Despite the incredible growth and increasing professionalism of the nonprofit sector, some folks may be losing sight of the continuing importance of volunteer fundraisers to the health and vitality of our nonprofit organizations. There are many excellent development officers at work today, for sure; but, the undeniable truth is that when it comes to securing major gifts — volunteers do it better.
In a time when more and more fundraising departments are partially or completely dependent on professional staff, the notion of volunteer fundraisers may seem impractical or even anachronistic. Admittedly, managing a corps of volunteers can be just as much work — even more than assigning donor calls to employees. So why bother? Because a well prepared and practiced volunteer does it better.
When volunteers internalize an organization’s mission and case for support, and begin to articulate it in their own words and experiences, they have invested themselves in the future of the organization—they have invested themselves as “owners.” Long-term financial commitment is built upon our tradition of voluntary involvement.
When a volunteer issues an invitation to a peer and advocates for a cause, his or her charitable motives are clear, and their message is better received. Donor prospects are simply more responsive to someone they know and respect as a peer and more often they are also more generous in response to the appeal of that volunteer. The volunteer’s motives are clear. Staff members may be perceived as merely “doing their jobs.” While a courteous phone call from a development officer could go unanswered for months, an inquiry from a friend or business peer will almost always get a timely response.
Volunteers provide accountability and credibility to the community and they act as the eyes and ears in the community-and the community’s eyes and ears within the organization. Wise volunteers help to ensure that an organization’s mission is meeting real community needs, while at the same time helping to ensure that the organization receives the recognition and support it requires to sustain that mission.
Emphasizing the importance of the volunteer in fundraising and advancing our organizations does not mean that a board of directors should fire its development staff. We also know that our volunteers want and need
support and guidance, and they are more effective when working with staff and fundraising counsel. It is the role of staff and fundraising counsel to ensure that each volunteer is well prepared and then rewarded with success.