When I talk to people who are new to the profession, they often want to know the same thing. “I work in a small shop,” they say. “Which activities will give me the most bang for my buck, no pun intended?” I am paraphrasing, but this discussion is definitely the #1 topic that I run across. And my answer is always the same: court your major donors.
When I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it were true. I wanted to get as many people excited about our cause as possible (which is important). I also wanted to create systems that were easy to maintain and monitor (also important). I wanted to design newsletters (keeping people informed is important) and hold (eek) special events (I won’t go there). I wanted to write grants (also helpful and important). But one thing I didn’t want to do was talk to major donors. I was afraid of them, didn’t feel that I had an rapport with them, and was scared to death of messing up, so I filled my time with other important—but not necessarily as important—activities.
If you work for a nonprofit, dealing with volunteers—recruiting, keeping, and appreciating them—are probably a big part of your life. Volunteers make big things happen for many of us, and some of our best stories come from the experiences, actions and antics of our “donors of time.”
Relatedly, I often think about whether nonprofit professionals volunteer, and if they don’t, why they don’t. I used to volunteer all the time at my organization; in fact, I started here as a volunteer before I was a staff person. Sometimes volunteers make the best employees because of their passion for the cause. But over time, my devotion and desire to do good led me to volunteer for my organization outside of work hours. As you can imagine, this rapidly led to burnout. Sometimes, if the burnout is too profound, good people can be lost, be they volunteers or staff, and that doesn’t serve anyone well.
As professionals, we know full well the benefits of volunteering. We tout them everyday to others, and use them to make our cases for community involvement to our funders. When presented with volunteer opportunities of our own, however, many of us don’t take them. “I am already doing good things for the world at my job,” you may say, or “I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest between my job and my volunteer work.” I am as busy as the next guy; even I made those excuses at one point.