Every non-profit fundraising event needs clowns

Clown_chili_peppersI’ve seen it happen way too often. A fundraising professional or the executive director says to a group of people — using at a board meeting — something like this: “We need volunteers to help with our special event fundraiser. Who can help?” At first, there is an awkward silence and no hands go up. Then there are a few reluctant hands. Whenever I see this happen, I’m always left wondering if those were the right people for the job and how many of those people are clowns?

Before starting this post, let me just say that my point of view on this issue is obvious . . . stop using group recruiting techniques to recruit people for tasks that require specific skill sets. You are only setting yourself up for lots of grief and possibly failure.

With this being said, the following is a traditional list of characteristics for special event volunteers:

  • Familiar with and passionate about your mission, vision and programs
  • Possess time and willing to use that time to plan and execute the event
  • Have large networks (hopefully ones that don’t overlap too much with the other volunteers on the committee)
  • Willing to ask others for money (e.g. selling sponsorships and tickets)
  • Works well with others (e.g. good listen, not abrasive, demonstrates teamwork)
  • Has a track record of following through on what they commit to doing
  • Well organized

I’ve rolled with this short list for years and it hasn’t failed me.

I use the aforementioned list to identify and target prospective volunteers. I also use the list to develop written volunteer job descriptions. I’ve shares it with volunteers on the recruitment call because I commonly get asked “Why are you asking me to do this?” and I simply tell them that they possess all of these characteristics.

However, I’ve had this nagging feeling for years that something is missing from this list, and I put my finger on it just the other day.

bleachersI was sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. I was there with my father and my partner. The quality of baseball on the field was terrible, there was a constant drizzle of rain falling from the sky, and the fans were obviously getting antsy. Suddenly, one of the fans got to his feet and yelled at the top of his lungs:

“Hey everybody!
Right field sucks!”

He started chanting over and over again “Right field sucks! Right field sucks!” until other fans joined in.

As this played out in front of me, my first thought was “Hey, sit down! Some of us are trying to watch some bad baseball here!” but then it dawned on me. It was a big AH-HA moment.

There are people like this is every crowd. They love attention. They need to be at the center of the action. In grade school, they were the class clown. As adults, they are just clowns.

I don’t mean this in a bad way. These people are outgoing, love being around other people (aka well-networked) and love a good party (regardless of whether it is a baseball game or your agency’s special event fundraiser).

So, on a go-forward basis I plan on amending my special event volunteer list of characteristics to include: “clown“.

bleachers2I’m sure some of you are probably skeptical and for good reason. I mean how crazy and distracting would it be to have a committee of people who all want to be the center of attention. Crazy . . . I’m sure! However, I can’t help but dream about the type of event those folks would build in the name of securing more recognition and attention all to benefit my agency.

I suspect that with a little guidance (and after all isn’t guidance your role as a non-profit professional) this strategy could pay off in a big way.

Regardless, anything will be better than asking people to put their hands up and volunteer.

What characteristics and skill sets do you look for when recruiting volunteers to help plan and implement your agency’s special event fundraisers? What has been your experience with recruiting clowns? Please scroll down and share your experiences in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

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 July 31, 2013, in Fundraising, leadership, nonprofit, organizational development, resource development, volunteers and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I should’ve incorporated this YouTube of Babs singing “Bring in the Clowns” into my post this morning. Oh well! However, my omission shouldn’t stop you from enjoying this classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnwJ5KIcKX4

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