Australia is built upon a proud tradition of ‘give a mate a hand’. The recent State of Volunteering in Australia report, however, suggests this may no longer be the case. Charles Alder looks at what you can do about your fundraising volunteers.
Volunteering is at a crossroads. Many years ago people volunteered out of a sense of civic duty, as a way of contributing to the local club or school or charity. It was seen as a way of ‘doing your bit’. Fast forward to 2016, and with years of neglect and lack of appreciation of fundraising volunteers, along with the power of the almighty dollar, the volunteer concept has been decimated to the extent that 86% of organisations are struggling to find the volunteers they need. Whether it be time, resources, expenses, family, work commitments, skills, organisation management, vision, passion or enthusiasm, a range of factors are contributing to this current scenario.
The simple fact about fundraising volunteering is this: we need to appreciate volunteers because they are giving up their time, their relationships, their friends and their families for us, and they need to be inspired and motivated by us. And, unfortunately, in the whole, inspiration and the management and appreciation of volunteers is done badly.
The passion conduit for fundraising volunteers
Volunteers volunteer out of a passion for a cause important to them. They’re passionate about education, animals, farmers or cancer patients and when they commit their time, they are so connected they will do almost anything you ask. They’ll sell badges, dig holes or feed cattle, and all out of their inner yearning to make a difference.
It has nothing to do with you. You and your charity are just their conduit at that moment in time. It’s understanding this conduit concept that is important. Unless nonprofits foster, develop, recognise and reward their volunteers, they will find another conduit.
The following questions go to the core of developing a program that will entice, excite and motivate people:
• how do you induct your volunteers?
• how do you give them the basics to make a difference within your organisational structure while not smothering them?
• how do you utilise their skills to grow your organisation?
• how do you maximise their limited time or financial resources to help you?
• how do you reward them?
• how do you provide them with opportunities for advancement?
Underpinning this whole concept, however, is an understanding within management that volunteers need to be treated with respect, dignity and civility. In fact, what is mandated in law for all employees in regard to workplace health and safety, behaviour and any other employee-based benefits should also be extended to volunteers.
At the end of the day, volunteers cost a whole lot less than paid staff so why would you treat them any other way?
What can your organisation offer to fundraising volunteers?
Volunteering as I have for many organisations, I recognise that it’s the management and people skills that make or break volunteer participation. Recently we began recruiting volunteers to assist in a new initiative to help rural communities.
All of our fundraising volunteers received an interview where we sold the vision of our organisation, did a skills audit to find out how best to match their current skills to our needs and then invited them to become part of that vision.
The six volunteers we recruited in the last fortnight have already helped enhance our program capabilities, and have brought with them knowledge and skills that could have cost us thousands.
Our next step is to share with them the program development and rollout, and to have them feel ownership of the outcomes. Along the journey they’ll be interacting with other volunteers and staff, our clients and other community organisations, and learning a lot more about what we do and how we plan to grow our service and meet our clients’ needs.
On this journey we’ll also be looking to grow their skills base so we can enhance our returns from their time. In addition, should they ever move on, they’ll have learned skills that will carry them forward.
Across Australia, organisations like Volunteering Australia and Volunteering Queensland, where we are based, have millions of names and addresses on their databases. These people are interested in volunteering their time. What do you have to offer them that would motivate them to exchange their time for your organisation?
Can volunteering be made great again? You bet, but we need to invest not only in our volunteers but in our systems and our management of them, and then we will all be winners.
Charles is CEO of Give Back International. He has worked in loyalty and gift card marketing for 16 years, including 13 years assisting nonprofit and parent representative bodies. Phone Charles on 1300 448 322 to discuss how you can guard your fundraising and marketing IP.