Preserve Volunteer Goodwill
The compassion and benevolence that generate the goodwill that initially brings volunteers through your door can easily evaporate if your volunteer has even one bad experience. Volunteers often play the role of paid employees, but unlike employees, they can walk away from their positions without a word. Nonprofit staff may never know what caused a person to be part of the organization one day but not the next.
How do organizations use up their volunteers’ goodwill? Mismanaging their time. Asking them to take on roles in which they are not comfortable. Failing to communicate the importance of the assigned role. Leaving them without the training necessary to be successful in the tasks for which they are responsible.
There are many ways to lose a volunteer. And there is a simple way to retain them.
The key to retaining the best volunteers is to build genuine relationships that allow staff to understand why an individual is involved with your organization. If problems arise, a strong relationship will help keep the door open to honest conversations about what it will take to keep the volunteer involved. Nonprofit staff must take the time to talk to volunteers before assigning them a role, and then continue the conversation while the volunteer is part of your organization. If a volunteer should stop working with your organization unexpectedly, it is important to follow up immediately with a call or visit to understand why.
The best time to get to know your volunteers is when they first offer to work with your organization. Find out why they volunteer. Find out why they chose your organization. Understand their time commitments. Do they work full time? Do they have families to consider in their schedule? How much time do they want to give your organization? Identify the skills they bring to your organization. Understand their interests. All of this information helps better place the volunteer in the right role from the beginning.
Once volunteers are in place, talk with them as if they are employees, not donors. While many of them may also commit financial resources to your organization, the fact that they volunteer means that they seek a deeper connection with your mission. Ask their opinions and advice about the projects and programs they see firsthand. Communicate the successes and needs of your organization to all of your volunteers on a regular basis. Make it easy for them to see the important role they play in the success of your organization.
If someone decides to end their volunteer relationship with your organization, reach out to them quickly and find out why. There may still be time to retain their skills and knowledge. Waiting too long will leave the impression they were not really needed by your organization. If a solid relationship is already in place, this dialogue will be easier. The volunteer may come to staff with problems they have before they quit.
Having a former volunteer tell others that an organization “used up all my goodwill” can damage a nonprofit’s reputation. Genuine relationships developed between staff and volunteers will decrease the likelihood that this will happen. Staff who understand the needs and motivations of their volunteers early and who will maintain open lines of communication make it possible to address problems early. Volunteers who have opportunities to speak up about issues will feel confident that they are an integral part of the success of the organization… generating more goodwill, rather than “using it up.
Donor Relationships: The Second Year is Critical
Too many organizations spend a lot of time and energy on donor acquisition, but then place relatively little emphasis on donor retention. Instead of putting the majority of the effort into securing new donors, nonprofits should take advantage of the great opportunities that exist by developing relationships with the donors they already have.
Donor acquisition is generally more expensive: oftentimes it costs more than a $1 to raise a $1, so the financial return does not come until years later. Even more importantly, it is the relationship between the donor and the organization that will lead to progressively larger gifts.
It would be wise to evaluate the life cycle of a donor relationship in your organization to ascertain exactly what happens after someone makes that first gift.
Identify strengths, but also determine areas that need improvement. You will want to build intentional and increasingly personal touches along the way, ever mindful that your thank you must be genuine and meaningful: demonstrate the impact your donor’s gift has made.
Donors want to feel that they are truly your partner and not merely a checkbook for your projects. Think about how you will thank donors while showing them their impact in the same exercise. Consider a program tour as a thank you instead of as part of the solicitation.
A comprehensive fundraising program is as strategic and genuine in its thanks and appreciation as it is in its solicitation. Make sure your organization has a carefully designed program of acquisition, retention, stewardship and ultimately involvement of your key donors. These elements are all critical components of successful fundraising.