Volunteers are the lifeblood of a non-profit organization. They are passionate advocates for organizations, sharing their involvement with friends, neighbors and colleagues. A non-profit will not find more effective public relations than a motivated volunteer, especially during a capital campaign.
A common oversight during the planning stages of a capital campaign is to overlook the strong influence the volunteer has over a campaign’s success. They are the foundation of any campaign; initial donors, organizers, campaigners and recruiters, but most importantly, they are the most effective in fundraising. Why? Because people give to people, not causes.
You may be thinking, our organization realizes their importance. We know they are highly talented, believe in our mission and recognize our needs. We utilize them as board members, advisors, public advocates, recruiters and program facilitators, but when it comes to asking for money, it just usually isn't their “cup of tea.”
And you are right. Most volunteers feel uncomfortable and are hesitant to make any kind of commitment when it comes to asking for money. So you must coach them, realizing that the most–proven, winning method is using your volunteers to solicit the support of others in your community. This is why your highest priority when planning a capital campaign should be the education and training of volunteers in effective capital fundraising techniques.
Constantly remind your volunteers that they are asking for money for the organization they represent, not for themselves. While it may sound obvious to you, never assume your volunteers have the same understanding. Teach it, and then repeat it—often! Frequently, simply pointing out this fact will make a volunteer feel more at ease about the solicitation process.
Training meetings are a necessity, as is the commitment of each volunteer to attend! Schedule one to one and one half hours for the meeting and plan the agenda in advance, keeping in mind you must stick to your objective–preparing your volunteers for easy, effective solicitation.
Explain to each volunteer that it is much easier to ask for a gift when they, themselves have already committed to the cause. The most important principle in fundraising is that to be a good solicitor, you must first be a good donor. It is a much more persuasive request when the volunteer can approach a prospect with “I would like to ask you to join me in supporting the organization with a gift of…” It is not imperative, but highly recommended, that the volunteer seek gifts which are at the same level as his or her giving.
We are all busy and have infinite demands on our time; therefore, the most effective way to get on someone’s schedule is to call and request a formal time. Stress to the volunteers the importance of suggesting a specific day, a specific time, and always try to include spouses. When soliciting someone familiar, there is a tendency to make a casual appointment, such as “I’ll stop by one day next week” or “I’ll see you around the club”. It is far too easy to let “one day next week” slip by, and an opportune time may not present itself at the club. By teaching your volunteers to schedule a formal time to meet, they are sending out the message that this is a very important campaign to them personally.
Another challenge volunteers often face when asking someone they know for a formal meeting, is responding to the prospect’s direct request for information over the phone. Gifts are typically much smaller when made over the phone. A response, such as, “This is very important to Betty (spouse name) and I. I’d really like to sit down and share why I feel it’s so important,” should not only be taught to each volunteer, but also rehearsed. The more prepared your volunteers are to respond, the more comfortable they will be, which will result in a highly successful campaign.
Once an appointment is set, remind your volunteers to spend a few minutes thinking about the prospect; what may interest them about the organization and/or the campaign. Consider what the prospect could give if they wanted to and were highly motivated, not what you feel they will give.
It is equally important for the volunteer take a few minutes before going to a gift solicitation meeting to familiarize themselves with the facts of the campaign. The more conversant they are about the campaign, the needs and vision, the easier it is to talk about it and project the enthusiasm that will inspire others to give. Have your volunteers focus on one or two things that excite them about the campaign and then encourage them to share those exciting ideas with the prospect.
Make up a few scenarios and have your volunteers practice how they should respond. Far too often, what once sounded confident can quickly become apologetic if the solicitor is not comfortable asking for a gift. This apologetic appeal communicates a contradictory expression to the potential donor. Yes, I strongly believe in this cause but I’m ashamed to ask for your support.
Volunteers should be encouraged to visit in teams whenever possible. The most effective solicitations are done with two visitors. If a team is going to ask for a gift, the volunteers should review the approach to the meeting before going on the visit. Who will conduct which parts of the meeting, who will ask for the gift, etc. and again, make up a few scenarios for a practice run.
Remember, people give to people, making volunteers your greatest asset when fundraising, but they will only be as effective as your coaching. In our next issue, we will continue with the importance of educating your volunteers, including, how to ask for the gift, handling the different responses, scheduling a follow–up and reporting your success. However for now, prepare, teach and rehearse!
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.