Category Archives: volunteers

Volunteers aren’t responding to your emails?

email inboxI was chatting the other day with a newly elected board president. He was lamenting the fact that his fellow board volunteers don’t respond to his emails very well, and he wanted a little advice on how to change this dynamic. If this is a problem for your organization, then please keep reading.

There are any number of ways to look at this situation:

  1. This could be a “people” issue
  2. This could be an “organization issue
  3. This could be a “process or tools” issue

Let’s take a look at these possibilities one at a time.

People issue

email1Within this broad category, there are many considerations.

  • Are your board volunteers tech savvy?
  • Do board members understand their roles and responsibilities?
  • Do these individuals have the appropriate experiences and skills to deal with whatever is being sent to them in these emails? (aka do you have the right people around the table)
  • Do these people care? Are they mission focused?
  • Does the culture of your organization embrace technology? Or is the way it has always been done more personal and in-person meeting oriented?

In my experience, most of us jump to the conclusion that email unresponsiveness is a people issue (e.g. they don’t care, they’re too busy, etc). However, there might be other issues. Let’s take a look at organization and tools issues in the next two sections.

Organization issue

org structureBelieve it or not, how you are structured can greatly effect how people decide to use email as it relates to your organization.

  • Does your organization cover a large geographic territory? And do board members live far and wide thus making in-person meetings more difficult?
  • How often does the board or committee meet in-person? If it is often, then some individuals may simply put off responding to emails because they see an opportunity to share their thoughts in-person.
  • How many standing committees and work groups exist in your organization? Are these organizational silos? If so, then how do they communicate with each other and with the governing board? Is this spelled out in the bylaws or committee charter? (e.g. they must report at board meetings, etc)
  • From a board governance perspective, has your organization made changes to its bylaws to allow for the use of newer technology to make decisions? (e.g. electronic/email voting)

I know it can be hard to believe, but how we structure our organizations (and even the internal design of our workplaces) and teams can impact our email usage (and even more broadly how we use tech).

Five years ago, I was working for a national non-profit organization on a team that was scattered all over the country and in four different time zones. This organizational dynamic drove all sorts of decisions including monthly conference calls, the need for in-person staff meetings two or three times per year, optimal times for conference calls, use of email to distribute materials and collect feedback, shared document storage/access, etc.

Structure” . . . it is an invisible force that drives human behavior more than any of us think.

Tools issue

communications toolsEmail is simply a communication tool. Here is an inventory of tools/processes/approaches that you may find in your communications toolbox:

  • Telephone (individual one-on-one or conference call)
  • In-person meetings (individual one-on-one or group)
  • Webcam (individual one-on-one or group)
  • Online project management collaboration services (e.g. Basecamp)
  • Private, group messaging and chat tools
  • Social media
  • Online groups and discussion forums

I’m sure that I’ve missed a number of other communications tools. You are welcome to add those in the comment box of this blog post.

Each of these tools is designed to do something very well, but of course they all have their shortcomings. The best question to ask yourself when confronted by a situation that doesn’t seem to be working (e.g. people aren’t responding to email) is . . .

Am I using the right tool for what I want to accomplish?

My final thoughts?

We all have our “points of view” on things. It doesn’t mean that we’re necessarily right or wrong. Here is what I believe about email:

  • It is a great information sharing tool (e.g. distribution of agendas, meetings notes, materials, etc)
  • It is a poor discussion tool (e.g. asking for feedback, advice, anything conversational)
  • It is used differently by every generation
  • It is easy to ignore and many people have developed user habits around this tool (e.g. deleting habits, reading habits, etc)

The advice I gave to my board president friend was . . .

Pick-up the phone if they aren’t responding to your email!

I also asked additional questions about which volunteer engagement strategies he was using and which ones were lacking. Each of the nine volunteer engagement strategies (e.g. urgency, accountability, planning, setting expectations, etc) come with a number of tools (e.g. goals, dashboards/scorecards, action item memos / task lists, project management punch lists, written volunteer job descriptions, committee charter, committee work plan, etc).

In other words, the choice of communication tool might not be the problem. It could be the organization isn’t using best practices associated with volunteer engagement, which is resulting in email unresponsiveness.

The morale to today’s post?

Simple problems may not be as simple as they seem, especially when we’re talking about groups of people under one organizational umbrella. So, my advice is . . .

Don’t jump to conclusions. Do the hard work in thinking it through!

Here’s to your health!

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

What should you do when a board member quits fundraising?

This certainly seems to be the topic of the month for non-profit people running in my circles. I’m not sure why this is the flavor of the month, but I’ve been asked this question so many times recently I took is as a sign from the universe (or the fundraising gods) that I should blog about it.

Why do board members quit on you?

quit1Oh, well let me count the reasons . . .

  1. They feel lost when it comes to asking for charitable contributions (aka lack of training)
  2. They feel uneasy about asking friends for money (aka they are asking inappropriately due to a lack of training which results in any number of FEARS and the feeling that they’re begging)
  3. They feel unsupported by staff (aka staff aren’t going out with them to help and model best practices)
  4. They sense there is a lack of organization behind their efforts (aka meetings are poorly attended or poorly organized, acknowledgement letters are sent late or sporadically, etc)
  5. Prospective donors are assigned to volunteers by staff without input from volunteers (aka they aren’t asking people with whom they are comfortable soliciting)
  6. They are busy people and there aren’t accountability tools being used by staff to keep everyone focused (e.g. report meetings, dashboards, scorecards, campaign reports, peer-to-peer phone calls)
  7. Fundraising efforts lack urgency (aka deadlines always seem to be extended, goals seem to shift/change, etc)
  8. They weren’t recruited appropriately and didn’t know what they were saying ‘YES’ to when joining the board (aka your board recruitment process lacks “expectation tools” like volunteer job descriptions, commitment pledges, etc)

I could go on and on and on with this list, but that wouldn’t be productive. Suffice it to say, if any of the aforementioned reasons describe your organization, you need to address it. Quickly! Otherwise, no matter how many new board members you recruit to replace the ones who quit on you, the problem will continue to recur.

All of this begs the question, “What can and should be done about board volunteers who quit on their fundraising responsibilities?

Step One: Have a heart-to-heart discussion

heart to heartI have no idea why this is so scary for so many non-profit staff and board volunteers. It doesn’t have to be a confrontation. Here are a few talking points:

  • Describe what you are observing (e.g. a reluctance to fundraise)
  • Assure them that it happens in the case of many board volunteers
  • Ask them what the trouble seems to be
  • Listen – Listen – Listen (empathize where appropriate)
  • Ask them how you can help
  • If there is nothing you can do to help, then ask them how they’d like to move forward

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it too many times. Board members disengage and no one asks them if everything is OK and if they are in need of assistance.

It is troublesome when non-profit families start acting this way, which is why Step One is always to sit down and listen.

Step Two: Engage in cultivation & stewardship

quit2If the reasons given by your board volunteer aren’t things beyond anyone’s control (e.g. family member illness, work-related challenges, etc) and they simply don’t feel comfortable with solicitation, then ask them to get heavily involved in cultivation (e.g. engaging new prospective supporters) and stewardship (e.g. showing existing donors gratitude and return on investment) activities. (Note: don’t simply let them focus on other non-fundraising activities like programming or marketing)

The following is a partial list of things you can ask of reluctant fundraising volunteers:

  • Host a house party with people who don’t currently support your organization (e.g. party where staff briefly talk about the organization and the host follows up with participants to see if they are interested in learning more)
  • Invite people who don’t currently give to your organization to tour your facilities and see the mission in action
  • Invite people who aren’t donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee and simply chat about the organization (e.g. it is important for the board volunteer to share reasons why they are involved and passionate about the organization)
  • Hand write letters to donors to express gratitude for their support
  • Make phone calls to donors in the middle of the organization’s range of gifts chart to express gratitude, engage in a discussion about their reasons for support, and share a piece of organizational good news
  • Invite larger major gifts donors/supporters out for a cup of coffee, share a copy of the most recent annual report, share any recent pieces of good news or programmatic results, and talk passionately about the future

I’m not suggesting you ask a reluctant fundraising volunteer to do one of two of these things. I am suggesting you immerse them in these activities. You might try asking them to complete five handwritten letters, five phone calls AND five in-person contacts every month for the next year.


In my experience, there is something curative when board members have substantive encounters with others that focus on community need, mission, vision, and impact.

I’ve seen a heavy dose of this approach help many volunteers get over their cold feet or malaise when it comes to fundraising.

Step Three: Finding a New Seat on the Bus

seat on busSometimes we can’t fix the problem. Board members are people, too. Their parents get sick. Their marriages falter. They end up with a new boss who demands more from them.

When these things happen, the first order of business is empathy. This is what you’d do for a family member going through the same thing. Right? And board members are your non-profit family.

But whatever you do, you cannot make exceptions for individual board volunteers with regards to their fiduciary responsibilities. It is an all or nothing proposition.

I’ve seen it too often where one board member is given a pass (usually for good reason). It’s a slippery slope. Others board members start identifying reasons in their life why they can’t participate in fundraising. Worse yet, a schism materializes in the boardroom between “those who fundraise” and “those who don’t.”  When this happens, resentment and ugliness aren’t far behind.

So, what does finding a new seat on the bus look like? It could be any number of things including (but not limited to):

  • Taking a short sabbatical from the board
  • Resigning from the board and moving into a new role (e.g. joining a committee, becoming a program volunteer, helping with small projects, remaining on as a donor, etc)
  • Acting as an advisor (e.g. monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly coffee meetings with the CEO or development director)
  • Becoming a community ambassador (e.g. speaking periodically at service clubs, etc)

We don’t banish or fire board members (unless of course it is a toxic/destructive situation). People who support our mission are valued and important. We keep them involved, but we do so in roles that are mutually beneficial and fulfilling.

How has your organization dealt with and addressed board members who quit fundraising (or maybe never really got started)? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Report meetings are the key to better fundraising campaigns

head in sandIf I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it over and over again. An organization puts the right people around the table and engages everyone in developing the right written plan for their fundraising campaign or event. They recruit the right people in the right way to work pledge cards or solicit event participants or secure sponsorships. They even go about assigning prospects/donors to volunteer solicitors very effectively. And then it happens . . . solicitation materials are distributed and everything comes to a screeching halt.

Why does this happen?

In my experience, the following principles must be in place for volunteer solicitors to thrive:

  • The campaign must feel well-organized
  • The case for support must be mission-focused and consistently messaged
  • Volunteers must be trained and feel supported by staff
  • There needs to be a written plan, and those asked to implement it needed to have some part in developing it
  • A sense of urgency (positive tenacity not crisis or consequence focused) needs to be genuinely felt by everyone
  • Everyone needs to feel accountable to doing what they said they would do

Having two or three of these principles in place isn’t good enough. If you lack one of these “engagement principles,” your fundraising efforts are likely to experience a hiccup of some sort.

One strategy that helps with two or three of the aforementioned bullet points is integration of routine “report meetings” throughout the duration of your campaign timeline.

What is a report meeting?

NegociateUpScale_crop380wA report meeting is simply a face-to-face meeting of volunteer solicitors, who come together to report their progress to each other.

How these meetings are facilitated is important. An ineffective report meeting is when volunteers give a simple report comprised of a few broad statements. Here is an example of such an ineffective report:

I’ve called a few of my prospects, and left voicemail messages, but no one has called me back yet. I should be able to get all of my initial calls done by some time next week or the the week after.

Effective report meetings are:

  • Facilitated by one person (which can be a staff person or the volunteer chair of the campaign)
  • Volunteers are asked to give their report one at a time
  • Volunteers go through their list of prospects/donors one at a time and provide a short progress report on each prospect
  • The entire team is invited to provide suggestions, offers of assistance and encouragement at the end of each volunteer solicitor’s report

Here is an example of an effective report:

Last week, I called Sally and set-up a lunch meeting with her for this Friday. Yesterday, I met Joe and his wife at their lovely home and asked them to consider increasing their pledge from last year. They need some time to think it over, and I have a follow-up meeting schedule with them two weeks from Wednesday. As for John, I’ve called him three times both at home and the office, and he isn’t responding. If anyone sees John this week, please give him a friendly nudge and encourage him to give me a call.

Keep these meetings focused and organized

focusIf you’ve recruited the right volunteers with the right skill sets and experiences to work on your fundraising campaign, then these people are likely very busy.

There is no better way to disengage a busy person than by wasting their time. So, these report meetings need to be well-run and efficient.

One person designated as the facilitator can keep the meetings on track, gently move the group along if they end up off-track, and give the entire experience an organized feeling.

Create a sense of F-U-N

Yes, busy people typically dislike nonsense in their meetings, but there are ways to still have fun without it feeling like a waste of time.

One way I’ve seen fun injected into report meetings is by using a campaign theme to organize the report meeting.

For example, I once saw an annual campaign adopt a horse race theme. They met at the racetrack. Each volunteer solicitor was assigned a paper horse on a paper racetrack hung on the wall. There were point values assigned to various activities (e.g. securing a meeting, making an ask, securing the pledge card, etc), which translated into how far your horse moved along the track.

Of course, there were fun prizes and recognition involved in this friendly competition.

I’ve seen these strategies range from highly organized — like the one I just shared — to very simple (e.g. rewarding the number of completed pledge cards turned in at the meeting).

Whatever you decide to do, a little bit of fun can go a long way in making these meetings palatable for busy people.

Integrate mission into the meeting

missionWe need to keep in mind that no one likes fundraising just for the sake of getting their friends to give them money. The reason volunteers sign-up to do what many people consider difficult and intimidating is because they are truly bought into your mission.

So, use these report meetings to remind them of why they agreed to do this in the first place.

This can simply be done by dedicating two or three minutes at the beginning of each meeting to a mission moment. It shouldn’t be too long and can be as simple as a:

  • testimonial
  • short story
  • video

Recognition is important

If your report meetings start to feel like beatings, then people will stop coming. In order to avoid this phenomenon, one of my clients started having a little fun with their recognition items. The following pictures are just two examples of inexpensive and creative recognition items you can use.

report meeting1     report meeting2

If the pictures are too small, hopefully you can see that the recognition items are as simple as a bag of Goldfish Crackers and a package of Reese’s Pieces with cute puns attached that recognize the volunteer’s accomplishment. What fun!!!

What if people cannot attend?

I’ve seen a few organizations successfully pull off report meetings via conference call, but not very often. Why? probably because it is too difficult to instill fun, mission-focus and urgency into a phone call. If you want my opinion, I prefer in-person meetings.

If someone absolutely needs to miss a meeting for a good reason, you should ask them to send a written report to be read at the meeting. But these absences need to be rare. Otherwise, everyone else ends up backing out of future meetings.

The best way to ensure good attendance is to set expectations up front during your initial recruitment visit. Clearly explain what you are asking of the volunteer and include report meeting attendance as of those expectation. It is best if you can actually share those meeting dates with the volunteer prospect during the recruitment meeting. (This should also be included in the written job description that you will leave behind after your initial meeting.)

For those potential volunteers who tell you upfront that they are happy to help, but cannot make your meetings, I strongly suggest you thank them for their consideration and not take them up on their offer. Obviously, don’t scorn them . . . but explain how important report meeting attendance is for success and then suggest a different opportunity for them to be involved in the campaign or your organization.

What does your organization do from a campaign strategy perspective to help create accountability, urgency and engagement from your fundraising volunteers? If you’ve used report meetings as a strategy, then what best practices have you used? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Advice to my younger-fundraising-self about event management

blog carnivalThis month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” In addition to asking other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration, I am also focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016. So, mark your calendars because this month promises to be full of fun submissions.

Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned valuable lessons about inspiring and managing special event volunteers. Enjoy!

howard1As many readers know, I was once an executive director for a non-profit organization that ran a Duck Race fundraiser. For those of you who don’t know what a Duck Race is, it is simply a raffle where serial numbers on the bottom of little rubber ducks correspond to numbered adoption papers sold to donors. The first 10 ducks that cross a water raceway finish line win prizes. The challenge from a revenue perspective is essentially two-fold:

  1. Sell lots of sponsorships
  2. Sell lots of duck adoptions

The key to selling lots of duck adoptions is also simple. Organize as many volunteer teams as possible. Encourage them to sell to their friends, family and co-workers AND set up adoption tables in high foot traffic areas (e.g. outside of grocery stories, in malls, etc).

The big challenge from a non-profit fundraising professional’s perspective is:

  • inspiring volunteers to sell duck adoptions
  • creating a culture of fun
  • being creative with accountability
  • instilling a sense of urgency
  • keeping people focused on the goal

Being a young fundraising professional, I made the decision to use weekly update reports in an effort to inspire competition between duck adoption teams as well as foster a sense of accountability and urgency.

Of course, as we got closer and closer to the event and the duck adoption totals weren’t exponentially jumping, my weekly reports ended up doing the opposite as they were intended. Not only were volunteers uninspired, but some board members started whispering about whether or not I knew what I was doing.


howard2In the 1986 box office flop Howard the Duck, Howard gets transported from his home world of “Duckworld” by a dimensional-jumping device. If I had access to that device today, I would totally transport myself to a place where I could share the following nuggets of advice with my younger-fundraising-self:

  • reporting can cut both ways with volunteers (esp. when falling short with goals)
  • always find good news to spotlight regardless of how small it may be
  • perceived negativity is like a flu virus (very catchy and spreads quickly)
  • “who” issues the report is important (peer-to-peer accountability is powerful and reports should come from the volunteer event chair and not staff)
  • positive incentives and fun recognition items are important to tie to a reporting tool

I would also put my arm around my younger-fundraising-self and tell me that using “reporting tools” to create accountability and “goal setting” to create urgency are best practices, but these tools must be used in conjunction with the following volunteer engagement strategies:

  • well run, in-person meetings
  • mission-focused messaging and activities
  • training
  • setting expectations upfront
  • helping people feel organized and being personally organized
  • celebrate success (both big and small successes early and often)


Where is a dimensional-jumping device when you need one?   😉

If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published a few weeks ago. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.

Here’s to your health!

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

Advice to my younger-fundraising-self about email usage

blog carnivalThis month DonorDreams is hosting the nationally acclaimed Nonprofit Blog Carnival, and this month’s theme is: “If you could go back in time and give your younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, what would it be?” As I’ve done each of the last three year’s when I’ve hosted the carnival, I plan on focusing this month’s DonorDreams blog posts on the topic as a way to help inspire other non-profit bloggers to submit posts for consideration. The April 2016 Nonprofit Blog Carnival is scheduled to go live on Thursday, April 28, 2016.

Today’s time machine post involves a younger me who learned a valuable lesson about how not to use email. Enjoy!

emailAhhhh, yes. I remember this embarrassing lesson very well. It occurred in the late 1990s when I was a young Boy Scout professional who was responsible for membership management, district-wide programming, local unit support and fundraising for a small suburban district in the Northwest Chicago suburbs. It was the 20th Century and the idea of email was new and evolving as a way to communicate with non-profit volunteers.

As a young GenX non-profit professional, I took to email like a duck takes to water. At the time, I thought this technology must have been sent from heaven because it was a solution to all of my volunteer management.

  • Snail mail was too slow when it came to getting fundraising volunteers annual campaign progress reports
  • FAX transmissions were only available to some volunteers, if their office had a FAX machine, and it wasn’t always acceptable to send someone something “not business-related” to their workplace
  • Phone calls to check-in on fundraising volunteers took lots of time and the amount of “phone tag” was maddening
  • Face-to-face meetings were great for doing collaborative work (e.g. planning, prospect evaluation, prospect assignment, etc), but . . .  if the agenda didn’t seem important or substantive enough, and only included updates, then many people wouldn’t show up

So, it felt like email solved a lot of issues facing my younger-fundraising-self.

  • I sent out annual campaign update reports via email
  • I sent out meeting notices via email
  • I asked volunteers for information via email
  • I would even drop volunteers notes with reminders or requests via email

The more I used email, the more it felt like a “communications tool“. What I failed to understand was email is only an “information technology” tool.

email graphicTo better understand what I just said, I will use a simple analogy . . .

Email is akin to the the envelope that you put a letter into. It is a vehicle to deliver a letter, report, etc. Email is NOT akin to the actual letter that you place inside of an envelope.

If I could go back in time and give my younger-fundraising-self one piece of advice, it would be . . . DO NOT use email to have conversations with volunteers about things that are better done in-person or on the phone.

As I write these words, I am remembering an email I sent a volunteer. She was a great volunteer, but she and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on the need to start a second Cub Scout Pack at an elementary school to alleviate overcrowding at the existing unit. It got to the point where she simply stopped returning my calls, which is when I started sending emails.

I won’t go into details because they are embarrassing. As you can imagine:

  • I tried to be clear with my reasons, but I came across as lecturing
  • I referenced our previous discussions and tackled her objections, but I came across as confrontational
  • I explained how this impacted my annual performance plan, which made it personal and cast me in the role of a selfish person rather than a mission-focused professional

You get the picture. <sigh> It was your basic email nightmare. And a few minutes after clicking the send button, I then learned the “recall email” function on the 20th Century version of dial-up AOL was a joke and didn’t work the way I thought it did.

The volunteer didn’t receive the email very well. I can’t imagine that anyone would. While she didn’t respond, she did resign her volunteer position. She never spoke to me again, but she did share the story with any volunteer who would listen. She also spoke to my executive director and forwarded the email to him. <ouch>

To this day, I have a hard time telling this story. It was a painful lesson to learn, and I sometimes find myself re-learning the same lesson with friends when I become careless and thoughtless with email threads and forget that “tone” cannot be heard in emails.

terminator time travelSometimes, when I’m daydreaming, I imagine myself in a time machine going back to 1999 to have a serious conversation about email usage with my younger-fundraising-self. I also sometimes wonder if it would be helpful to take a page out of the Arnold Shwarzenegger Terminator movies by traveling back in time to sabotage the work of the person who created email.  😉

Do you have a story/experience with email that you’d be willing to share? Are there tips or guidelines you personally use to guide your decision-making around email vs. phone vs. meeting? If so, then please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. Why? Because we can all learn from each other.

(Note: You might also want to check out a post titled “Email vs. Phone Call vs. Face-to-Face” on the Leader Impact blog and all of the great links to other online articles embedded in that post.)

If you are a non-profit blogger who wants to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and submit a post for consideration on this month’s carnival theme, click here to read the “call for submissions” post I published last week. It should answer all of your questions and clearly explain how to submit your entry. If not, then simply email me and I’ll be happy to help.

Here’s to your health!

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

There is a recipe to follow when recruiting volunteers

recipeNot too long ago, I was sitting in an introductory orientation meeting with a group of volunteers. As the consultant, I was ticking through all of the things our little group was about to undertake. And then it happened. One of the volunteers raised their hand and said, “I didn’t realize this was what I was being asked to do. I’m really busy and I don’t think I can do those things.

Truthfully, I was shocked.

I’ve never had a volunteer openly admit this in the middle of a meeting. Normally, these individuals keep quiet and simply disengage.

Of course, this is dangerous to the goals of whatever project you’re working on. Because if many people are quietly disengaging as they conclude “This isn’t what I signed up for,” then the team you built won’t likely accomplish what you need and won’t succeed.

So, what is the answer?

Simply, we need to stop “soft selling” people and playing down what we need them to do.

expectationsAs I suggest in the headline for this post, there is a recipe for how to recruit a volunteer appropriately and it is as follows:

  • call the prospect and ask for a face-to-face meeting (no telephone recruitment)
  • talk about the volunteer opportunity in broad terms, how it advances the organization’s mission and how it helps clients
  • share specifics about what you are asking them to do (e.g. specific tasks, process involved in accomplishing those tasks, time involved, number of meetings required, etc)
  • provide them with a timeline (e.g. when will this commitment start, when will this commitment end, etc)
  • provide them with a written volunteer job description
  • do NOT undercut your ask by saying things like “whatever you can do will be OK
  • do not press them for an immediate answer . . . if they need time, encourage them to take the written job description home and think about it for a few days, but make sure to set a time to follow-up with them

This recipe for volunteer recruitment is all about one thing . . .


Of course, setting expectations is done at other times and not just during the first recruitment meeting. And there are other strategies involved than a simple job description and clear discussion. The following are a few additional ways to go about it:

  • use your first meeting to provide an orientation and affirm with everyone what they signed up for
  • training opportunities can reinforce expectations
  • goal setting and planning exercises with the group also will help reinforce expectations
  • report meetings and accountability calls can provide opportunities to ask: “How is it going? Is this what you thought it would be? Can we help?

Whenever I talk with non-profit professionals and volunteers about “setting expectations,” they seem to get squeamish. Here is some of what I hear:

  • These people aren’t employees. We aren’t paying them.
  • Setting expectations feels pushy and presumptuous.
  • They might say NO if they really knew what they were signing up for.

As non-profit professionals and volunteers, we need to teach ourselves to push past these irrational objections.

I encourage you to think of it this way . . .

Why would you put people you know, love and respect in a difficult position?

I oftentimes think back to a time when this happened to me whenever I’m tempted to “soft sell” someone on a volunteer opportunity. Here is what happened in a nutshell:

  • I was asked to join a committee
  • I realized at the first meeting that I said YES to something that I didn’t immediately understand and definitely didn’t have time to do
  • I bit my tongue and said nothing because the person who recruited me was a friend and I didn’t want to let them down (and I felt like I owed them)
  • I agreed to do things that I knew I couldn’t realistically do
  • I got some of it done, but not all of it
  • In the end, I had to admit that I couldn’t accomplish everything I said I would
  • I felt like a failure
  • I blamed myself, but I also resented my friend for not being honest with me from the beginning. We are still friends, but since this experience I now find ways to politely say NO to everything they ask me to get involved in

Review the last few bullets, and again ask yourself this simple question: “Why would you put people you know, love and respect in a difficult position?

How does your non-profit organization set expectations with prospective volunteers? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Expand your volunteer base by engaging donors

Good morning, DonorDreams readers! Tis the season, and as you know my aggressive travel schedule as of late necessitated me reaching out to my circle of awesome blogger friends for a little help. Today’s guest post is from Corbit Harrison and our friends at VolunteerHub. Corbit shares how you can find great volunteer prospects from among your donor base. I hope you enjoy this morning’s post.  Here’s to your health!  ~Erik

3 Tips for Asking Donors to Volunteer

volunteersIf you’re seeking to expand your volunteer base, you may not need to look very far.

In fact, you may already have some terrific candidates within your reach — right there in your donor database. These individuals obviously care about your mission, so converting donors to volunteers many times is simply about communication.

In this article, we’ll take a look at a few different strategies to engage your donors in creative ways.

Send a Survey

In general, people love to give their opinions. If you develop a survey for donors, you can get a better picture of them as a whole and also learn more about them individually. Ask them about their professions, interests, and hobbies. Based on your donors’ responses, you may be able to pinpoint very specific skills-based volunteer opportunities that would engage them.

Of course, go ahead and list some of your ongoing opportunities as well to see if those catch some interest. Be sure to ask if you may contact them about volunteering, and, if so, make sure to have them include their name and contact information.

Have Volunteers Share Their Stories

Your organization may want to hold a special recognition night for your donors. At an event such as this, it’s a time when you can communicate your mission and accomplishments. This is also the perfect time to engage donors by having a volunteer as a keynote speaker.

There is a move in the nonprofit world to “tell your story” to advance your cause – and with good reason. Statistics are important, of course, but numbers can pale in comparison to a message from the heart. Choose a volunteer who is fully committed to your cause and ask him or her to build a presentation around a couple key ideas. Among these should be how volunteering has impacted the volunteer’s life and the lives of the clients your organization serves. Make sure to coordinate with the volunteer so you can have some multimedia that compliments the message in terms of pictures and/or video.

After the volunteer’s speech, your volunteer coordinator can make a quick call-to-action pitch and outline upcoming volunteer opportunities. Make sure to communicate that donors can register for these opportunities before leaving the recognition night activities. Set up a landing page that is easily accessible via smartphone or mobile device. In doing so, you may get a handful of registrations before the night is over.

Develop Case Studies

Just as it’s important to tell volunteer success stories, also consider putting together a case study featuring the people you serve. This could be a flyer that you include with a donation letter or a mailer you could send on its own.

Once having their approval, interview them to find out (in their own words) what your organization means to them. If you can have them talk about how your volunteers have impacted their lives, even better. Make this flyer bold, colorful, and eye-catching with pictures of your clients (preferably with a volunteer). Be sure to highlight a few important quotes from your clients as pull-outs, and most importantly, don’t forget to include a call to action that directs people to your volunteer registration site. Cross promote these case studies on your organization’s website, blog, and email newsletter.

Expand Your Volunteer List with Donors

Encouraging donors to volunteer helps supporters see the good work your organization does. This is likely to further cement the relationship with your nonprofit and hopefully spur even more generous monetary donations in the future.

Corbit Harrison is the Chief Operating Officer for VolunteerHub and has been actively helping nonprofit organizations better engage constituents for over 10 years.  Connect with Corbit on Linkedin.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for people like Bob

IMG_20151124_165228090[1]First, let me start by wishing you and your non-profit organizations a very Happy Thanksgiving! My plane landed at a crazy, busy O’Hare airport yesterday and now I have the luxury of three straight days at home with family and friends (and let’s not forget the turkey and trimmings . . . Mmmmmm!) Since it is Thanksgiving Day, I was going to simply re-post an old blog such as:

But after giving it a little thought over my first cup of coffee this morning, I decided to share a quick story about what happened to me on Tuesday.

I was on the road visiting clients and decided my spirits might be lifted if I did a little volunteer work. So, I rolled up my sleeves and helped serve a few hundred plates of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, and corn to children participating in an after-school program. It did my soul good and reminded me that I work with non-profit organizations for a reason.

My fellow food server was a board volunteer whose name was Bob. As we scooped the stuffing and potatoes and plated the turkey, Bob regaled me with countless stories about his volunteerism.  The following is a quick synopsis of a few noteworthy stories:

  • Bob has served on the board for . . . ummmm . . . let’s just say he has served for many decades
  • He has raised countless dollars for the organization (via special events, talking with elected officials, and simply soliciting friends in his circle of influence)
  • He has served the organization in many volunteer capacities both internally and externally (via national organization committees)
  • He helped get this organization’s first Thanksgiving dinner for its kids/members off the ground
  • He encouraged his son to volunteer for an organization with the same mission in a different state
  • He shared pearls of wisdom with me such as “Boards either have vision or they don’t” and “It doesn’t matter what type of fundraising campaign or event you choose to run because your success will be determined by who you have sitting around the table.”

Bob has cultivated a legacy of volunteerism that all of us should celebrate!

As I think back to my time on the front line as a middle manager and ultimately an executive director, I sometimes fell into the trap of lamenting things that volunteers didn’t do such as:

  • miss a committee or board meeting
  • drag their feet on soliciting prospects/donors and turning in their completed pledge cards
  • fail to do something they committed to doing

IMG_20151124_165234801[1]Bob’s gift to me this Thanksgiving (and he didn’t even know he was giving me this gift) is a reminder about how special and important volunteers are to all of our organizations in spite of our human imperfections.

Seriously, without board members or fundraising volunteers, where would we be? How could we afford to operate our business models?

As the Thanksgiving meal started winding down, the organization’s staff invited a few kids to step up to the microphone and share with a packed gymnasium full of people an answer to the following question: “What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving season?

One child stepped up the microphone and said he was thankful for his “Xbox“. That response got lots of little kid giggles. A second child, who must have been 7-years-old, confidently stepped to the microphone and boldly said “I am thankful for my mom, my dad and my brother.” That response got a big ‘ol “Awwwww” from the crowd.

If the microphone would’ve been passed in my direction, I think I would’ve said, “I am thankful for people like Bob, who understand non-profits and get what volunteerism is all about.”

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Enjoy the food, but more importantly enjoy the fellowship. And thank you to all of the board members and volunteers for all that you do for our clients and organizations.

If this blog post has you thinking that you should invest a little more time, energy and effort in “volunteer appreciation,” then I suggest you click over to what Wild Apricot blog’s “Volunteer Appreciation Guide” and check it out. I promise that you’ll find lots of good stuff to compliment your turkey, potatoes and stuffing.   🙂

Here’s to your health!

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

Nominating committee versus board development committee?

recruitmentI belong to a professional association and recently agreed to join their nominating committee to help the board of directors fill a few expiring board terms. This volunteer experience has made “board recruitment” top of mind for me over the last few weeks. I also can’t stop thinking about the various organizational structures and strategies/approaches to board recruitment. When this happens to me, I know there must be a blog post brewing.

Nominating committee approach

This method of undertaking board recruitment was what I was first exposed to as a young non-profit professional working for the Boy Scouts of America back in the 1990s.

A nominating committee is:

  • typically an ad hoc committee
  • pulled together a few months before existing board terms expire
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for identifying board prospects
  • responsible for pulling together a slate of volunteers for a larger body of membership to consider

There are variations on this approach.

I’ve been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • identifying and evaluating prospects
  • ranking prospects
  • building a slate of prospects
  • presenting a slate of prospects to the membership (where the slate is exactly equal to the number of vacancies that need to be filled)
  • asking the at-large membership to approve the slate or send the nominating committee back to the drawing board to re-develop a different slate

I’ve also been involved in nominating committees responsible for:

  • sifting through nominations from the field
  • interviewing applicants (based on board gap assessment and what the board needs with regards to skill sets and experiences)
  • constructing a ballot of vetted prospects without regard for how many vacancies need to be filled
  • asking the at-large membership to vote for a smaller subset of what appears on their ballot

Board Development / Board Governance Committee

The alternative to an ad hoc Nominating Committee is a Board Development (or board governance) standing committee. In the last 15 years of my non-profit career, I’ve become more familiar with this approach to board recruitment.

A board development committee is:

  • standing committee that meets throughout the calendar year
  • composed of both board members and various other stakeholders
  • responsible for gap assessment
  • responsible for identifying and evaluating board prospects
  • responsible for recruiting board prospects
  • responsible for onboarding and orientation of new board volunteers
  • responsible for developing and implementing a board training calendar (e.g. external conferences as well as boardroom trainings)
  • responsible for annual review/evaluation of individual board volunteers
  • sometimes a resource to the board president on governance issues (e.g. assistance with committee structure, meeting design, annual board retreat, etc)

My two cents

I personally like the board development/board governance standing committee option over the old fashion Nominating Committee approach for the following reasons:

  • It feels more comprehensive in its approach to building/sustaining an organization
  • It feels more strategic with regards to aligning skills/experiences of volunteers with organizational talent gaps
  • It feels focused and more permanent (rather than “it’s that time of the year again” mentality)

In a perfect world, I believe your organization is best served when you can align your board development practices with approaches that are intentional, mindful and strategic.

While I recognize that membership-based organizations might struggle with this approach, I still think a board development committee can work in those environments and accommodate practices such as a “call for nominations” from the at-large membership.  In these situations, if there needs to be voting from the membership, then I obviously favor the practice of putting a slate of prospects in front of the membership for a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.

Your thoughts? What does your organization do to be intentional, mindful and strategic with its board recruitment, development and governance? Please scroll down and provide your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

How much time will it take to serve on your non-profit board?

thoughtsDo you know what is rattling around someone’s head during your non-profit board recruitment process? Knowing this could help you design a better process with better tools. This week and part of next week, we are focusing on a recent survey released by our friends at nonprofit technology research firm Software Advice of 1,545 board volunteers and people tasked with recruiting new board members.The survey’s key findings probably won’t surprise you, but the implications might change the way you think about your organization’s future board development efforts.

The second key finding of’s survey was:

“The most important consideration before joining a board is level of expected involvement (50 percent).”

The remaining 50% of responses were as follows:


There are many different board development tools that organizations develop and use during the recruitment process to help answer a prospect’s question about involvement. The following are just a few examples:

All of these are great resources that you hopefully have in your board development toolbox.

Perhaps, one of the most unique tools I ever saw was a document titled “120 Hours That Will Make A Difference“. I’ve changed the names to protect the innocent, but I’m pasting the content of that document in the space below:


Of the 8,760 hours that make up a calendar year, our organization and the clients it serves needs 120 of those hours.  When properly allocated, these hours have a huge impact on our organization and the kids that we serve.

Meeting Attendance

  • 12 hours at board meetings.
  • 10 hours at special events and fundraisers.
  • 10 hours in committee work.

Advocacy/Raising Awareness

  • 10 hours talking about our organizaiton with family, friends, associates, business vendors, religious groups, civic organizations and prospective donors.


  • 18 hours convincing foundations, United Way trustees, local government officials, state legislators, business and community leaders that contributing to our organization is a wise investment.

Reading and Responding

  • 6 hours reading and responding to information sent to you from our organization.


  • 8 hours attending and participating in annual board retreats and strategic planning workshops.


  • 18 hours placing calls, writing letters and making asks in support of the organization. This time is best used assisting with one or more of our major fundraising events.  Remember, in order to ask for donations you must be willing to first give yourself.

Becoming Educated

  • 28 hours attending trainings and orientations, conferences and spending time in the organization’s facilities with clients and staff. It is important for you to be engaged in the mission to better understand the urgency of the work we do.

120 hours per year equates to 10 hours per month, or about 2 ½ hours per week in support of an organization that is making a difference in our community.  The commitment is modest, but it is time well spent.


So, what do you think about the document?

  • informative
  • specific
  • eye opening
  • daunting

I know some of you are likely thinking that a tool like this will likely scare off some people . Well, my response is:

good news

You are not looking for warm bodies to sit around your boardroom table. You have serious work that needs to be accomplished, and that work will take a commitment of time from a group of very talented people.

Think of it another way. How upset would you be if someone lied to you in order to gain your commitment of time?

This question is top of mind for the majority of board volunteer prospects with whom you are talking. So, what are you doing to clearly communicate the answer to this critical question? Additionally, what else are you sharing with prospects during the recruitment process? Please scroll down and use the comment box below to share your answers to this questions. You are also more than welcome to share links to other documents and resources you find helpful in answering this question.

Here’s to your health!

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

%d bloggers like this: