Building a Productive and Inspired Committee
Volunteer committees. They are an ingrained part of our fundraising practices – and as outside resources shrink and a greater reliance on fundraising from the private sector grows, committees will be of increasing importance. For the purposes of this blog, the word committee will refer to any group of volunteers working to support your organization’s fundraising (not governance or Board work).
Firstly, why do we need or want committees? Committees help fundraising staff expand networks, attract new donors, and open up opportunities for brand awareness. They are your cause’s most passionate ambassadors with an influence far beyond the scope of what staff can provide. In short, committee members are our door openers. There is a credibility to having volunteers support fundraising efforts…to donors, volunteer committee members are your organization’s knights in shining armour.
Secondly, why would busy people want to volunteer on your committees? People who are connected to your cause want the opportunity to give back. That’s the obvious answer and likely the reason they signed on in the first place. The better and more important question is, “Why would busy people want to continue volunteering on your committee?” Fundraising staff need to lead from behind with committees. It’s our job to help volunteers feel supported, informed and on track. We have to find creative ways to keep our volunteers engaged and to make them feel appreciated. There are thousands of charities scrambling to find the best volunteers available – what is your staff doing to keep volunteers happy and engaged? Volunteers can and will walk away if the experience is unpleasant or unfulfilling.
Thirdly, how do you build a great committee? It all starts with leadership. Your most vocal and passionate donor seems like a great fit for becoming a fundraising committee Chair…right? Well, not necessarily. Leaders build consensus, leaders listen. Leaders know when to take charge, and know when to follow. In a volunteer situation, everyone has dedicated a lot of time and effort to your cause. If the leadership doesn’t value the myriad perspectives around the table, your committee will be on the fast-track to dissolution (there are no financial ties that bind – and that makes it pretty easy to walk away). Look for volunteers who can inspire and motivate a group, who will be tactful and diplomatic, and who will turn ideas into action. Be wary of the leader who seems to be looking for glory or having her name in lights.
Lastly, what’s a good committee composition? Strong leadership (with an eye on succession planning) is the starting point. From there, you want to surround this person with a mix of skill sets, behaviours and connections to your cause. Do you want a committee composed solely of people who have benefited from your organization? Probably not. But having at least one “client” voice on the committee is likely a great idea. Just as you would hire a staff team, think about the professional skills, personal competencies, values and voices that you want at the committee table. Most fundraising committees require financial acumen, influential networks, tact and confidentiality, passion for your mission, and values that align with your organization’s core values. It’s tempting to jump at the chance for any volunteer help, but taking a methodical approach and doing your due diligence will pay off in the end.
A few tips:
- Create robust and inspiring “Committee Member Expectations” document. Be clear from the outset on what’s expected.
- Vet potential volunteer names with staff, Board members, industry peers. Fact-find on skills and competencies, reputation, and credibility.
- Do the back-office functions! Don’t rely on your volunteers to write letters, send mail, keep spreadsheets, track actions, etc. Staff should support volunteers at every step of the way so you can keep volunteers focused on what’s most important: meeting new friends and raising money.
- Say thank you. Most committee members don’t want gifts, but everyone loves a thank you. Consider sending monthly success emails to your volunteer committees, keeping them engaged in your success while celebrating the people who helped you achieve it. Every now and then, send an email (or better yet, write a card) to say thanks and to share some good news. Don’t forget to value your volunteers as much as you value your donors.
Do you have any great volunteer committee stories to share? What has worked for you? What has your organization accomplished with the help of volunteers/ Share your thoughts in the comment section below!