Until now, my list of resolutions fundraisers cannot break in 2012 has been filled with strategies for making change in your personal and professional life so that you can accomplish something great – your big hairy audacious goal. Self-transformation is at the heart of most resolutions, and it’s the challenge that makes keeping resolutions so difficult. But I don’t want this list to be all about self-transformation, for clearly there are important things in our organizations we should try to change as well. These are things that have the potential to make our fundraising programs stronger, contribute to our profession, and add value in the nonprofit sector.
Those of you who dislike any discussion of “self-transformation” may now breathe a sigh of relief.
Resolution #6 that fundraising professionals cannot break this year is to “Walk the talk” by giving time (as a volunteer), giving money (as a donor), and/or serving on a nonprofit board. I know it is difficult, when you live and breathe fundraising in your professional life, to consider adding volunteer activities like board service to your list of personal commitments. But there are many benefits to doing so.
First and foremost, there is mission benefit. A cause you personally care about will be advanced because of your time, your money, and your expertise. But, beyond that, there is a tremendous professional benefit that you and your organization will receive in the form of learning, growing, and relating to your donors, volunteers, and board members.
How much of your day do you spend complaining (verbally or just mentally) because you’re not getting the response you want and need from your donors, volunteers, and board members? Like when one or two board members won’t return your calls, and you can’t schedule an important group meeting until they do. You may think, “I would never behave like that.” And you may be right. But I find I am better at keeping these challenges in perspective when I’ve experienced it from the other side.
The Volunteer Perspective
Volunteers asking frequent questions can be annoying when your plate is full with many work-related commitments. But think back, if you can, to a time when you were a volunteer. You probably wanted to do a good job. You didn’t have much background, and maybe the instructions weren’t 100% clear. You probably thought it better to ask and do the job right than to assume and disappoint. Considering my own volunteer experience helps me think about ways to better prepare for volunteers. Whenever possible, I try to provide an example of the final product so my volunteers will know what the project they are working on is supposed to look like. I try to check in regularly to answer questions that come up so they don’t sit there feeling frustrated. And I make sure I tell my volunteers where the bathroom is.
The Board Perspective:
If you’ve ever served on a board, you know that receiving meeting information at the last minute is a serious problem. A good board member should read and prepare, and last minute information doesn’t leave time for it. Now, you may be thinking, “They never prepare for meetings anyway, so why bother.” And there are many board members who don’t prepare. But, I promise you, this issue feels different when you’re the one trying to fit board service into your life. I really detest taking my valuable time to attend a board meeting where I don’t know what’s on the agenda and where I’ll be asked to help make decisions that will affect the organization without having had time to appropriately consider the issue. Knowing how this feels contributes to the strength of my commitment to do it right. And your organization will be able to attract and retain stronger board members if you commit to following best practices like sending out agendas and background information at least one week in advance.
The Donor Perspective:
Donors often insist on a very narrow use of their donations, making it difficult for fundraisers who need to raise unrestricted dollars. We may understand this behavior better if we make a substantial gift ourselves. When it’s your hard earned money and you give it to a cause, what do you want to know about how it will be used? What would make you decide to trust the organization to decide where the money will do the most good? It is much easier to think like a donor if you are a donor. And when you think like a donor, you may be able to make changes within your organization that will inspire more people to give unrestricted money.
I believe that donors, volunteers, and board members can feel your sincerity and your empathy. This goes a long way to encouraging their desire to get involved, stay involved, and give more time and money. Volunteers and donors are not a means to an end. They are generous people with legitimate questions and concerns who mean well. When we understand their perspective better, we can tweak our organizations to make it easier for them to be involved, to give, and to be satisfied in helping us pursue our mission.