Volunteering in the 21st Century…

Posted by Sharon Danosky | Posted in The Philanthropy Therapist | Posted on 24-02-2011

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Volunteering used to be much easier.  I remember my mother being a volunteer.  She would arrive at the appointed time and place, take on the assignments she was asked to do, provide feedback when asked and then go home.  Often she would take on a volunteer assignment with a friend, work on it at home together and then deliver it just the way they were asked.  It was easy — a little like donors who would just write a check because they believed in the cause.  There was no expectation of receiving reports, outcome measures and impact statements.  It was a good cause – and so you volunteered and gave.

Clearly, life has changed.  And that’s not a bad thing.  Today’s volunteers and donors are far more engaged in their charities.  The value they bring range from taking on projects to providing guidance and expertise.  Sometimes it’s helping out at a gala and sometimes it’s running a major planning retreat.   So, what exactly does being a good volunteer mean in the 21st century?

One thing I learned very early on in my career is that whether you are a member of the management team, the Board or volunteer in some other capacity – it is essential that you are aligned philosophically and strategically with the leadership of the organization.  That doesn’t mean you can’t provide input or disagree or offer a different perspective.    That’s healthy.  But frequently I have seen volunteers undermine the organization they love without even realizing it.

Sometimes it’s hard for a volunteer to understand that the leadership of an organization is dealing with a myriad of complex issues, juggling a whole lot of priorities and trying to maximize its resources.  Ideas are great, solutions are welcome, and understanding the challenges are appreciated most of all.  When volunteers undertake assignments and they keep all that in mind – the results are truly amazing.

Here is a list of a few things I’d like to suggest that volunteers consider:

1)      Understand what is expected of you and don’t volunteer if you cannot do it.  Don’t serve on a committee when you cannot make the meetings.  Don’t agree to “man” the registration table for a gala if you know you might be arriving late.

2)      Ask questions to insure that you know about the organization’s services, programs and where it stands philosophically on the issues they face.  Don’t assume that they offer certain services which perhaps they cannot for a host of good reasons.

3)      Show up when and where you are supposed to be.  Good intentions don’t get the work done.

4)      If you cannot agree with an organization’s stand – then step aside.  It does not help to talk about an organization and disagree publicly when you are a volunteer.   Instead, learn why the organization is taking that stand … then support it, engage in a dialogue where it would be beneficial or walk away.  Don’t let your disagreement cast dispersions on the quality of the organization’s work.

5)      If you are on a Board and a decision is reached by the majority – even though you may not agree with it – it is your responsibility as a member of the Board to leave the room supporting that decision.  If you cannot, then examine your conscience and whether you can serve the organization as it needs.

6)      Don’t “hijack” an event if you are asked to chair it.  Understand what that event is about, and how the leadership wants to communicate its mission.  Then lead the best event possible – the leadership will beg you to come back again.

7)      Find the right volunteer opportunity for you.  If the role you have agreed to take on becomes overwhelming and you find you cannot fulfill it – then find another way you can add value.  Organizations have a lot of needs for volunteers with all kinds of talents.

8)      Enjoy volunteering – it is meant to be rewarding for you – and if it is, then it will be even more beneficial to the charity you love.

Today, more than ever, volunteers are essential to every organization.  They are mentoring children, leading fundraising events, building new facilities, setting strategic directions and even stuffing the occasional envelopes.  The organizations you work with appreciate you more than you will probably ever know.  Even more so if you are aligned with their vision and objectives.

And remember:   “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”  ~Betty Reese

The Thaw is Coming….

Posted by Sharon Danosky | Posted in The Philanthropy Therapist | Posted on 17-02-2011

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Finally!  All right – if you do not live in a northerly climate – perhaps you cannot fully appreciate this.  But, for those of us who have experienced an excruciating winter … hooray – we can’t wait.  And while we are not yet ready to go out and plant anything (plus I still have 3-4 feet of snow in some parts of my yard) it is an excellent time to dream about the garden, the sunshine, running barefoot in the grass.  All right – I’m getting carried away – but it’s good for the soul.

And – it is also time to start planning for another thaw that we see coming on the horizon … a thaw in philanthropic giving.  Yes, there are still elements of the economic recession in place.  And I am not sure we will go back to where we were – we almost never do.  But there is a new horizon in giving and if you are a not-for-profit organization, now is the time to put your plan in place.

Planning can take a variety of forms.  For those organizations that have simply been holding on for the past couple of years – perhaps you want to do some extensive and strategic planning.  Gather your Board members together and start thinking about what you want to look like in 3-5 years.

For those who have done their strategic planning, have you shared those plans with your donors, let them know that you have not simply been “hunkering down” but have been carefully considering the best way to fulfill your mission in both the worst of times and best of times?

Are all your stakeholders aware of the progress you’ve made, the work you have been doing and how you have been surviving – and in some respects, perhaps thriving – in spite of this economy?

As we begin to embrace the first rays of warmth – it’s time to venture out and start planning for the sunny day.

Words of wisdom …. From The Philanthropy Therapist

Sharon Danosky
Danosky & Associates

Danosky & Associates invites you to preview the Fundraising EventBox which addresses all these issues and identifies numerous ways to raise money and keep your donors happy.  And, for reading this blog, you can receive $50.00 off any EventBox purchase.  Use Code:   ebox2011.   Click EventBox to learn more.

It might be your event … but I’m the one attending

Posted by Sharon Danosky | Posted in The Philanthropy Therapist | Posted on 10-02-2011

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It’s Event Season.  Committee Chairs and members are busy planning, putting the finishing touches on everything, praying for good weather and hoping to raise lots of money.

So – in the midst of all this chaos – let’s think about the people who will be attending – some who may be your new best friends, some waiting to reconnect and others just looking to try you on for size.  Their perception of your event may be different than yours.  And – their expectations may be a tad different as well.  But here’s the bottom line.  Everyone who attends your event is your customer and yes, the customer is always right.

So ….  How do you organize your event from your customer’s perspective?

It begins before they even walk in the door – from the moment someone fills out that RSVP card and sends it in.  (It might begin even sooner – but I decided not to begin at the cooling of the earth.)  After all, from that moment there are so many things that can go wrong.  And here are just a few.

1)      You double count their registration.  How were you to know that they were also listed as someone’s guest and they responded on their own as well?  Whoops – now they are at two different tables and you’ve ordered extra dinners.

2)      There’s a long line at registration.  You have to wait until one of the two volunteers behind the registration table checks off your name.  And the line is getting longer because they can’t find the registration for someone at the front of the line.

3)      There are some great silent auction items.  And you are excited about bidding.  But, the person bidding ahead of you keeps going up only by $1.00 when it clearly states bidding should be in $10.00 increments.

4)      The lighting on the items is poor and the description is printed in a tiny font (in italic) so I can’t read it without my glasses.   Hey – I’m all dressed up here and I don’t want to wear my glasses – they don’t go with my dress!

5)       I didn’t know they closed the bidding.  I didn’t hear any announcement.  (And evidently neither did the person ahead of me who just outbid me after the bids are clearly closed)

6)      I love this organization.  That was such a moving testimonial … it brought me to tears.  But how can I make a contribution – I didn’t buy anything at the silent auction and there’s nothing else I can spend money on.

7)      Whoops – I did win an auction item – and look at the line I have to wait in to check out.  The babysitter said she couldn’t stay later than 11:30 and I will never even get through this line until then.

8)      It’s been two weeks, I haven’t had a thank you for my contribution, they still can’t find the gift certificate I bought, and the website still announces the event as if it is coming up soon.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Just one instance can spoil it for a donor – and that donor is going, going, going, gone.

So pay attention to the details.  Arrange your processes according to your donor’s needs and make sure every moment of their experience resonates with meaning.  That will keep them coming back for more.

Words of wisdom …. From The Philanthropy Therapist

Sharon Danosky
Danosky & Associates

Danosky & Associates invites you to preview the Fundraising EventBox which addresses all these issues and identifies numerous ways to raise money and keep your donors happy.  And, for reading this blog, you can receive $50.00 off any EventBox purchase.  Use Code:   ebox2011.   Click EventBox to learn more.

Raking the Roof…

Posted by Sharon Danosky | Posted in The Philanthropy Therapist | Posted on 02-02-2011

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Until about two weeks ago those were three words I never thought of stringing together before.  Now, it is all I hear.  “Have you found someone to rake your roof?”  “Do you know a store selling roof rakes?”  Did you know there was a recent run on roof rakes this past week in a small Connecticut town?  As the story goes, 3,000 were sold in one week as opposed to the usual 5-7 a year prior to this season of snow.  I heard another town actually sent out an alert via their phone system letting people know 500 roof rakes were being delivered!

Many of us in New England don’t want this weather to continue … but the reality is – we have no control over the matter.  In fact, an old song by the “Stones” comes to mind … “You can’t always get what you want – but if you try some times, you just might find, you’ll get what you need”  Hence, – roof rakes!

It’s a matter of adapting.  And hasn’t that been a song we all have been singing the past couple of years?  Working with non-profits has shown me that they are among the most resilient entities out there.  Since the plummeting economy of 2008, many have shown remarkable resilience.  And that spirit has resulted in their ability to raise funds even in the most challenging of times.  I know charitable giving has declined.  But it hasn’t stopped.  People are still giving and the hardiest non-profits have become more astute about asking.   They know people understand that giving means the most when times are most difficult.  And they are willing to step up to the plate.  Now as we begin to slowly re-emerge, perhaps there are some lessons we can learn from our collective experiences.

  • Strong development programs are not about a few large (and often lucky) gifts coming through.  It is about consistently building those relationships that will provide a solid stream of revenue from different sources in both good times and bad.
  • Boards are the foundation of giving at any organization.  What they bring to the table is more than expertise – it is a willingness to reach out to others and engage them in the cause.  They, too; however, must be nurtured and applauded for the time and commitment they give.  Asking and raising funds does not come easy to anyone.  Hooray for those who are willing to embrace the cause and wear their dedication on their sleeves.
  • People have made a real difference to our causes.  We cannot thank them enough.  And thank you is not a casual, mechanical process – but one that is heartfelt.  Appreciating our donors, our volunteers, our Boards and all those who make a difference to the organizations we serve is so important – because they  are treasures in and of themselves.
  • Raising money is work.  That is all it really is.  Show up, do what you need to do, and it will yield results.  There’s no short cut.

So whether your raking the roof, plowing the driveway, walking instead of driving to your friends’ house, finding ways to adjust to cabin fever  …  you’ve adapted.  And if you work for a not-for-profit organization – that’s just your way of life, isn’t it?