Energizing your volunteer leadership

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A special column for executive directors and college presidents

“I guess I’ll have to do it myself. I can’t depend on anyone. People say they want to help, but...”

If you find yourself doubting the power, ability and leverage that volunteer leaders provide we ask you to think again.

Yes, it takes consistent time and energy to work with volunteer leaders. You have to keep them informed and up-to-date. Many will want to talk with you by phone. Some want to meet in person. Others will offer ideas that have already been investigated and eliminated. Some will share stories of “how things used to be,” and others may not really understand the priorities of your organization or institution.

That’s all part of life and part of engaging volunteers. There is no magic wand you can wave so that people instantly know what you are thinking and strategizing, questioning and pondering. In most cases, your leadership won’t pick up the phone and offer solutions to challenges they don’t even know you are grappling with.

You have to allocate and schedule time to work with leadership level volunteers. Put it on your calendar: time to work with volunteers can’t be “squeezed” in between meetings, or after events. When you are working with qualified volunteer leaders you are investing your time in ways that will multiply your efforts exponentially. But you have to invest consistently. And you have to respond quickly when your leadership opens doors and secures opportunities.

Here are 10 specific ways you can energize your volunteer leadership.

  1. Have a clear, concise and compelling case for support. That’s a “deck,” brochure, or short PowerPoint that clearly communicates what you are selling in the philanthropic marketplace. Otherwise known as “what are you raising money for?”

  2. Develop and share well defined roles and responsibilities for each volunteer. People need to know what they are responsible for, what is expected of them, and how they can take coordinated action on behalf of your organization.
  3. Take the time to account for volunteer hours. Establish a way to record and account for volunteer hours. Show the value of these when telling the story of your organization or institution. For example, “volunteers provide 180,000 hours of volunteer service each year.”
  4. Think outside the box. Take the time to strategize on how to engage leadership-level volunteers in ways that are exciting, creative and fun.
  5. Develop your plans. Make sure you have a well defined strategic plan, business plan, and fund development plan. If you don’t have these, engage your leadership in developing them. Some people focus on these aspects of business 24 hours a day and may be more than happy to help you develop or refine yours.
  6. Be prepared to support your volunteer leadership. When volunteers know they will be supported by responsive, experienced and skilled support staff they are more willing to extend themselves and their networks. Prioritize responsiveness to volunteers as part of your staff’s responsibilities.
  7. Make sure you have recruited the right volunteers. If you are asking your volunteer leadership to raise significant funds, or help facilitate partnerships, make sure the volunteers you are depending on are the right people. Success requires the right match between individual and responsibility. When you want to engage your community’s stakeholders be sure your volunteer leadership is comprised of people of power, wealth and influence.
  8. Keep an open mind. Volunteers will bring new ideas and new ways of doing things. They are giving of their time and talents because they believe in what you are seeking to accomplish. When the culture of your organization is open and accepting of new ideas you just may find your leadership is more engaged.
  9. Leaderships attract leaders. Take a look at your organization and honestly assess the caliber of your organization’s leadership. “Are the right people in the right seats on the bus?” Do you have strong, stable and knowledgeable executive leadership? Volunteers may think twice about extending your network if they don’t feel confident in your organization’s leadership.
  10. Say thank you, often. “Thank you” makes the world go round. Take the time to put place a meaningful acknowledgment and recognition program in place to honor your volunteer leadership. Implement it consistently.

There really are people who want to support you and who believe in you. No one of us can do it alone. Take the time to invest in your volunteers and you just may find you have a core of energized individuals who are strengthening your organization or university in ways that you could not anticipate.

Copyright 2018 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw believe in the power of volunteer leadership. If you want help growing your fundraising, call them at (901) 522-8727 or  visit www.saadandshaw.com.

Images courtesy of 123RF.com

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