As an experienced business coach and someone who supports her local community, I have, over the years, worked on a number of Boards and Committees. This market segment is a huge area and has a huge variety within it. Some charities and NFPs (Not for Profits) are enormous, with massive financial support and extensive resources. Other organisations barely survive on a wafer-thin budget.
Here are my top tips. I appreciate larger organisations will be able to implement better than others, though hopefully some great tips for all – big and small.
Think like a business
Many business principles transfer directly across to the charity sector. If you’re trying to get people to buy tickets to a gala dinner or selling raffle tickets, then business marketing principles apply. The biggest principle is that people cannot buy what they don’t know about. My favourite expression is “You can’t sell a secret”. You have to get the word out there using every means possible. Many smaller organisations do not have a database, do not have a marketing strategy and particularly when it comes to asking for sponsorship or a donation will, at times, turn up with a hat in hand and a little more. I’m sorry to be so direct, but (just like business) you have competition. You are not the only group out there selling event tickets, raffle tickets, sausages at the local hardware or asking for a donation. If you are asking for sponsorship, do you have a sponsorship kit or prospectus which clearly outlines what the sponsor will get for their dollars? Whilst some sponsors will give purely based on the feel-good component, others want (or need) to justify the expense.
Never underestimate the value of your network. Ask people you know (particularly who you know have a great network themselves) to spread the word, mention your event in their newsletter or help promote it in some way. One rule about asking for help (I teach business owners the same thing) … if you are going to ask someone to do something for you (a favour) make it easy for them. Don’t tell them to go to the website and get all the information. Instead, ask them how they’d like it and give it to them. Don’t make it hard for someone to do you a favour – otherwise, quite simply, they won’t.
Volunteers – getting them on board
Every organisation should know why their volunteers are with them. Not assume, but ask. For some volunteers, it might be ‘padding’ their resume, for others it’s the feel-good of helping their community and for others it might be spending time with people, feeling useful, learning new skills or some other reason. It’s worth knowing so as to understand what motivates people when it comes to getting them to help.
Once you have an idea of what motivates them, then it’s about addressing that potential motivation in other prospective volunteers. This is now where you have to put on your marketing hat. As a charity organisation; you are selling not once but twice. Firstly, just to get a team on board to do things but then later to get people to buy tickets or donate.
A global “we need helpers” may elicit one or two responses but rarely works well. What works much better is a personal invitation to a specific person. You may have to invite them a few times. People are busy, but we all know the expression: “want something done, give it to a busy person”. If someone gives an emphatic ‘no’ – that is not a ‘No’ forever, just for now. If they say no, ask permission to ask them again perhaps in a year – that is so long off, they will likely agree. Diarise that to ensure it happens. If every member asked just one person, the law of averages would mean that you would have a good chance of getting more on board. Like business, be sure to follow up (personally) with each person to see if you can get them to come back (or better, sign up). The other thing I’ve noticed is that when you’re asked to do something, rarely is there any information about what you’re being asked to do (aka Job Description). I believe some people are worried it will be too much so it’s just easier to say no before having all the information to make an informed decision. Be clear what your expectations are and if there is going to be support in the role, be clear about that also.
How to ‘manage’ your volunteers
Three things should be happening with volunteers. Firstly, they should be valued. Whether they can give a half hour or a full week, they need to feel appreciated. If you are the leader in the organisation be sure members feel appreciated, enjoy their experience ‘working’ in the organisation and feel they are being heard. I’m not saying every idea has to be implemented but it should certainly be appreciated.
Volunteers should be suitably trained. I know some of you have super tight budgets but it doesn’t make sense to have someone doing a task who is at best floundering, or at worse, sinking at a rate of knots. This training should include workplace health and safety as well. You certainly have a responsibility to ensure all workers (voluntary or paid) are covered under WorkCover and are provided with a safe working environment.
Members’ time should be respected. The best committee meetings I have attended are those which are short and sharp. One particular meeting I chair is done before another meeting that most of us attend. Our meeting runs for 20 minutes. We turn up on time, we start on time and it’s quick and fast. Another I attend, the Chairman is also excellent – very clear, decisive and keeps the focus on the task at hand. All know to be on time. All Executive know to be prepared with their reports and we are out of there in an hour. Meetings don’t need to (and should not) go on for hours and hours. If there is a social component to meetings; have that at the end with a cuppa and cake for those who want/can stay on and be social.
Getting volunteers to stay involved and engaged
If the workload is a struggle, or people are not signing up to sub-committees or rosters, then two things will need to happen. The first may be to connect (personal touch again) and see how ‘non-active’ people are going. Maybe they have big things happening in their life at moment, or maybe they have just changed their email address.
The next thing is to consider if you have enough members. Do you need to have a drive for more members?
Getting members to be involved is another area which is a tough one at times. Again, asking people personally but never confrontationally. If they feel hassled or you are ‘guilting’ them, then chances are they just won’t come to the next meeting. If you’re going to do it during the meeting, be sure it’s done well – for example, “Donna, you’re great with marketing, would you be able to help out on our major fundraiser in November?” Only the most experienced can get away with this strategy; often a personal chat with the person before or after the meeting is the best strategy. The point is, asking personally.
If you are going to ask people to access an online roster – then you need to be pushing that link and request to people regularly. Expecting them to find the link, go to the website or take action – well you’re just making it too hard. They will forget, not get around to it, or just ignore. You must also remember (especially if they haven’t had training) that everyone has different levels of IT skill and comfort – maybe they haven’t actioned because quite simply they didn’t know how. Realise too that so many emails end up in spam boxes as well. For many reasons, the personal approach always elicits a better response. If it’s too much work to ask everyone personally, perhaps get the Executive to break up the member’s list and each tackle a few. Spreading the work makes it easier.
One of the worse things about most small community groups is the lack of records and details. I’ve walked into organisations who don’t know if they are GST registered or who is on the signature register. The reality is that many of these organisations are run by an aging and retired population. Unfortunately, people get sick or very sadly pass on. I know one Charity whose bookkeeper passed away. They didn’t know the password to the MYOB file or where anything was at. Like business, records should be kept, systems documented and when there is a changeover of committee, there must be a handover. Out with the old and in with the new can be very tumultuous, if not handled well. The best time to plan for this situation is well before anything happens – adopting the ‘Boy Scout Motto’.
Grants & Funding
As a NFP you have access to a number of grants and Government funding (sometimes more than general business) so make a point of investigating what your options are. There are numerous websites with information on them, mailing lists you can subscribe to. I know a great sports and community grants writer – if you need a connection; let me know. However, I should point out, this is their business – so they generally charge a fee. Alternatively, you may need to learn how to apply for your own grants. At times, I know there are workshops around – some no charge and some have a fee associated.
Plan for the worse, hope for the best
In Committee meetings we all focus on raising funds or dealing with day to day activities, however, consideration should be given to planning for the future. A SWOT analysis should be done and if there are any weaknesses identified (or threats) these should be realistically addressed as soon as possible. It’s important that Minutes reflect follow-up activities and the Chair ensures these items do not get lost or disappear off the Agenda. Often sub-committees are effective in larger groups to keep momentum. Perhaps for your next meeting, print off a SWOT analysis sheet (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you need one. Give them to each person at the meeting and have 15 minutes of quiet work time for everyone to complete. The results can be compiled later and discussed at the next meeting, along with a course of proposed action.
Charities and Not for Profits provide an amazing service to our communities – whether you are feeding the hungry, helping youth or are a local Chamber – you do great work. Do your SWOT analysis and see where you are lacking. From there, take action to help your organisation grow and become stronger and more sustainable. Please also feel free to share the link to this article with others in the NFP/Charity section. Share the word and help those who help others, to help themselves. (Wow, that was a helpful sentence!) Good luck!
For more business tips, check out my business coaching page.
Read a relevant article about Delegating Effectively in Your Business.