It can be hard to find people who are as invested in your cause as you are. You might already have a team at your back, but good crowdfunding needs more than that—it needs a crowd of volunteers.
The best way to build your network is by reaching out to other people and asking your associates to do the same. It’s not rocket science, but it does require a different strategy than asking for monetary donations. When seeking donations, you’ll likely see a boost if you ask for their time before you ask for money, but you don’t want to treat volunteering as just the next best option. The Time-Ask Effect is more than a foot-in-the-door or door-in-the-face strategy; it hinges on emotional connection and personal involvement.
Those who support your cause and organization, who have contributed in the past, stood with you, and spread the word, are your core base when it comes to building your volunteer and ambassador network. It requires less work on your part to convince existing supporters of the importance of your cause, and they can do some of the work of expansion for you, reaching out to their own people.
Asking outright is one of the easiest and most underrated ways to secure volunteers. Even tweaking your word choice from “We need volunteers” to “Will you volunteer?” can make a call to action feel more personal and have noticeable results, though you should still follow up with a direct ask if possible. The same goes for asking people to spread the word. People want to feel like you need them specifically, not just a body to fill a position.
Once you have people involved, though, how do you keep them invested? Check out these six dos and one major don’t for maintaining a strong, active, and growing volunteer and ambassador network.
Find the Influencers
Influencers are the makers and breakers of trends and appeal. Wouldn’t it be nice if volunteerism and philanthropy, particularly for your organization, sparked that kind of interest? An endorsement from someone with a solid following can only help you. Consider whether you have access to people like this in your network. A notable alumni, donor, or recipient of your efforts can advocate for your organization.
Keep in mind, though, that influencers aren’t limited to public figures and social media gurus. Everyone has that friend who ropes them into events and projects. Take note of charismatic people in your network and ask them to help with your recruiting efforts.
We read reviews of movies, books, and products because we tend to trust people’s experiences more than we trust a company touting their own product or service. Similarly, a direct ask or recommendation from a trusted friend, family member, coworker, or teammate can go a long way. Besides, it’s fun to volunteer with friends. When an ambassador shares their positive experience, their friends, in turn, can become ambassadors, and the circle grows.
Have Resources Ready
Volunteers and ambassadors might be doing some of your recruitment for you, but they can’t do all of the legwork. Make sure you have a clear and simple way for people to sign up to help, and let them know what volunteering entails. Volunteers are neither obligated nor paid to work with your group, and if signing up means navigating a convoluted portal or a scavenger hunt of links and information, you risk turning people off.
When it comes to spreading the word, social media is a powerful resource in multiple ways. It’s a good idea to have boilerplate copy prepared so that people can easily share your message across their own platforms, but you can also extend your reach by posting content that people want to share. Success stories, fun pictures or graphics, and videos can generate interest on their own, and can be circulated easily and substantially. Have content available that is exciting, informative, and easy to share to ensure that each post has the greatest impact.
To get started, check out our guide on developing messaging for your campaign.
Provide Quick, Accurate Information
Be very clear about what purpose your organization serves. You don’t want to build a network of ambassadors only to have them spreading incorrect information. Avoid phrasing that is misleading or could be misconstrued. Present it clearly on your website, as well as on your social media if it’s concise enough for you various platforms. By providing accessible information that doesn’t require people to go digging, you’ll streamline communication with new potential donors or volunteers and reduce any possible confusion about what exactly it is they’ll support by helping your organization.
This is also true for your calls for volunteers. Be creative but direct in describing the positions you need filled. Some jobs are more fun than others, some more time-consuming, some more labor-intensive, but all are valuable and important to the success of your project. Let people know what a particular volunteer position requires of them and you’ll minimize the risk that they’ll feel duped or underutilized and back out.
There is no one-size-fits-all volunteer, so you shouldn’t have only one-size-fits-all volunteer positions. By listing specific needs and several options, you’ll appear focused and organized and will appeal to people who might be able to commit at different levels.
Is a volunteer interested in a longer, more invested position? Let them know if you have any committees that need assistance. Can they only help for one day? Direct them toward positions like event set-up or registration. Maybe they’re busy the day of your event, or live out of town? Ask them to make calls or write notes to thank donors.
Saying thank you can be done pretty much anywhere and make a huge difference in the continued commitment of your donors and volunteers. While you don’t necessarily have to personalize every thank you, humanizing the communication can help. A line of handwriting at the bottom of a typed letter or a phone conversation with an actual human shows that there are real people and real impacts behind the work. If you have a smaller team, volunteers can help fulfill this important step and add their own stories of positive experiences with your organization.
Keep It Coming
If the bulk of your fundraising is tied to one annual event, or even a small handful or events, don’t let your volunteers fall off the radar in the meantime. Let them know how they can help year-round and start sharing information about the next opportunity soon after one ends. If there’s another event coming up, make sure it’s on their calendars.
If you only reach out to people when you need them for something major, they know they’re being used. It doesn’t feel good to only be recognized when it’s convenient. Let your volunteers and ambassadors know that they’re appreciated and stay in touch between events through updates, planning, and other opportunities to be involved. Such communication makes them feel important and keeps you on their minds, combining morale boosts with publicity.
You probably have a vision for your event and fundraising efforts, but that doesn’t mean your vision is the only one. While you shouldn’t sacrifice plans you’ve made, your volunteers and ambassadors can bring a lot to the table and might have a way to attract people that you hadn’t considered. You can integrate these ideas beyond your main event, as well.
Take, for example, Relay for Life, and similar fundraising models. Though volunteers and fundraisers all contribute to the same organization, each event is organized separately and by different people, leading to different activities and projects at each incarnation. Furthermore, individual teams for each event might come up with their own fundraising strategies. There have been successes in everything from bake sales to dodgeball tournaments to challenges issued between friends.
If someone approaches you with an idea for your fundraising, think about how you could integrate it. Maybe that means adding it to your existing plans, but maybe it means employing it somewhere other than the main event. Just as you might be the most invested person for your project, an enthusiastic, idea-driven volunteer will be enthusiastic about theirs, which in this case can work toward your efforts. If an idea seems ineffective or contrary to your efforts, try to at least have a conversation about why it might be a poor fit and how it could be adapted. People’s ideas can be as valuable as their time, and they deserve at least that much respect.
Don’t Shut Them Out
Like we mentioned before, volunteers and ambassadors don’t owe you anything and have devoted their time and energy to your organization out of their own goodwill. Sometimes you’ll find that people are looking for a low-level commitment, and sometimes that’s useful at the moment for an event. The most valuable people in your network, however, are more likely to be invested in your cause and your organization. These are the people who want to be involved, help your team’s leadership, and further your cause.
If they get burned enough, even the best people will stop coming back.
Keep those connections strong by being open in your communication, both by sharing progress and appreciation and by expressing a willingness to listen. Not only might they see opportunities you missed, but they might see problems as well. Your network can serve as a sounding board if you are open to the feedback, which can lead to stronger initiatives and relationships in the future.
You want to make it easy for people to get involved, but you should also want to make it pleasant to stay involved. Volunteers and ambassadors can be the backbone of your organization. Treat them as such, and you’ll ensure that they stick around.