If 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?
A 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
If 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
We 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:
- short story
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.
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!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
Have you ever seen a new fundraising volunteer crash and burn … aka FAIL? I know I have seen this phenomenon too many times in my 15-year career, and I am never comfortable when it happens … until today!
While reading an assigned textbook (Co-Active Coaching) as I study for my business coaching certification, I came across a section that talks about celebrating failure. It talked at length about how failure is one of the fastest ways of learning and used the example of toddlers learning how to walk. This got me thinking and sent me scurrying off to Google to do a little research about celebrating failure, which is when I came across a YouTube link for FAILfaire.
FAILfaire is an annual conference where technology non-profit organizations come together to look objectively and with humor at failed projects with the goal of learning valuable lessons. This got me thinking. Why can’t non-profit fundraising professionals engage our fundraising volunteers in a similar way with our annual campaigns? Here is how it might look:
- During your organization’s annual campaign period, host periodic “report meetings” (e.g. weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).
- In addition to the traditional activities associated with an annual campaign report meeting, add one additional agenda item titled “Celebrating Failure”.
- Set ground rules (e.g. no mocking, no mean-spirited criticism, a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” policy, etc) and remind all participants that there is a HUGE difference between failing and being a failure.
- Ask volunteer solicitors (could be some or it could be all) to please share something that happened during a recent solicitation visit that didn’t seem to work (or didn’t feel right).
- Engage the group in a short, facilitated discussion around why it didn’t work and what else could be done next time to get a different result.
- Get silly and celebrate failures. Consider giving out a “traveling trophy” for the best story or the best suggestion for change.
This type of activity can take the shame out of failure for our volunteer solicitors and help fundraising professionals better coach volunteers towards becoming better solicitors.
If you don’t like this suggestion, I am sure there are countless other ways for you to help fundraising volunteers celebrate failure because if you don’t do so then it is likely that your volunteers will 1) stop taking risks, 2) continue repeating the same mistakes over-and-over again, and/or 3) possibly even quit.
I know this approach is not something to which many of us currently subscribe; however, I think this actual “tweet” on FAILfaire’s Twitter page sums it up nicely: “RT @rgkirkpatrick RT @TonyYLyu However much room you give people to fail, is exactly how much they can potentially succeed #singularityu“.
Does anyone out there do a good job of celebrating failure with their volunteers? How do you do it? Please use the comment box of this blog to share your best practices!
Here is to your health!Erik Anderson Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC firstname.lastname@example.org http://twitter.com/#!/eanderson847 http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/profile.php?id=1021153653 http://www.linkedin.com/in/erikanderson847