Following up on last week's post, this is a great graphic showing the importance of volunteers. You can check it out in better detail at the Volunteering in America website.
Have you ever filled out a volunteer interest form and not been contacted by the agency? Have you signed up to volunteer for an event and discovered you weren't really needed? These are not uncommon problems--I've experienced them myself on more than one occasion--and they don't just impact a person's willingness to volunteer: they impact their willingness to give financially, too. The Golden Rule applies in relationships to volunteers just as it does elsewhere in life: if your organization doesn't want its appeal letter to be ignored then it shouldn't ignore people who want to give their time.
When an organization doesn't respond to an inquiry by a potential volunteer it's really a slap in the face of someone who sought out an opportunity to help. They may feel dismissed and unwanted and they may wonder "Does this organization really need my help? If they can ignore my offer they must be doing pretty well." If a person feels slighted then it seems only logical they won't put making a financial donation to the same organization at the top of their to-do list.
Similarly, if a volunteer shows up to an event and discovers there are more than enough helping hands that can make them feel frustrated and taken for granted. It pays to remember that volunteers usually also have paid jobs and/or children, hence they are typically busy people who are making space in their lives to help a non-profit. It can be difficult to know how many volunteers will be needed, especially if an event is new; however, organizations should at the very least offer sincere apologies, promises to get it right (or, at least, better) next time, and think of ways to show the volunteer they are indeed appreciated.
Numerous polls and studies have shown volunteers are more than twice as likely than non-volunteers to make a donation and they give more money. So it's a no-brainer that making the effort to treat volunteers well should be a key part of any fundraising plan. To learn more check out these resources:
Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009
Volunteering and Civic Life in America
The New Volunteer Workforce
Okay, so word count and character limits when you're writing a grant proposal can be incredibly frustrating, but they are also a gift in disguise. First, these limits compel the writer to try out different options for saying the same message, which usually leads to finding the best option rather than first or easiest. Second, the act of comparing different options creates an opportunity for questioning the value of what is being written and whether it actually needs to be said. Third, while questioning the value of what is being written, the writer is traveling down a path to greater critical thinking about the larger program/project. This can lead to the overall message of the grant application being clarified or even the project being redesigned or tweaked to increase the likelihood of successful funding. Last, writing succinctly leads to speaking succinctly, because the ideas have already been thought out ahead of time and internalized during the editing process. Not every grant application, donation, or sponsorship is secured through writing, sometimes speaking well is just as important a method. Once mastered, the art of conveying complex and powerful messages concisely can mean the difference between a "no" and a "yes" from a potential funding partner. So, what may appear as a curse--word count and character limits--are actually very helpful tools that can be used to an organization's advantage--and any advantage is a gift!
Fundraisers are naturally curious, tenacious, noisy folks, because we know the key to providing funding for our organizations is leaving no stone unturned. What may seem an improbable source of funding could be turned into a success with a little more digging, some optimism, and creative thinking.
An example that comes to mind of unique fundraiser skills in action is when I was researching funding sources for an institution that cared for abused and neglected children. I came across a foundation which gave grants to organizations helping the homeless. Someone less experienced, less optimistic might have moved on from this foundation, because the children my organization assisted had a roof over their heads; however, I knew that initial view of our population wasn't entirely accurate. Some of the children had families to return to, but others were essentially homeless: their only legal guardian was a government agency and when they aged out of the child welfare system, and thus out of our organization, they would be without a home. I spoke to staff to figure out how many children qualified under this definition of homeless and applied for a grant to fund educational activities that would enhance the lives of these homeless children and their peers/housemates.
To this day that $7,500 grant award is one of my proudest professional moments even though it is not the largest award I ever received. I think most true fundraisers would agree that it is the opportunities which most test our abilities and show that we have a unique skill set that bring us the most satisfaction. A satisfaction, which for me, turned to joy when the lives of some of the most wonderful, strong, and curious children I ever had the pleasure to meet were positively impacted!