Every non-profit fundraising event needs clowns

Clown_chili_peppersI’ve seen it happen way too often. A fundraising professional or the executive director says to a group of people — using at a board meeting — something like this: “We need volunteers to help with our special event fundraiser. Who can help?” At first, there is an awkward silence and no hands go up. Then there are a few reluctant hands. Whenever I see this happen, I’m always left wondering if those were the right people for the job and how many of those people are clowns?

Before starting this post, let me just say that my point of view on this issue is obvious . . . stop using group recruiting techniques to recruit people for tasks that require specific skill sets. You are only setting yourself up for lots of grief and possibly failure.

With this being said, the following is a traditional list of characteristics for special event volunteers:

  • Familiar with and passionate about your mission, vision and programs
  • Possess time and willing to use that time to plan and execute the event
  • Have large networks (hopefully ones that don’t overlap too much with the other volunteers on the committee)
  • Willing to ask others for money (e.g. selling sponsorships and tickets)
  • Works well with others (e.g. good listen, not abrasive, demonstrates teamwork)
  • Has a track record of following through on what they commit to doing
  • Well organized

I’ve rolled with this short list for years and it hasn’t failed me.

I use the aforementioned list to identify and target prospective volunteers. I also use the list to develop written volunteer job descriptions. I’ve shares it with volunteers on the recruitment call because I commonly get asked “Why are you asking me to do this?” and I simply tell them that they possess all of these characteristics.

However, I’ve had this nagging feeling for years that something is missing from this list, and I put my finger on it just the other day.

bleachersI was sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. I was there with my father and my partner. The quality of baseball on the field was terrible, there was a constant drizzle of rain falling from the sky, and the fans were obviously getting antsy. Suddenly, one of the fans got to his feet and yelled at the top of his lungs:

“Hey everybody!
Right field sucks!”

He started chanting over and over again “Right field sucks! Right field sucks!” until other fans joined in.

As this played out in front of me, my first thought was “Hey, sit down! Some of us are trying to watch some bad baseball here!” but then it dawned on me. It was a big AH-HA moment.

There are people like this is every crowd. They love attention. They need to be at the center of the action. In grade school, they were the class clown. As adults, they are just clowns.

I don’t mean this in a bad way. These people are outgoing, love being around other people (aka well-networked) and love a good party (regardless of whether it is a baseball game or your agency’s special event fundraiser).

So, on a go-forward basis I plan on amending my special event volunteer list of characteristics to include: “clown“.

bleachers2I’m sure some of you are probably skeptical and for good reason. I mean how crazy and distracting would it be to have a committee of people who all want to be the center of attention. Crazy . . . I’m sure! However, I can’t help but dream about the type of event those folks would build in the name of securing more recognition and attention all to benefit my agency.

I suspect that with a little guidance (and after all isn’t guidance your role as a non-profit professional) this strategy could pay off in a big way.

Regardless, anything will be better than asking people to put their hands up and volunteer.

What characteristics and skill sets do you look for when recruiting volunteers to help plan and implement your agency’s special event fundraisers? What has been your experience with recruiting clowns? Please scroll down and share your experiences in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

The Sounds of Annual Campaign Planning: Part 1

Labor Day has come and gone. I guess we can’t wear white again until the spring?!?! And Halloween merchandise is all over the place. This year — 2011 — will be over before any of us realize. Has your non-profit organization started its annual campaign planning process? If not, you better get moving and do so fast!

I love this time of the year!!! So, in honor of starting the 2012 annual campaign planning season, I am dedicating all of this week’s blog posts to the planning process. AND I’ve decided to put it all to music just to make it a little fun. Today’s post focuses on the volunteer identification and recruitment part of the annual campaign planning process.

Cue the music . . . click here for your first musical selection about volunteers and then start reading.  🙂

Annual campaigns that rely on face-to-face solicitation (compared to direct mail and ePhilanthropy) need volunteers to make this campaign vehicle go anywhere. Staff cannot go out and solicit by themselves because: 1) there are only so many hours in a day and 2) volunteers have far more credibility because they aren’t seen as “fundraising their salary” like paid-staff can sometime be perceived as doing. (Note: I didn’t say staff cannot solicit because I believe their butts need to be firmly planted in the chair next to a volunteer during most solicitation meetings)

So, let’s begin with volunteer recruitment as we start down the planning road. First, identify and recruit campaign leadership (these are the people who will help you with campaign planning), then recruit all the other volunteers (aka volunteer solicitors) later on (e.g. December and January). Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind as you start:

  • Start off by writing job descriptions for each of your volunteer opportunities.
  • Use the written job descriptions to build a prospect list for each position you need to fill. This will help you better understand what types of skill sets you’re looking for in certain individuals. You will find great prospects among your board of directors, volunteers, and donors. You don’t just want warm bodies.
  • Use the written job descriptions to recruit volunteers. This will help you better communicate to prospects what you need them to do. It helps set expectations upfront and avoid misunderstanding. If you get a ‘NO’, celebrate the answer (in private) because they couldn’t help you and you just avoided lots of heartache and pain. Did I mention that you don’t just want warm bodies.
  • Get organized and on the same page once you get everyone recruited. Have a short orientation meeting. Explain to everyone where they’re going. Take the opportunity to have everyone pull out their calendars and coordinate meeting dates/times that fit into everyone’s schedule. Urge them to INK those commitments.
  • Keep in mind that volunteers are NOT meant to just be a rubber stamp. Please be genuine and engage volunteers in making key campaign decisions as you head down the planning road. No one has time to waste by sitting in meetings to just “validate” a written plan that staff has already written.
  • Keep in mind that volunteers will NOT do this work by themselves. Staff play a valuable role in supporting and guiding any volunteer planning group. So, come prepared to paint the picture by providing data, weigh-in with different suggestions, and be able to explain pros and cons of behind each decision.

Successfully recruiting your campaign leadership to participate in the planning process ensures “buy-in” and “engagement”. It also guarantees that staff will not find themselves on an island all by themselves in the middle of the campaign.

Recruiting the right people lays a perfect transformative foundation for any annual campaign. Jim Collins  (author of “Good to Great“) talks about this in terms of getting “the right people on the bus”. However, since this week’s posts are all about putting the annual campaign planning process to music, I think it is fitting to end with the lyrics of Jefferson Airplane as they sing their hit song “Volunteers“.

Remember, there is very little time remaining before 2011 ends. Start recruiting campaign leadership TODAY, so you can embark on your planning process TOMORROW!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

Strategic Planning – If you want Laverne then you need Shirley!

Yesterday, I pitched a strategic planning proposal to a group of board volunteers and their CEO. I thought I rocked it out! I was dressed nice. I had beautiful handouts in color. I was even using newly purchased technology and simultaneously projected my presentation onto the wall for all to see. I felt like a million bucks until it came time to Q & A.

One of the very first questions came from this nice gentleman who seems like a very engaged board volunteer. He essentially asked: “Why should we try to go through strategic planning when the world is so chaotic and changing ever so quickly? What’s the point?”

After answering his question (and I thought I rocked on that, too), he obviously wasn’t convinced. So, I took another stab at answering only to realize that nothing I said would really change his mind.

I really believe in my heart there are two kinds of people in this world — planners and fatalists. Planners think they can affect change in this world through deliberate choices and actions. Fatalists think everything happens for a reason and there isn’t any point in planning for things that are already pre-determined.

If I am correct about the world being populated by these two kinds of people, then it is kind of akin to the Asian philosophy on Yin and Yang.

I am obvious a “planner”. I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA and MA in Urban Planning. Some of my best work with non-profit organizations (or so I think) has been around strategic planning, resource development planning and board development planning projects.  So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this is what was going through my head during the Q & A exchange yesterday.

After the meeting, I ran off to my local gym to work off some anxiety and work through what just happened. One hour and four miles later, I realized that diversity isn’t just about skin color, age or gender. Diversity is also all about adding different perspectives and personalities into the mix, which includes into our strategic planning projects.

After all, what is Yin without Yang? Or Laverne without Shirley? Or peanut butter without jelly? (OK . . . so I’m hungry and dieting. Cut me some slack. LOL)

The reality is that non-profit organizations (or any company for that matter) cannot exclude fatalists from any of their projects.  Here are just a few random suggestions I thought up while on the track last night:

  • Recommendation #1: Accept the reality and recognize which board volunteers sitting around the table fit into which camp. Keep this in mind when recruiting your committee and ensure there is a balance around the table.
  • Recommendation #2: When it comes to strategic planning, remember that there are many different planning models that can be use. Some models appeal more to planning personalities and some models appeal more to fatalist personalities. Not only should you be conscious about choosing your planning model, but you should also select an external consultant who is capable of using that model. Click here to get a nice overview of a few different strategic planning models from our friends at managementhelp.org.
  • Recommendation #3: Jim Collins talks about getting “the right people on the bus” in his book “Good to Great,” but remember that you need to also get them in the right seat. Don’t make the mistake of recruiting volunteers based upon who will say ‘YES’ to serving. It is probably very important that the chairperson of your strategic planning committee have the ‘heart of a planner’ and not the soul of a ‘fatalist’. Perhaps, one of the best places for fatalists in the strategic planning process is enlisting their help with assessment, data gathering, and forecasting activities. They might also provide great value when creating indicators as well as monitoring and evaluation tools. Of course, they can participate in all phases of the process, but I suspect they provide greater value in some roles than in others.

The reality is that this topic isn’t just germane to strategic planning. It is relevant to everything in our non-profit work (e.g. annual campaign planning & implementation, board development planning & recruitment, etc). If you’re a non-profit leader, then you need to figure out how to make it work and not cave to your instinct to exclude certain people from the table.

I always say “Planning is an engagement activity”. This is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and committed to implementation. Try to imagine a room full of ‘planners’ developing the plan, then taking it back to a board room full of ‘fatalists’ and telling them that we all need to implement the plan. Do you really think that works? However, isn’t this what many of us do every day?

How have you maintained diversity on your committees and projects? Do you balance personalities? Do you weave these thoughts into your recruitment strategies? If so, how? Please use the comment box below to weigh-in. We can all learn from each other.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC