Previously, we described how to mobilize a Capacity Building Leadership Team and Strategic Action committees to build a nonprofit’s capacity. Some Orange County hospitals and performing arts organizations have dozens of committees and guilds, staffed by hundreds of volunteers, implementing a wide variety of capacity building strategies and events for the benefit of their nonprofit. This letter discusses how you can enroll more volunteers in the capacity building efforts of your nonprofit.
There are at least three reasons why people are likely to join a working committee in a nonprofit. First, they are good at and enjoy doing the type of work that they are being asked to do. Second, they enjoy being with the people that they will be working with. And lastly, they are doing it for a cause that resonates with their value system. Where do you find people whose personal interests fit well with the needs of your capacity building working committees?
The first place to look is among people who already have a working relationship with your nonprofit as Board members, employees, clients, suppliers, partners and volunteers. Most of these contacts already know and believe in your cause, and probably enjoy working with some of the people in your nonprofit. A second source is anyone that you know who enjoys your company. You are already satisfying one of their needs. In fact, anyone enrolled in your capacity building program might be persuaded to launch an effort to recruit some of their associates if you showed them how to do it in a friendly and easy way.
Make your recruiters aware of the fact that half of the adults in the U.S. do volunteer work. The average volunteer donates eight hours of volunteer effort per month. There are ten volunteers for every paid employee in the nonprofit sector. In aggregate, volunteers do one third of the work of the nonprofit sector. Half of the people that any of your recruiters know are probably volunteers at some nonprofit.
The process begins with a recruiter’s conversation with each of their contacts. Find out which of their associates are already volunteering. The most recruitable people are the 50% who already have the values that lead them to do volunteer work. Find out what each of these volunteers do as volunteers, what they like and don’t like about what they do, and why. This conversation about getting to know all your associates as volunteers can be a safe and enjoyable way of adding an interesting new dimension to everyone’s relationships.
When a recruiter finds a person who likes to do the kind of volunteer work that fits well with your nonprofit’s cause and needs, tell them about your nonprofit’s mission and programs, and of its need for a volunteer that matches their friend’s profile. Invite the prospect to a committee meeting, and if it seems to be a good fit, ask them to join the committee. Research on volunteers indicates that if you ask people in your personal network to volunteer to do something that they like to do, 50% of them will accept the invitation. But you have to ask.
Once they have agreed to join your capacity building effort, you need to give your new committee member some sort of orientation to help them be productive in their new role. For a committee that is just forming, the process described in our first letter might suffice for people familiar with your nonprofit. For all other situations, an orientation process and manual is probably needed. It is also helpful to ask an experienced and productive member to personally mentor a new member into becoming a productive member of their working committee.
One thing seems clear: if a nonprofit does not take the time to orient volunteers in the role that they are supposed to play, it is not likely to get much from the volunteer. All too often, a nonprofit succeeds in getting someone to join its Board or a committee, but does little else to prepare the person to contribute. Then the nonprofit wonders why everyone is so passive, doing little more than making a few comments in the meetings that they do attend.
Lastly, it is important to continually nurture working committee members. Volunteers want to feel good about their donation of time. One way of insuring this is to involve them in the planning process, letting them decide how they want to contribute. Another might be to have monthly meetings where volunteers can build relationships one another, can talk about and be recognized for their contributions, and can discuss issues and ideas. Another might be to publish a monthly capacity building progress report for the nonprofit, to make them proud of all the progress that they are helping their nonprofit realize. Another might be to survey the volunteers to find out what is satisfying and not satisfying them, and doing something to improve volunteer satisfaction.
Organizations with nothing but volunteers, like SCORE and the Executive Coaches of Orange County, do most of these things in an effort to keep their valuable volunteer resources involved and energized. It not unusual for satisfied volunteers to invest increasing amounts of effort in their nonprofit, leading to them accepting larger responsibilities as Committee or Board Chairs, or even Executive Director.
Another good way of finding volunteers is though organizational alliances. We will present some ideas for implementing this strategy in the next letter.