If the first rule of fundraising is “you don’t get donations you don’t ask for” then the second rule is that you cannot compel giving. Some people simply to do not give (or at any rate don’t give to you or your cause). Once you’re comfortable with those two things– asking for help, and taking no for an answer– it’s simply a matter of keeping the balls in the air.

The trick to getting a volunteer effort to work is to seek involvement at a level that people are comfortable with. You want to have a wide range of jobs so people can choose what they like to do. It also includes accepting, as I said, that some people do not want to give. And volunteering is giving.  A gift of time is actually a deeper level of commitment than a gift of money, and should be honored as such. When cultivating donors for a cause, the first thing you seek is a small cash gift; recruiting for volunteers is way down the line.

The “ask”

You need a place to let people know that you rely on volunteers. Start with a “passive” ask– an article in a newsletter, a form on the website, wherever you can let people know that you have a volunteer effort.  It’s also another one of those little fundraising rules that very few people give the first time they are aware of a need. You have to advertise over and over. Find all the places you can talk about it, then do so.

The list

Don’t just send out emails to your donor list without finding out what the email policy is at your organization. Even worse, NEVER use another organization’s or business’ list without permission. But once you have your list, send out a blast about volunteer recruitment, with a link to an online volunteer management tool like Volunteer Spot. Then send it out again and again and again, each time deleting the people who have already signed up (they are already getting happy little “so glad you’re on board” messages).

The message
Any good fundraising pitch emphasizes that the giver benefits from giving. Use the word “you” a lot, make sure they understand how vital the effort is, how they are connected to it, and how this will improve their own lives. Then make it easy– you give as much or as little time as you can. I always include in at least one pitch that it’s also okay not to do this, much as we’d like everyone to participate.

The goal
To reach your goal, you first have to know what it is. I generally aim quite  high because there is always attrition in volunteer efforts– 10 people will sign up, but only 6 (or fewer) will actually show. Accept this. The only consequence for not showing up is that person doesn’t get a thank you letter. It is OKAY not to volunteer. (Well, it’s not, but I understand it.) Never stop recruiting and make sure you have meaningful work for everyone who signs up.

The response mechanism
The “response mechanism” in fundraising is the form you fill out. A good form will increase your participation rate, because people like to fill out forms. I like the two-click calendar at Volunteer Spot. I also like how this site makes the volunteer take action (they get an email for signing up, and then they have to follow up on that.) However, you should also have paper forms, both emailed and available at your office or activities. Let people sign up in a way that’s comfortable for them. It’s a little more work for you, but will allow the donor to respond at their comfort level.

Make sign up as easy as possible– use a form with check boxes, but keep the options few and clear– a list of dates, and a list of jobs. The form should be simple, with minimal graphics. Jobs should have obvious titles so people don’t have to guess. If you have the staff for it, sometimes the easiest thing to do is have a knowledgeable staff person at a desk called “Volunteer Sign Up.” Since a lot of people now carry their calendars around with them in the form of smart phones, this can be extremely effective.

The schedule
Post the schedule well ahead of the event, so that people can complain that they NEVER said they would do that (you have the form, but fine, let them change it). I make a simple grid using the table option in Word– one row for each date, one column for each volunteer location. People then check to see if their name is on the correct date and assigned to the correct location.

For experienced volunteers, I always alert them that they may not get their first choice of job, depending on volunteer turn out. New volunteers always get the job they ask for. (So you can suck them into your evil web…)

After the event
Say thank you. Put up a sign. Send a card or an email. Do both. Let people know you appreciated their help. Let them know how important they were to the success of the effort. (They are.) Tell them that you’re counting on them to help next time, too.

A really good volunteer program  will hold an annual recognition luncheon, with public thanks and if possible actual awards. All volunteers should be included. Even if you “pay” your volunteers with complimentary tickets or other freebies, this is very important to a strong program. Unfortunately it’s also expensive, so not every program can do it.

Volunteer management is probably the most labor intensive part of a good development program, but also the most rewarding. If you run the effort well, your volunteers will love you and give the kind of feedback that is rare in this job. When it comes right down to it, doing good is fun for everyone.

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