What Do Volunteers Want?

 Organizational Success

The most recent data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that 62.6 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once in the 12 months that ended September 2013. However, this volunteer rate was the lowest it has been in the past decade, declining 1.1 percentage points to 25.4 percent of the population.

Every organization should strive to create ways for volunteers to be authentically involved in the fulfillment of its mission, especially in the fundraising arena. Now for the first time in 10 years, it appears that good volunteers are harder to get than they used to be — but why is that? Perhaps it has less to do with what we want from them, and more to do with what they want from us.

Volunteers often get involved because someone they know and respect asks them to — but they stay involved if they find the experience rewarding. 

Initially, volunteers get involved with organizations primarily because a person they know and respect asks them to get involved.* They stay for years, however, only if the experience is rewarding for them. It has been our experience that organizations who demonstrate the following characteristics will attract and retain a more robust corps of fundraising volunteers.

1.  Those organizations who are known and respected for success in serving the community and fulfilling their mission.

2. Well-managed and financially sound organizations
(i.e., headed by an effective CEO).

3. Institutions that are moving forward with an inspiring vision and a workable plan.

4. Trustees who have a meaningful role in advancing the organization.

5. Organizations with effective fundraising programs (i.e., competent development staff).

6. Volunteers who are given worthwhile tasks to perform.

If your organization has been around for more than a few years, then it is probably a well-managed and successful organization that is known and respected. When it comes to attracting volunteers, elements three to six will give you a definite edge — and that’s where the experience and expertise of counsel can be especially helpful!

If your organization is not attracting the volunteer corps you desire, these steps may be especially beneficial.

  • A well-conceived strategic planning process (best facilitated by an objective outsider) can help to refine or redefine your vision, and develop a plan to move the organization in the right direction. When those who will be responsible for carrying out the plan are also involved in its development, the chances of success will be greatly increased.
  • A board development process — once again, when facilitated by an outsider who is politically disengaged — can help you to redefine the role of trustees, including their relationships with staff. Some organizations set a minimum annual giving level, or even require board members to sign a written agreement.
  • A thorough development assessment and a development plan based on actual results can help you systematically strengthen your development staff and programs. For example, you may need to better define the role of philanthropy (and those of donors and volunteers) in the advancement of the organization.

Finally, by working with counsel on an ongoing basis — not just during planning/feasibility studies and capital campaigns — you can create a continuum of improvement. That will help to build and maintain a culture of philanthropy, and an involved and responsive constituency for current (and future!) campaigns.

 *Some organizations (e.g., food banks) must recruit and train a large number of volunteers just to deliver their services. Here we are speaking primarily of volunteers who are recruited to help the organization raise money.

click here for pdf version: FRM61

For more on The Role of Volunteers, Developing Effective Fundraising Leaders, access Goettler Series Volume 10