James Appleton explains how fundraisers can make the most of volunteers - and make them feel valued in return
Charities are all over the news lately. Back in the lead-up to the election, however, pretty much the only mention it got was David Cameron’s promise that 15 million employees in the UK would receive three days' volunteering leave under a Conservative government.
Working at Pilotlight, I see daily the power of using staff time to contribute to charitable causes – our latest impact report attests to that – and Cameron’s initiative will mean something like 350 million hours of volunteer work ready to go. The question for directors of smaller charities will be how they can make the most of this.
One answer has to do with fundraising. Smaller charities always grapple with the benefits and risks of paying people to help with getting money in, so the idea of having some free resource to support these efforts is an attractive one.
Here are some tips to maximise this offering:
Stick to your plan
As with so many aspects of your activities, a clear plan is integral to successful fundraising efforts, and coordinating your volunteers is no exception. Review how your charity recruits and manages its volunteers and make sure the structures are in place to make it as efficient as possible:
· Have a volunteer coordinator. This might be a dedicated role or a function that someone else performs, but either way, there needs to be clarity on who is responsible for your voluntary efforts.
· Check induction and training processes for new volunteers. If you are going to ask people to raise money for your charity, they will need to know the organisation inside out. Have these clear – and written down!
· Have a clear fundraising strategy. Make sure it is up to date, and that everyone knows their role according to the activities your plan demands. How you utilise your volunteers will depend on the approach your charity takes to raising funds.
· Think about what is realistic to ask of people giving a limited amount of time. Community fundraising could be perfect for many people; bigger pieces of work will require someone with more time and experience.
· Ensure you tell your volunteers the story of how they fit in. Not only will you know that your strategy is being carried through, but a volunteer who is clear on his or her purpose is also more likely to be committed, productive and fulfilled.
Stick your neck out
Just as with donations, volunteers gravitate towards the big organisations they’ve heard of. You need to go out and get your share, so:
· Make the most of social media to get the word out. Turn the careful planning you’ve done into a concise call to action and share it everywhere you can. Keep it simple: say what you want from people and where they can go next.
· Utilise the free sources of publicity available to third-sector organisations. Approach your local volunteer centre or CVS, and check out sites like Do-It and Timebank where you can get the word out.
· Talk to your supporters and ask directly for their help. The people who have given their time, money and attention in the past are your best advocates.
Once the volunteers have supported the great work your organisation does, don’t abandon them; keep them engaged:
· Send simple ‘thank you’ cards. The more personal the letter, the better: write them by hand and sign your name. Make sure to let them know what a great job they’ve done and ask them to keep in touch.
· Add them to your mailing list and tell them about the impact their time has had on the charity. Remember, the reason people volunteer is to make an impact – so tell them what you’re spending the money they’ve helped to raise on, and let them know that you couldn’t have done it without them.
· Ask for their opinions. One of the best ways to keep someone engaged is to let them make a contribution to the organisation; what’s more, this will also help you improve your own way of working.
Stick to your guns
Finally, a word of caution: Free resource is great, but it’s never completely free. If you don’t have the time to train extra volunteers, the strategy to utilise them or the need to bring them in, don’t be afraid to say no. You could end up creating a much bigger headache for yourself otherwise.
A well-run volunteer programme can turn good intentions into real impact for your charity’s coffers and its beneficiaries – but, as ever, go in with a plan.
James Appleton is project manager at Pilotlight