Among the many daily challenges for the modern Development department is the care and feeding of fundraising volunteers. “Challenge”, though, does not even begin to describe the difficulty in recruiting, training, tasking, and stewarding the precious few souls willing and able to assist in the critical, but daunting, task of raising funds. It is perhaps the most difficult part of our work as fundraisers.
What does an ideal fundraising volunteer look like? Let’s see…independently wealthy (but also generous), widely known and deeply respected in the community (but also approachable), well versed in the organization’s case and mission (but not a micro-manager), capable of asking for anything with confidence (but not arrogant)…you get the idea.
The ideal fundraising volunteer does not really exist. Busy people know a lot of others in a community, but lack the time to dedicate to learning a case and actively managing solicitations. Generous donors are often uncomfortable asking others to join them. The result? Too often a fundraising committee of ill-equipped volunteers and a frustrated staff who cannot count on predictable output and effort.
What to do? For a start, let’s consider the two main functions of volunteer fundraisers: Connecting and Asking. Can volunteers be Askers? Some can. Most cannot. Salespeople are born and not made. I believe that in my soul, whatever your consultant is telling you. Asking requires rare courage and determination, and often, the unpleasant prospect of a No. It is why good salespeople make great livings, despite the internet age of instant information and access. It is why that goofy looking dude mysteriously has an amazing and beautiful girlfriend. Askers face No, and live through it. Most of us cannot accept this sort of rejection on a regular basis. We cannot.
Are there effective volunteer fundraising Askers? Of course. There are some rare volunteers out there who will ask, and from time to time, ask well, at the right time, in the right way (in person) for the stretch gift. But most will not, and cannot, whatever they promise you. And this means that you are wasting lots of time with your fundraising committee by assigning solicitations to volunteers who simply cannot perform the expected tasks. And so what happens? Activity languishes. What should have been a person-to-person conversation becomes a letter, prepared by staff, with a personal note at the end, probably mailed late because the meeting was never scheduled. And on and on.
What’s the alternative to expecting our fundraising volunteers to become magical Askers? Let’s stop wasting time chasing that Unicorn. Let’s seek out Connectors instead, those volunteers who are well-known, well-regarded, and with a network. These are the fundraising volunteers who can make things happen by opening doors, making introductions, and facilitating proposals.
So what do you need? A Connector to open the door, make an introduction, attend an initial meeting, follow up on your behalf, and help say thanks. A good Connector is someone who can say, “I know a guy at that Company. I can get you a meeting.” It is also sometimes, “I know a guy who might know the guy at that Company. Let me dig into it.” If there is something more valuable to us than a personal introduction to a prospect, I don’t know of it. That’s way better than someone will just Ask. That’s a Connection. Galas are often chaired by good Connectors, but fundraising committees, seeking magical philanthropy beans, are not. Right?
What does this new focus on making connections mean for your fundraising committee? How about fewer meetings (spending the time making connections instead) and much less frustration (staff and volunteers agreeing to specific next steps rather than passing out names to solicit)? It also means a whole new opportunity for your volunteers. Rather than lengthy meetings (difficult for busy people) a good fundraising Connector can make one or two big things happen for your organization a year, and then call it a day.
Listen, if your organization is large enough to have a fundraising staff, or even an individual paid fundraiser, you already have an Asker. It is you. You are the one getting paid to hear No, and you are the one who understands the case, the mission, and the specifics of the opportunity. Embrace this role. Be brave, and practice. Asking gets easier over time, and hearing No isn’t as bad as you fear. PRACTICE!
Expecting volunteers to Ask for you is a recipe for jumping between five jobs in seven years, always blaming the lack of a philanthropic culture for your career woes.
Worry less about assigning solicitors. Find some Connectors.