Seven Strategies for Mobilizing your Volunteers and Board in Producing Stellar Events

By Susan Fields, CFRE

AFP-NYC EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
Thursday Morning, July 26, 2018, Scandinavia House, New York City

"Every element of producing an event is a team fundraising process, so the ‘kick off’ and meetings are all about strategy.”

Laurie Krotman , Founder and Co-President, Special Events Unlimited, Inc. 

"Keep your committee and board focused on fundraising as their most important role.”

Roberta Kaplan , Director, Major Gifts, The Forward Association 

“Continue to grow your committee so the more senior members can motivate the newcomers with success stories.”

Dan Latore, Executive Director, The Skin Cancer Foundation 

“The committee and board’s interest in your organization’s need for the funds being raised is where it happens.”

Melissa Saul, Senior Development Director, The Skin Cancer Foundation  

“Once the committee and board begin to experience success in their fundraising, they become more motivated.”

Kathleen Chambard, Board of Directors, The Forward Association 

 

As fundraisers we all know how important special events can be in building relationships for our organizations. Although notoriously labor intensive, properly strategized they are invaluable in building enthusiasm for your nonprofit’s mission. In addition, they can raise a great deal of money, upgrade existing donors, and forge a stronger bond with volunteers, board members, and the surrounding community. The most important step in launching a special event is gaining the support of your board and putting together a team of dedicated volunteers who will provide the work and contacts necessary to produce an event that is both a “friendraiser” and a fundraiser.

Following these SEVEN STRATEGIES FOR MOBILIZING YOUR VOLUNTEERS AND BOARD should go a long way in assisting your nonprofit in organizing events that are sustainable and increasingly successful.

1. Clearly define the role of your committee. - Unless your non-profit is run entirely by volunteers, it is most likely that the planning of your special events will be almost entirely staff driven with volunteers and board members primarily responsible for fundraising. Among a myriad of other tasks, it is the role of staff to make this expectation clear to potential volunteers and follow through by assisting them in soliciting both personal and staff-assigned prospects for support.

2. Determine the purpose, goals, and budget of your event prior to the first committee meeting.  Appointing event co-chairs and including them in planning alongside staff is a perfect way to set-up a team dynamic with volunteer leadership running the meetings and acting as advocates for the strategies set up in collaboration with staff. This will provide your committee with a predictable structure to work within as well as the confidence that they will receive professional support in succeeding in their role as fundraisers. 

3. Provide committee members with the tools they will need to fundraise.  Consider yourself as a patient and encouraging personal coach. Provide your volunteer team with “sales kits” including sample letters, emails, event invitations, brochures, a list of sponsorship opportunities, talking points, etc. Training sessions in how to solicit a gift along with role-playing sessions can be invaluable in overcoming the discomfort many volunteers have in asking for money. Staff may even consider writing personal letters tailored to the needs of specific volunteers in communicating with prospects.

4. Keep meetings interesting, informative, accessible in terms of time and location, and on track!  Because cross discussions peripheral to the purpose and goals of the event can boondoggle your meetings, prepare the agenda with the co-chairs prior to the meeting with the opportunity to discuss “other matters” as the last item on the list. Meetings should not exceed an hour and be at a time and location that is most user-friendly for your committee. Some organizations have replaced meetings with in-person conference calls; however, keep in mind the culture of your volunteers, as some groups actually look forward to face-to-face meetings as a form of socialization and active involvement.

5. Consider your committee and its co-chairs as a valued “sales force” that requires support and reinforcement. Send them regular emails updating the progress of ticket sales, sponsorships, journal advertisement sales, and anything new and interesting. Don’t hesitate to make a phone call to check in on how they are doing, congratulate them on a successful ask, or to give them support when they may be feeling discouraged. A volunteer stewardship event following the “big event” is an effective means of expressing appreciation and maximizes the chances of members remaining on the committee.

6. Consider your board as an extension of the event committee.  Encourage one or more members to join the team so they can advocate for the event at board meetings. In many organizations the Advancement Director reports  directly to the board and encourages members to purchase tables and provide contact lists for event gift solicitations.  Also consider holding a “kick off” evening hosted by the board inviting former sponsors, committee members, and other major players in your nonprofit and community. 

7. Utilize your volunteers and board on the evening of the event. Remember—it’s not over once you have filled the room, printed the journal, and exceeded your fundraising goals. Assign volunteers and board members to welcome guests at the door, “work the room” visiting tables, and network to learn who might be attracted to supporting your organization in the future. These tasks also instill a sense of pride and ownership on the part of the board and committee. 

 

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