larger agency, I’m learning so much more about the social service sector as well as having the chance to directly impact others, a facet of volunteering I believe many of us are looking for.
My experience demonstrates some best practices worth building into our volunteer programs. Stating the obvious, volunteer opportunities must have a positive impact on those we serve. At the same time, volunteer programs have the best chance for success when they offer something of value to your volunteers. Here are five ways you can ensure engagement, learning and skill building for individuals that want to work with your charity:
1. A Range of Time Commitments: Offer volunteering options with a range of time commitments. Can a volunteer do something meaningful if he just has an hour to give? What about a day or a week? Can a volunteer work on a project basis? It’s worth figuring out how you can leverage any volunteer’s offer of time in a meaningful way.
2. Skill Building Opportunities: Provide volunteers with opportunities to learn and develop new skill sets. Move away from the typical approach of “you’re an accountant so we’ll put you on the finance committee.” Instead, ask your volunteers what professional and personal skills they’re looking to build on. You may be amazed to find that the lawyer on your Board is eager and adept at helping you with brand development and design. Just ask.
3. Leadership Development: Make sure you offer individuals chances to lead. With CSR coming into its own, corporate participants are not only looking for opportunities to give back to communities, they’re looking at volunteerism as a training ground for their future leaders. Be the organization they’re eager to partner with to accomplish these and other goals.
4. Group/Team Projects: Have a steady mix of projects that a group or team can work on together. Can a team of corporate volunteers’ mentor clients or even some of your staff in business skills? Or how about a community mapping project? Just because your organization doesn’t have a school that needs to be painted doesn’t mean you can’t engage volunteer teams. Get creative.
5. Local and Virtual: If possible, build in a virtual element into your volunteer program. I continue to be amazed at the creativity of platforms that provide volunteers the chance to mentor students, entrepreneurs and others in need through platforms like www.micromentor.org and www.icouldbe.org to name just a few. I recognize this isn’t possible for every organization but if it works for yours, go for it.
I’d love to hear from you about your program and what’s working.
The other day I was speaking with the founder of an innovative and relatively new nonprofit. I was impressed with his creativity, drive and the genius of his model for providing services in some of the most challenging environments in his part of our country. What surprised me; however, was when I asked how I could help. "We just can't seem to raise the money we need and I've tried everything" he said sadly. He went on to tell me that he had tried corporate fundraising, outreach to foundations and even dipped a toe in the water with peer-to-peer efforts. "Nothing seems to work" he stated sadly. And yet, here we were in the office of an organization he had built from the ground up from several very successful fundraising approaches.
This conversation isn't unique. I've noticed an interesting trend when talking to leaders of growing charities. Keep in mind, these are inspired social entrepreneurs passionate enough to not just have an idea - but build from nothing. Zero to Hero (as we like to say). And yet, when it comes to fundraising, they give themselves an F. I'd like to suggest an alternative that's realistic and will make folks like these a lot happier...
I often parallel our nonprofit work with endurance training, a personal passion of mine. Inspired by a setback I had in my own training, I recently started work with a coach. Our first week of work together was all about establishing baselines for my running, cycling and swimming. During the first several workouts, I was intentional about not pushing harder than I typically would. Whether I liked my numbers or not, I wanted to give her a reality check on where I was at. Several times she commented on my training log that now we know exactly where we're starting from. And we build from here.
It's the same with our fundraising efforts. This is hard stuff! If you've launched a nonprofit organization or run a successful campaign, you must have done several - in fact many - things right. Here are a few tips for getting comfortable and moving forward proudly from wherever you may be. Start from where you are….
By now hopefully you’re seeing, where you’re at is amazing and inspiring!
This past Sunday, the Samsung Galaxy Tab I purchased in 2014 slipped from my hands, crashed to the ground and the screen was smashed to bits. Time for a new tablet! I ended up buying a new one Monday night a little after 1:00 AM. I went with the Asus Zenpad if you're curious. What was most curious to me was less about the tech and more about my buying experience.
When I bought my Galaxy three years ago, I wasn't comfortable purchasing electronics online. I hit Best Buy, Staples and a few other retailers. I ultimately bought my tablet for about $500 after shopping at three stores with multiple salespeople. Monday I pulled the trigger with one click on Amazon after checking out reviews and an article titled "best tablets under $200 in 2017". That's evolution. And if you're a customer-facing professional i.e. fundraiser, salesperson, realize that my story isn't unique.
Beyond purchasing comparable technology for less than half, what's amazing to me is that there was no human interaction throughout this entire process. The difference here was TRUST. My limit in trust has been mitigated by the value of my time and saving a few bucks. The value I use to PERCEIVE from working with a live person hasn't just diminished - it's gone!
Maybe you're thinking what's the big deal? Everyone shops like this now for technology and other non-complex sales. True but it's only a matter of time before this evolution moves to what you do whether you're in professional sales or the nonprofit arena. Whether you sell high-dollar products or services or solicit major donors, someone is figuring out how to make those transactions happen without you.
We can't stop evolution. But hopefully this story gets you thinking about your opportunity to change the equation I described above. Add enough value that partnering with you means much more than saving a few dollars or a few minutes on their calendar. Here are a few ideas to keep you from becoming the next Palm Pilot (or fill in something that was once perceived as the latest and greatest)
1) Go beyond being an expert: Sure I could tell you to be up on the latest in your field. That's a given. But what's around the corner that nobody's talking about yet? If you work in peer-to-peer fundraising, what's the next biggie after third-party and Do-It-Yourself? Know where we are and where we're heading.
2) Do some shopping: What's it like to work with you and your organization? What's it like to work with your competitors? You can learn a ton by putting yourself in the place of your customers, donors and volunteers. Reach out to you and your organization as well as some of your competitors or other organizations in your space. How easy are you to reach? How quickly do you receive a call back? Who would you rather work with?
3) Make the changes that are necessary: Don't talk about change, Change. I know that's very easy to say but hit the pause button and prioritize changes what will keep you ahead of the game. What can you do to be sure that you're truly adding value and not becoming a commodity? Start with your top 3 and work from there...
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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