Development professionals often find there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish all their important tasks. By its very nature, the work of advancement and development is collaborative. Talented professionals in this area have learned the value of being a “good match-maker”—matching donors’ passions with institutional funding priorities. Collaboration is also required in working with academic leaders and clinicians in crafting compelling Opportunity Stories that will resonate with donors—and in working with volunteers to extend and strengthen the philanthropic reach of the institution.

We recently interviewed a development professional who shared seven valuable insights for managing volunteers and effectively using their talents to launch and provide momentum in fundraising campaigns and events.

  1. Recruit the right people

How can you find those volunteers who will be deeply committed to the institution’s mission? The best way to add committed volunteers to your ranks is by asking your current committed volunteers to invite others they know to get involved. Your program will benefit from having a larger pool of volunteers to tap into, fueled by the enthusiasm of your current volunteers. Involving faculty members and clinicians in helping to recruit volunteers is also effective. “Part of the advantage of having a big community of volunteers is that it feels like the work of your institution is the most exciting thing that’s happening in the community and something everyone wants to be a part of,” the development professional said.

2. Provide simple, concise training

When on-boarding volunteers, make sure they clearly understand the roles they will play in furthering your institution. New volunteers might be enthusiastic to help promote the institution’s priorities, but might be feeling a little nervous about what, exactly, they will be expected to do—and they might be especially nervous that they will be expected to ask others for money. The development professional we interviewed said it is important to deliver training about the roles of volunteers to smaller groups, so people will feel comfortable asking questions. Networking value is added to the training when the group consists of volunteers across several committees.

3. Make good use of your volunteers’ skills and time

No one likes to feel as if they are wasting time or that they aren’t contributing as fully as they could to the cause. “Get down to the individual reasons that people are drawn to your fundraising effort and utilize their skills and their connections in whatever way is best suited for them,” she said. Deepening that connection with volunteers will also reinforce the goodwill they have about spending their valuable time helping your institution. Asking for and being responsive to your volunteers’ honest feedback will further strengthen their commitment.

4. Provide training for your development staff

Many of your staff members may find themselves in the position of managing volunteers for the first time. Developing and strengthening the skills they have to effectively manage groups will ensure a better experience for both your volunteers and staff. “We recognized early on that not all of our development staff who were managing volunteers had that much training in facilitating groups, building consensus, fostering open discussions or brainstorming, so we did training for our staff around those kinds of topics,” she said.

5. Provide a consistent, unified Opportunity Story for volunteers to share

After hearing a researcher, clinician, or academic leader talk about their opportunities for philanthropic investment, volunteers are excited to share that message. However, they may have trouble accurately sharing those opportunities, especially after a period of time has elapsed. Provide training for the volunteers in telling a compelling and consistent Opportunity Story.

6. Create an “insider” atmosphere

In creating a robust volunteer culture at her institution, this development professional discovered through conversations with her volunteers that what really made them feel valued was access to information. “What we’re hearing,” she said, “is that they don’t need another dinner, gala or golf outing. What they really want is that insider information delivered in a way they can digest and share with others.” Their development office regularly sends out email messages from their institution’s leadership and ensures their volunteers receive important information before the general public.

7. Be inclusive

Creating an atmosphere that is inclusive and welcoming encourages volunteers to ask others to get involved—including family members. Volunteers often have intense demands on their time. Making certain events, such as tours and discovery showcases, are open and welcoming for the volunteers’ family members increases the likelihood of their attendance. “They want inclusiveness and a family feeling in everything we do,” she explained.

Robust volunteer programs generate energy and enthusiasm for all people who touch the mission of your institution. And, providing meaningful volunteer opportunities deepens engagement with donors and potential donors. The development professional we interviewed said, “We’ve had some volunteers tell us that they now define their identity in the community by the fact that they’re involved with us. When volunteering becomes a part of who they are, how they represent themselves in their community, and what’s meaningful to their family and social network, that’s what we want to replicate.”

Advancement Resources can help your organization develop a culture of philanthropy through the training we provide for volunteers, trustees, and board members. Click the button below that is appropriate for your organization and begin building a robust volunteer program.

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