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On this page are ideas from strategies to help you work more efficiently to the latest in research on keeping volunteers happy and productive, as well as ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~January 2009~

Tips on Attracting Big Gifts

  •          Reynold Levy, the president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, has a new book in which he recommends ways to attract big gifts.  Here is a brief review. 
    • Conduct research about a potential donor.  Mr. Levy says, “Philanthropy is biography.”  This applies whether it is a local foundation or an individual.  Know what the donor has funded in the past.  You need to connect the donor’s passion with your organization’s mission and specific project.
    • Be prompt and personal.  Turning down a person is harder than a rejecting a written proposal.  When applying to an individual make an appointment to see the person.  Spend time matching the donor’s interests to the work of the organization.  Take someone along who knows the person and his/her work in the community.  If applying to a local foundation or funder, get to know the staff.  Ask questions, ask for advice, and make sure the people know who you are and what you are seeking.
    • Follow up promptly.  A written proposal in the donor’s hands quickly after the meeting keeps attention high.  Applying to a local store, like K-Mart or Wal-Mart, for local funding of a project requires a thank you after a meeting with the local store manager.
    • Never give up on big events.  Everyone loves a party and the chance to dress up.  An individual donor appreciates recognition; a local donating organization can be feted at such events as annual meetings. 

    For more information:  Yours for the Asking:  An Indispensable Guide to Fundraising and Management.  Reynold Levy.

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Build a Supporting Network

         The economy is not getting better for nonprofit organizations or governmental agencies with volunteer programs.  There will be belt tightening, reductions in staff, and more need than ever for services.  The volunteer program is going to be impacted.  People may rather give time than cash, others who have volunteered might need to return to paid work, and the request for services is likely to increase.  Now is the time to take steps to keep the volunteer program health and plan for difficult times.
Here are some tips:

  • Be open about asking for volunteer time, if someone can no longer provide money. 
  • Ask previous donors for advice and counsel, in lieu of money, if they can no longer give.
  • Prepare for new types of volunteers and more of them wanting challenging volunteer jobs or tasks.
  • Some people might want to do internships that will lead to employment.  Design volunteer positions compatible with short, but intensive internship type volunteer service.
  • Stay positive. No one is attracted by doom and gloom, least of all donors or volunteers.  One academic predicts the loss of 100,000 nonprofits in the next year.  Keep positive about all challenges. 
  • Avoid expensive events.  Plan low cost get-togethers with style, a picnic with crystal and silver, cocktail parties in the home of a board member.  Think creatively of ways to attract donors to volunteer recruiting events that are equally inventive, but inexpensive.  This is a way to attract high-motivated volunteers, who may need to reduce their donations, but want to serve.
  • Invest in valuable volunteers.  Certain volunteers are more valuable than others.  What can you do that will assure their continuation with the organization?  Provide training, more flexibility in hours, more autonomy in decision-making, or leadership opportunities.
  • Get busy learning about the use of social networking sites.  Attracting younger volunteers will require new forms of outreach.  Utilize all the Internet has to offer to attract new donors, keep old ones, and engage new volunteers.
  • Read the next article on giving circles

Check out the article on using instant messaging as a recruitment and management tool on the Tech Tips page.

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Giving Circles

         The economy worldwide is “in the tank.” Nonprofits are already suffering from diminished investment income and fewer donations.  There is a solution to this problem for inventive volunteer programs.  A manager of volunteer programs could help organize giving circles.
         A giving circle is akin to investment clubs.  Many people come together to pool small amounts of money for greater impact.  Time magazine reported on this trend in November 2008.  One group in Michigan raised $500 per year from its members to fund the work of local charities, a group in New Jersey has raised $125,000 for Alzheimer’s research, and another group in South Carolina raised money for the battle against breast cancer.  The groups set their own dues, rules of operation, and who will receive the money raised-----some through efforts as simple as bake sales. 
         More information on forming giving circles can be found on the Internet at givingcircles.org or givingforum.org.  This is a great idea for a group of volunteers to organize for their organization. 

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Understanding Volunteer Drop Out

         The Decline of Motivation:  From Commitment to Dropping out of Volunteering is the title of an article in Nonprofit Management and Leadership (Fall 2008) on why volunteers drop out.
         The study is an in-depth look, over a period of two years, at the volunteers at a sexual assault and abuse center.  The authors set out to answer one of the most basic problems in volunteer programs, that of retention. 
         They studied a center that provides services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.  In order to gather specific information about retention volunteers who were studied were grouped into three categories;

1. Those who attended extensive training and dropped out before beginning as volunteers. 

2.  Vacillating volunteers who are considering dropping out. 

3.  Volunteers who are no longer active but are still the active roll of volunteers.  Here are a few things they found.

         1.  A long impressive training for volunteers can often create the opposite reaction to the objective of retention.  Once volunteers complete the training they are motivationally “saturated.”  Thus negating the desire to volunteer to meet personal motivational needs that brought the person in the first place.  This type of drop out was at a 50% rate.

         2.  There can be a discrepancy between the goals of the course of training for volunteers and subsequent management.  The goal of the organization is to create volunteers who feel secure and knowledgeable in their role.  While the volunteers actually feel—anxiety, ambiguity, and loneliness.  A volunteer who wishes to avoid negative feelings of dealing with high-risk clients can make his/her reluctant about continuing, hence contemplating dropping out.

         3.  Volunteers who drop out but continue on the rolls of the organization do it because the organization gives them too much freedom.  The organization provides training sufficient for the volunteer to act independently.  This zeal by the organization to create autonomy for the volunteer can be perceived by the volunteer as abandonment, tinged in some cases with anger.  Thus they refuse any further contact with clients or the organization.

         The authors of this study are quick to point out that volunteers differ widely, as do their motivators.  However, the study showed that committed people are attracted to this organization, but drop out after training, 50% after completion of training and before starting work.  An additional 25% drop out after starting.  That is a 75% drop out rate. 
         The organization was observed by the researchers for over two years and said the center followed the precepts of effective management of volunteers. 
         The conclusion of the authors is that the values and precepts of the staff to create autonomous volunteers might be in conflict with the motivation of those same volunteers. 

Yanay, G. V. & Yanay N.  The Decline of Motivation:  From Commitment to Dropping out of Volunteering, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, Fall 2008.

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