Fundraising Q&A: What makes a successful fundraising committee

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What makes a successful fundraising committee?

The simplest answer to your question is people who understand your organization’s priorities and enjoy asking for money! However, given those individuals are the exception and not the rule, let’s break it down specifically so your search for them is strategic.

Considering that the fiscal health of your charity is a basic board responsibility then the logical connection is the board’s role in fundraising. For more information on that particular topic, see my March 23, 2009 article. Ideally, they are highly engaged and set an example for others to follow. A culture of philanthropy focuses on establishing and building lasting relationships with donors as a shared responsibility throughout your organization. By adopting this approach and broadening the staff and volunteers’ understanding of their role, the onus to raise funds is distributed more evenly throughout your charity. Everyone understands that they play an important part in fundraising success, regardless of their position.

Setting the stage

A fundraising or development committee takes on a leadership role for planning and coordinating revenue-generating strategies. Often they are chaired by a member of the board but ideally, are comprised of community members too. In fact, your fundraising committee can be a brilliant "audition" for future board members and an effective introduction into your organization’s culture.

In a previous article I cited a basic tip in the development field, "If you want money, ask for advice...if you want advice, ask for money." You can practice this lesson as you lay the foundation for your fundraising committee. The key to closing the deal on a request for funds and/or volunteer support is to engage your audience and empower them to make a difference. So, of course you will eventually ask them for a gift but not before cultivating the relationship and piquing their interest in the good work you do. In fact, Linkage-Ability-Interest plays just as important a part in effective volunteer recruitment as in prospect identification.

Thriving committees (of all kinds including board membership) are grounded in written Terms of Reference or a Memorandum of Understanding...some kind of statement or description that clearly sets out expectations to volunteers and staff of what the commitment is that each party makes to the organization. Google "Fundraising Committee Terms of Reference" to find examples.

Headings you might consider building upon are: structure; purpose; membership (voting and non-voting); duties, roles or responsibilities delegated to the committee; internal support (who’s their staff contact within the organization?); meetings; terms of office (outlines time commitment...honestly!); sub-committees (perhaps for special events, major gifts, monthly donors’ gift club, foundations, and corporations); decision-making or authority; finances or committee budget; fundraising activities or deliverables; qualifications/experience; benefits of membership (what’s in it for your volunteers? Is there any professional development opportunities or other types of training?); and finally dispute resolution (rarely set out but very helpful if a disagreement occurs). The bottom line is that the clearer your document, the less room there is for misunderstanding or unmet expectations.

You may also want to consider the volunteer equivalent of a job description. Is there anything outlined above that you’d move to this heading instead? Again, the purpose of this communication is to be as honest as possible about what the understanding is between the charity and its volunteers and staff. The goal is to clarify what’s often unspoken...preferably before the volunteer commits or an issue arises. 

A volunteer application will provide you with the necessary background information to gather and investigate the individual’s history. Frequently, organizations are so thankful to get a helper that they often overlook screening unsuitable candidates. Applications are another opportunity to reinforce the charity’s expectations before you recruit the wrong individual. Screening occurs through a full police check, calling references, identifying previous volunteer experience, expectations, etc.

Finally, an agreement formalizes the "contract" between the volunteer and organization. It may contain information about your charity’s values and outlines expectations for behaviour. Some even go as far as including a liability waiver and disciplinary policy.

What type of people like asking for money?

I’d say the type of people who are comfortable asking for funds (generally speaking) tip the scale more on the extroverted than introverted side of life. That said, quiet and reflective individuals also play a vital role in fundraising. They are often better researchers or listeners than their more outgoing counterparts. Paired together on a request for support, you can see how these people could be a formidable team. One learns about the prospect’s interests and preferences and the other asks for the gift.

Asking for a major gift does take a lot of preparation and a certain amount of tenacity. Think about who has experience "closing deals". Often times, business people with a sales or marketing background will prefer asking prospective donors directly for a gift than they will attending a fundraising or cooking for a bake sale. Conversely, there are a number of individuals who would much rather volunteer at the charity rummage sale than make a face-to-face request. Be sure to ask people what types of tasks they enjoy doing, or want to learn when you’re establishing your team.

Where do we find potential committee members?

Once you have outlined your expectations and developed the necessary documentation to ensure clear communication, get the word out in your community. Start internally by recruiting the friends and families of your existing staff and volunteers. Consider contacting service clubs and local churches. Check your newspaper and radio outlets to see if they offer any public service announcements.

Never underestimate the value of the fundraising training that your local hospital, church, or United Way provides to their campaign canvassers. If there has been a significant drive for funds in your community, be sure to note the volunteers who are involved. While they may not agree to take on another project right away, they usually have acquired valuable skills that will remain with them. Does anyone in your organization have a personal contact? If so, do they know the candidate well enough to comment on their interest in your mission? It certainly doesn’t hurt to cultivate these community leaders and nurture a relationship.

What about recruiting an existing donor to your committee? They have already demonstrated their commitment to your organization by investing funds. If time permits, they may be interested in helping even further. Be sure to acknowledge their generosity before asking them...just like I’d recognize a volunteer’s time prior to soliciting funds. It’s showing respect and gratitude for their contributions to your organization’s mission.

Training

Provide your team members with the necessary training they need to do an effective job. While some unique individuals may be naturals, it’s unlikely for most. One of the key lessons in fundraising is to know when to stop talking. Helping your volunteers understand best practices, giving them opportunities to role play and try out a scripted request will strengthen their abilities. If your budget permits, send them to conferences or workshops where they can learn the business better.

Evaluation

Don’t forget to provide your fundraising committee members with feedback. One of the reasons you outlined all your expectations during recruitment is to strengthen their chances of success. Give people the opportunity to grow to new levels by reinforcing positive outcomes OR identifying areas for improvement. In the event that a volunteer has breached a trust or not delivered on promises, dismissal is an option and one that should be taken before your charity’s reputation is damaged.

Thanks

I often wonder if I was a Labrador Retriever in a past life because I mainline on positive reinforcement! Frankly, I think for many of us in the voluntary sector, our motivation to serve outweighs that of financial gain (which is a good thing considering the environment).

Don’t forget to express your gratitude to volunteers in a variety of ways. Help them feel like "one of the family" and at home in your organization. You might consider welcoming them with a coffee mug that they know they’ll find when they arrive at your office, include them in holiday gatherings, send a brief handwritten note or perhaps a birthday card. They can be small and inexpensive or free gestures that help ensure an ongoing relationship. Just like we need to steward our donors, we should do the same to strengthen the bond with our organization’s volunteers.

It’s a simple thing to make people feel good about their contribution of time, talent, and treasure and you will be pleasantly rewarded yourself by their willingness to lend a hand...for free. That is what makes this sector so unique!

For more information, check out the following links:

 

Cynthia Armour is a freelance specialist in fundraising and governance. A Certified FundRaising Executive (CFRE) since 1995, she volunteers as a subject matter expert with CFRE International. She works with boards and senior staff to ensure that strong leadership will enhance organizational capacity to govern and fundraise effectively. Contact Cynthia directly at 705-799-0636, e-mail answers@elderstone.ca, or visit www.elderstone.ca for more information about her services.

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