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Successful Volunteer-Only Philanthropies Have These Three Things in Common

What defines a volunteer-only organization?

No one gets paid to mail letters, solicit donations, or ensure hotel staff has turned on the house sound. All of this is done by passionate people who may never have done this work before.

In fact, most volunteers are learning on the job…except, there’s no paycheck! If the volunteers don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

Passion, and….

Volunteer-only organizations are usually united by a common experience, a deeply held belief, or a hoped-for outcome.

Each member is deeply dedicated. Many are working full-time jobs, which limits their time. Others are retired from well-staffed corporations and find the pace frustrating. Together, however, these non-profit groups move toward a common goal.

Some are more effective than others. They take care of the essentials (somehow) and re-energize around the vision and impact.

Shared Essentials of Successful Volunteer-Only Philanthropies

Here are three shared essentials – all pragmatic – which you can implement today to improve your chances of success:

Essential Trait #1: Ensure compliance.

Yes, even in the middle of saving the world, someone – ideally a volunteer from the legal sector –  must ensure your IRS status is up to date, your audits are clean, and your thank you letters are going out on time.

Essential Trait #2: Make “Just in Time” Your Mantra

In 1989, for one year, I was a business reporter for the Southwest Times Record. In an interview with a distribution warehouse manager, I learned a phrase which he claimed originated in Japan and is commonplace today: “Just in Time.” Use what you have today, and don’t order anything new until there’s a demand.

“Just in Time,” I believe, is the mantra of successful volunteer-run organizations. Do what you know how to do today so you can successfully raise funds necessary to fuel your mission.

For example, every volunteer-only organization needs someone who is masterful in Word and Excel, or they should request a “loaned employee” from a volunteer’s business.

Why would any organization use Excel and Word when they can download Salesforce for Nonprofits free of charge, or log into an on-line fundraising program for $99 per month?

The reality is that while someone is learning this complex system, no one is tracking donations, sending thank you letters, or encouraging board members to make their fundraising calls. And, what happens when your trained volunteer leaves?

Essential Trait #3: Recruit new volunteers to fill identifiable gaps

As I write this blog, several of my volunteer friends have identified skill-specific gaps among their passionate boards: Legal oversight, graphic design, and webpage updates, to name a few.

Clearly, everyone agrees these needs exist, but knowing there’s a need is simply not enough.

There are two obvious options: Contract out this work as soon as possible, and, concurrently, work to recruit volunteers into these roles for the future.

How to Recruit for Skill-based Volunteer Positions

  • Create a list of nominees based on the gaps your organization has today. Make calls to set up meetings.
  • Honestly explain the challenges. Highlight that there is no paid staff – that the job cannot be handed off to anyone else.
  • And, ask the most important question: “Would you join us in our important work knowing your key role is to do this work?”

If you’re volunteering today – spending your precious time, talent, and treasure – for a cause which provides no paid support staff, thank you! Here’s a video I’ve done on how to stay optimistic!

“The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville,
Democracy in America

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