Communicate with Volunteers for a Successful Campaign
By Joseph Barbato

Capital campaigns succeed because of the efforts of volunteers, which means that the people nonprofits depend on to raise money must be fully informed about the organization, the case for giving, and campaign needs.

Moreover, with so much competition for each individual donation, the campaign volunteers must be familiar with nuanced strategies for requesting gifts.

Here are effective tools to communicate with volunteers so they have the tools necessary for successful fundraising.

Sales Conferences
Your volunteers are your sales force, and they should confer. Every time you get them together you are conducting a “sales conference.” Your series of conferences may consist of several events designed to excite and empower volunteers. They may be informational, inspiring, or merely celebratory. For example, there may be a special briefing session for campaign leaders, smaller sessions for other volunteers, and a gala kickoff meeting when the campaign goes public.

Held at key moments in the campaign, such gatherings can keep everyone in sync and engaged. They are also opportunities to discuss issues.

Use the sales conference as an opportunity to reward and reenergize volunteers. At the traditional kickoff gift for volunteers, consider developing a small keepsake that reminds everyone of the importance of the work they are doing.

One of my clients decided not to offer yet another campaign pin; instead they developed a miniature book emphasizing the human impact of the organization’s international campaign against AIDS. Each spread in the tiny book featured a single word like “hope” or “learning” on one page and a one-paragraph anecdote on the opposite page telling the story of a victory in the effort to help people with the disease. The publication was an attention-getter that brought the campaign to life.

An Action Manual
Create a volunteer handbook that emphasizes action. Campaign rules and regulation must certainly be in there, but pack the earliest pages of the manual with simple, practical tips that fundraisers can use now. A loose-leaf binder will allow you to add and update pages; by all means make a copy available online.

Provide small bits of easily digestible information: an elevator message for the campaign, key talking points, tips on how to ask for money, facts and figures on your organization, a Q&A on campaign issues, and so on. Include a contact page with listing the staffer to call for specific types of information.

The goal is simple: Make life easy for your volunteers so they can raise lots of money.

A Campaign View Book
While seated with a prospective donor, many gift officers like to be able to turn pages that communicate quickly the highlights of the campaign. A case statement may serve this purpose. But consider giving volunteers a special binder of materials that conveys the essence of the fundraising effort in graphics and print.

Prospects don’t need to know all the details on how your newfangled vacuum cleaner works. They want to know the benefits it offers: Will it clean a rug completely and easily? Use top-notch photographs that allow the donor to see what he is being asked to invest in. If a good chunk of campaign money will support, say, sustainable development projects in Latin America, be sure to include a sample square of chocolate made from the cocoa grown by participating farmers.

You may need just a half-dozen spreads, but let them pack a powerful punch on behalf of the campaign. By the end, the volunteer’s prospect should understand exactly why he should care.

There’s a funny thing about managing a campaign. Key elements of the effort sometimes change after a year or two, and everyone on staff is aware of the gradual shift. Maybe you are downplaying one campaign need and now emphasizing another. But have you bothered to explain all that to the volunteers?

Regular email or print updates can keep everyone informed about the dollars raised and new messages that should be incorporated into pitches to prospective donors. Tightly written stories on “How I got the gift” will share successful techniques with everyone and recognize jobs well done.

Thank Yous
Campaign volunteers thrive on thank-yous and recognition. Sometimes a phone call or a handwritten note suffices. At other times, nothing less than an invitation to a private dinner and a story in the campaign newsletter will do. Know thy volunteer! They will appreciate hearing “Thank you” said in a fresh way.

One nonprofit I worked with gave top volunteers an original handmade scrapbook of personal essays by noted writers describing what the campaign’s success would mean for future generations. Like the volunteers’ own time, the essays were donated. One author even came to a campaign event and read her moving essay to volunteers and donors. So keep an eye out for smart, unusual ways to make your donors feel good—and forget the paper weights and lapel pins.

Joseph Barbato is the author of Attracting the Attention Your Cause Deserves, available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.