A basic truism about fundraising volunteers

horse to waterI believe it is a basic truism that you can’t make people do anything they don’t want to do. Every example I can think of ends up not working.
As a nation, we tried to force people to stop drinking (when they didn’t want to) by passing a constitutional amendment banning alcohol. The result? A black market and the rise of Al Capone.
Tell someone to stop smoking or lose weight (when they don’t want to) and it might result in short-term results, but the relapse rate in the long run is high.
While I’m sure there are exceptions to what I am calling a truism, I think I am more on the right track than the wrong track with this belief.
So, if you’re buying what I’m selling this morning, I have one simple question for you:

“Why do so many of us try to force non-profit board members to do fundraising when they tell us that they are strongly opposed to do it?”

I know, I know. We do it because many of our fundraising models need volunteers to be involved in order for it to work. Obviously, another basic truism in fundraising is that “people give to people.
However, I still go back to where I started . . . forcing people to do what they don’t want to do is a recipe for failure.
So, what is the solution?
In my opinion, the answer can be found in the old Texas two-step:

  1. Stop recruiting people to do things they don’t want to do
  2. Start engaging people in honest discussions about what they do want to do

birds of a featherBoard Development
There have been many blog posts written on this subject, but it is time to stop agreeing with what is written and start putting those thoughts into action.
Your board development and recruitment process must include honesty, transparency and a number of tools that set expectations before a volunteer is asked to say “YES” to joining your board.
If someone wants to join your board but doesn’t have the stomach for fundraising, then you need to find another role for them in your organization (e.g. program volunteer, committee work, etc).
This type of strategic focus in recruiting like-minded people when it comes to fundraising will help solve your problem because you’ll no longer be forcing people to do what they don’t want to do.
your seat on the busResource Development Plan
Unfortunately, this board development strategy won’t be enough to completely solve your problem.
Because not everyone around your boardroom table will be comfortable participating in every aspect of your fundraising program.
Some people are drawn to planning parties (e.g. special event fundraisers). Other people are attracted to your pledge drive and sitting down face-to-face with their friends to ask for money. There are also be a number of people who appear to disdain traditional fundraising activities, but who are open-minded to opening doors, going on donor solicitation visits (as long as you do the talking and asking), and various other stewardship activities.
The reality of the situation is that you need people to do all of these things in order for your fundraising program to be successful.
This is where involving everyone in writing your annual resource development plan comes into play.
Getting everyone involved in the planning process is akin to asking them to choose which seat on the bus they want to sit.  In doing so, you avoid the pitfall of arm twisting and making people do what they don’t want to do (which never works and is where we started in the first paragraph of this blog post)
So, there you have it! Your agency’s fundraising problem is solved.  😉
Good luck rolling out this two-part strategy and please circle back to this space to let me know how it works out for you.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Thank you Eric for this honest and focused concept. And thank you for bringing clarity to this issue. I agree and have been “swimming against the current” on this topic for some time. I find it much more pleasant to admit to the truth of this than to fight it- as much of the fundraising speak is focused on the idea that “everone must fundraise”.
    The reality is not everyone will want ot be the “sqaure peg in the round hole”. This leads to frustration and burnout, on BOTH the staff and the volunteer side.
    Thank you for you insight. Oh and by the way, I have this picture in my head of you doing the Texas 2 Step now after this column! Oh boy!

    1. Thanks for the comment Kelley. Your feedback and wise words (and wise cracks) are always welcome here. 😉 I especially agree with your observation about burnout when it comes to forcing round pegs into square holes. Thanks for sharing and I hope to see more from you in the future.
      Hope all is well!

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