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July 19, 2024

Writer and social critic Alice Dunbar Nelson was born in 1875 and helped shaped the Harlem Renaissance.

FUNdraising Good Times

POSTED: March 10, 2017, 11:00 am

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A well-run volunteer management program can change the life of your nonprofit. Most leaders know this and yearn for a team they can depend on. At the same time most delay engaging volunteers because “it’s a lot of work.” That’s the truth. But, it’s also true that an investment in volunteers will leverage the work of your organization in ways you can’t yet imagine.

There are two key principles that are the foundation of a successful volunteer engagement program. First, recruit leadership-level volunteers using the same care and thoughtfulness you would when engaging a major donor. Second, once recruited, ask volunteers to operate at the highest level. Here are some details.

Inquiry. Begin your volunteer recruitment process by asking questions. What do you want volunteers to accomplish? Clearly articulate what you want to achieve, and what you believe it will take to reach those results. Continue the inquiry process by asking people who they believe could be an ideal volunteer.

Research. Once you have a pool of prospective volunteers, research who they are. Take time to learn about each person as an individual. What are his or her interests, passions, experiences? Why would he or she want to volunteer for your organization? You want to find people who believe in the vision and goals of the organization, and who are passionate about your work. You want people with specific skills and a track record of successful volunteer work. You also want to engage people who will provide resources and financial support for the volunteer program. Most importantly, seek out those who will make a commitment – both short and long term – to complete the task or responsibility you ask them to take on.

Preparation. If you have a case for support for your organization, use that when preparing to meet with potential volunteers. Update the “call to action” to speak to potential volunteers. List the types of volunteer opportunities available, the time commitment, and the impact you expect to make as a result of volunteer engagement.

Cultivate. As you begin to engage potential volunteers take the time to cultivate them and educate them on the work of your organization and what you are trying to achieve. Before your meeting, make sure you know exactly what you want a potential volunteer to do. Be prepared with a suggested project or role. And, as with fundraising, don’t forget to make the ask.

Job description. Once an individual commits to volunteering, ask what they believe would be the best way to approach the work you have asked them to take on. Using their thoughts and your earlier work in defining what you want to accomplish, create a “job description” that communicates their roles and responsibilities. Share this with each volunteer. This is the beginning of creating open lines of mutual communication.

Investing in leadership-volunteers is an investment in your organization and those you serve. Treat each with the level of professionalism that you expect from them. You will be amazed by what they can achieve.

Copyright 2017 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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