Getting your ducks … er … volunteers in a row

Putting your nonprofit organization’s resource development plan together can be a monumental undertaking. If you do it in an engaging and collaborative manner, then you are likely temporarily expanding your resource development committee and inviting various stakeholders (e.g. event volunteers, foundation staff or board members, and donors) to come to the table. This could easily result in 8 to 16 volunteers jockeying for position around your planning table.

I have used this approach before. Yes, we experienced challenges such as:

  • getting everyone’s calendars aligned,
  • communicating effectively and trying to avoid crazy, overlapping, and confusing long email threads,
  • keeping track of action items (not to mention injecting accountability into the process),
  • collaboratively working on building one document that didn’t result in 20 different versions attached to countless different email threads, and
  • sharing files with each other (Note: “the cloud” did not yet exist at the time of the project I am referencing).

A few months ago, a very dear friend and fellow consultant — Teri Halliday — introduced me to an online product called “Basecamp“. She swears by it, and I trust her like I trust my mother. So, I purchased the service and it changed my life! (Yes, dramatic but very true) There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t think back to the resource development planning process that I described a few paragraphs ago and wonder how different things would’ve been if I would’ve had access to Basecamp.

All of the challenges I described in the previous set of bullet points would’ve disappeared. Once everyone registers and links to your online workspace, you can:

  • work on collaboratively building documents in the Writeboard section,
  • keep everyone’s schedules in lock step with the Calendar section,
  • communicate with each other using the bulletin board functionality in the Messages section,
  • keep track of action items using the To-Do section (and OMG the system even reminds people their tasks are coming due), and
  • share documents using the Files section.

It is true that people who don’t want to be engaged won’t get any more involved in a project just because you’re utilizing an online project management tool. When you see this dynamic at play, your problem isn’t that you’re disorganized . . . you have a recruitment problem!

However, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen well-intentioned volunteers who want to be involved just walk away from a project because it is disorganized and hard to collaborate with other volunteers. It is this problem that Basecamp can help you resolve.

OK . . . I must admit that I am in LOVE with Basecamp. I am like a man with a hammer, and now I see nails everywhere! 🙂  I can see busy families utilizing Basecamp. I can see for-profit companies who operate in offices sprinkled across the country utilizing Basecamp. I obviously see the benefits for non-profit organizations who constantly engage busy employees and volunteers on a multitude of projects (e.g. strategic planning, resource development planning, special event fundraisers, annual campaigns, etc).

While I wish I could say that this “Software as a Service” (SaaS) was free, I cannot say such a thing; however, I think it is reasonably priced with one plan costing just $20 per month (and no long-term contract to sign).

I am sure some of you are wondering what has gotten into me this morning . . . am I a paid spokesperson or something like that? No! No! No! I am just a huge fan of things that work, and I have worked in the non-profit sector long enough to know that a tool like this can be a godsend. I say every day on this blog that “we can all learn from each other” . . . so I decided to put my money where my mouth is today.

What other tools (either free or paid service) has your non-profit agency used to help organize your volunteers and projects (e.g. Google docs? GoToMeeting? BigMarker? Microsoft Project?)??? Please take a moment to scroll down and share your ideas via the comment box.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

About DonorDreams

Erik got his start working in the non-profit field immediately upon graduation with his masters degree in 1994. His non-profit management and fundraising experience numbers nearly 20 years. His teachable point of view around resource development is influenced by the work of Penelope Burk and those professionals subscribing to a "donor centered" paradigm. Donors have dreams and it is our responsibility to be dream-makers because donors are not ATMs.

Posted on March 28, 2012, in nonprofit, Planning, technology, volunteers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. WOW Eric, Teri H. is wonderful and I love her, but trust her like your mother! Oy! (LOL) Great idea and information as always. In fact, I just found out about “Basecamp” through another project I was involved with and I couldn’t agree with you more! This is a great tool and I am looking further into using it in my world! All the best to you my friend.

    • Enjoy your new found tool, but be careful that your new found hammer doesn’t make everything look like a nail. 🙂

      I hope everything is well in your world, Kelley-boy. Please tell everyone back home at the ranch that I miss them!


  2. Hi Erik,

    Basecamp is just a tool that will help you get organized, but you need to be organized first in order to be able to benefit from it. The problem and the solution are always in the process or the people – they are rarely, if ever, in the tool.

    • Ahhhhh, very wise words PM Hut. I am making one very large assumption that the non-profit friends I am talking to are naturally well organized people in the first place. In my experience, those unorganized folks who make it to the top of a non-profit org chart as the executive director or development director are fairly well organized and those who are not end up fired in short order.

      Thanks for circling back and commenting on the post. I am sure that readers will appreciate what you are trying to say. AND just in case you are being too subtle, let me be very clear and tell all you who are reading this that you need to quit or find a different role in your organization if you aren’t an organized person.

      With that out of the way, I do see resource-poor non-profit organizations lacking organizational tools that inhibit their effectiveness when trying to collaborate with a large group of volunteers. Basecamp can help those people.



  3. I will have to check out this awesome Basecamp tool…sounds like something we could really use. We have used Doodle and Google Docs with limited success. I find the best way to get on our boards calendars, prior to basecamp, has been sending an invite through a calendar event. They often accept the invite and of course it populates their own personal calendar. So, much to their technological surprise, it pops up later! That’s always fun to see their faces when they say…”how did you do that?” 🙂

    I will look into Basecamp, because we have a very motivated group of busy people that are not lacking in passion but rather in time. Anything that can help us focus and organize is worth $20! Thanks for sharing!

    • Susan… Would you also look at today’s post about assigning annual campaign prospects and weigh-in with your thoughts as a development professional on the front lines? Thanks! ~Erik

  1. Pingback: How are you improving your productivity in 2015? | Donor Dreams Blog

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