note: Success in philanthropy is like success in anything else – an
energetic combination of focusing, knowing what you want and how
to get there. It’s not as simple as selling Girl Scout cookies
door-to-door – which actually isn’t so simple when
done successfully. It’s the result of dozens, hundreds, maybe
thousands of hours of concealed thinking, planning and execution
of that plan. Toni Goodale, whose column we run with each NYSD
Philanthropy page is a seasoned expert at fund-raising. We’ve
asked her to share her wisdom in these pages.)
How to Identify, Recruit and Motivate Volunteers
A non-profit board member once asked me to
name an outstanding volunteer and discuss the characteristics
that make a great volunteer.
I immediately thought of Jim Wolfensohn who contributed so much
to Carnegie Hall and Brooke Astor who brought so much to The
New York Public Library – outstanding, energetic people who were willing
to devote an enormous amount of time to their volunteer assignments, acts as
public spokespeople, reach out to their own personal contacts, and contribute
the type of leadership gift that sets the pace for others. You’re probably
thinking, “well that was nice for Carnegie Hall and the Library, but I
don’t have a Brooke Astor or a Jim Wolfensohn.” Neither did they
until they identified and recruited them.
The perfect volunteer finds you: knocks on your door one Thursday afternoon at
3:00, asks if seven days a week is enough time for you, writes a million dollar
check that night, never needs instructions and never gets bored or frustrated
with the work. But the perfect volunteer doesn’t exist. It’s up to
you to find and motivate them. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely, because
the work, wisdom and drive of talented volunteers is invaluable. Their leadership
and labor is what makes our work succeed. Especially now, when the need is so
great and budgets are so tight, the ability to recruit and motivate good volunteers
is one of the most cost-effective skills a fund raiser can perfect.
To identify volunteers, don’t try to do it alone. Ask a group of those
closest to your organization to help: your Development Committee, last year’s
event committee, a group of major donors. Don’t expect them to pull names
out of a hat. Prepare a list of potential people to job their memories. And don’t
confine that list to people you already know about. Instead, make it as expansive
as possible, including:
• Lists of board members and top donors to other organizations in your
• Constituents (such as grateful patients if you’re a hospital).
• Social lists (such as private club lists or area social registers).
• Business leaders and other successful people who get things done – even
if they haven’t been involved with your organization before.
I find that, in one meeting, people can handle reviewing a list of up to 150
names. Determine the characteristics you’re looking for and have the meeting’s
participants sort these names into “Yes’s,” “Maybe’s” and “No’s.” In
a follow-up session have them thoroughly discuss the “Maybe’s.” You’ll
end up with a list of top candidates for the job.
To recruit volunteers, the first thing you need is the right person or team to
make the approach. The peer-to-peer approach is the best.
• Is there a board member or other volunteer who knows the prospect, even
• If not, is there someone with your organization who knows the prospect,
if just barely?
• If not, is there someone with your organization whose personal prestige
• Or, will the prospect meet with your board chairman and/or executive
out of respect for their role in your excellent organization?
If the prospects have never been involved with your organization, consider holding
a cultivation cocktail party or suggest that the recruiters bring their prospects
on a tour – to see the students, attend a performance, or visit the emergency
room and meet a highly committed doctor or social worker. As soon as the recruiter
(or team) has set the appointment, they need you to prepare a good recruiting
package. Don’t forget to include a description of the volunteer job.
To motivate your volunteers once they are on board, keep the following in mind:
• First and foremost, they need to stay excited about your organization’s
mission, so consider taking a “time out” from meetings to highlight
a new program, teacher, medical break-through or other success story. Invite
volunteers regularly to visit rehearsals or classrooms to see your organization
in action. And don’t forget a retreat for strategic planning and building
• Because volunteers need to know what’s expected of them, make sure
to provide clear instructions and thorough training. Your case statement and
a written plan for your campaign or event, with job descriptions, time-lines
will help. A training workshop for a group of volunteers (don’t forget
refreshments) can be fun as well as educational and get them excited and eager
• Volunteers need good follow-up from you, so it’s very important
you are organized and keep in touch on a regular basis.
• They also need goals so they can evaluate their progress and challenges
reinvigorate them when they get tired.
• Specific terms of job commitment – which make for consistent, orderly
turnover – are the best way to keep a group fresh and keep individual volunteers
• Some volunteers need to be involved in meetings and decision-making to
interested, while others don’t want to be so sort out who’s who and
work to accommodate each.
• Finally, above all, like everyone else, volunteers need compliments
So let them know you appreciate them. Let them know they’re
doing a great job. Recognize and celebrate their successes. Remember they are
donating a good
deal of valuable personal time, and don’t just assume that if they are
doing a great job they will know it – continue to support them every step
of the way.
Goodale is chair of Goodale Associates, an international management
and fund-raising consulting firm specializing in capital and annual
campaigns and corporate solicitations. She can be reached at 509
Madison Avenue, Suite 1112, New York City, 10022; or phone 212-759-2999/fax
212-759-7490 or by visiting her firm’s web site: www.tkgoodale.com.