You Can Learn a Lot about Volunteer Engagement from the Book “Fundraising with Businesses”

You can learn a lot about volunteer engagement from Joe Waters' book "Fundraising with Businesses."There’s a lot more to Joe Waters than QR Codes. Of course, anyone who’s followed Joe’s well-respected cause marketing blog, SelfishGiving.com, already knows this. But his new book “Fundraising with Businesses” will remove any lingering doubt cynics may have had.

Drawing on an impressive career of doing exactly what his book is about, Joe presents 40 strategies for how nonprofits can engage businesses in fundraising initiatives. The book is easy and fun to read, and contains both illuminating examples and practical tips for those of us on the ground actually doing the work every day.

Why is This Important?

Funding is always going to be one of the biggest challenges for nonprofit organizations – and even more so in a down economy. When previous sources of funding begin to dry up, organizations must get creative and diversify. Partnering with businesses is a great way to do this.

Companies all over the world are realizing how critical it is for them to give back – not just for the public image, and not just because their employees want it, and not just because it actually makes good business sense, but because many of them really do want to help make the world a better place. This presents a huge opportunity for nonprofits to step in a guide these businesses (and drum up some significant support in the process).

Fundraisers that Involve Volunteering

While most of “Fundraising with Businesses” doesn’t directly deal with volunteer engagement, a few of the 40 strategies presented are volunteer-based: Dollars for Doers is an obvious one – many companies already have “volunteer grant” programs that enable employees to gift company money to their charity of choice when they track enough volunteer hours.

Another fundraiser profiled in the book that involves volunteers is what Joe calls a “Building Fundraiser.” Leveraging the interesting aspects (and heights) of a partner’s physical space will most often involve engaging employees, tenants and visitors in some sort of action for the fundraising itself. Similar to engaging runners for a road race, these volunteers will be willing to climb that extra floor for your cause.

Reading Volunteer Engagement Between the Lines

Beyond these obvious volunteering elements, there are other connections that we can make between this book and volunteer engagement. And I’m not just talking about the fact that when engaged, these companies actually become a “volunteer” for you – as a fundraiser! But also because the best practices involved with these partnerships are the same ones that are critical when engaging volunteers in your work. Here are some examples that jumped out at me:

Make a Good Match

Making a good match is important both for corporate partnerships and volunteer engagement.Throughout the book, Joe stresses the importance of working with the right partners – not just anyone. For example, thinking about who you’re already connected with via board members, volunteers and funders is an easy way to identify low-hanging fruit. But you should also keep in mind that the best partners are those who are well-aligned with your mission, your local community and your goals for the campaign.

Similarly, running a successful volunteer program requires recruiting volunteers who are a good fit for your organization. In fact, that’s basically what VolunteerMatch is all about. (Volunteer. Match. Get it?) Our free online service is designed to help you connect not just with any volunteer, but the right ones, and this should be something you keep top of mind throughout your recruitment and engagement process.

Set Clear Expectations

In every single chapter of the book there’s this great section called: “How It Works in 1-2-3.” And for every single strategy, #1 has something to do with communicating clearly with your corporate partner about expectations around who will do what? For who long? How much money is involved? Etc. Without these details hammered out beforehand, even a strong partnership will eventually fall apart.

Setting clear expectations for your volunteers is also important. Otherwise, volunteers will feel adrift and taken advantage of, and you will feel disappointed that they’re not giving you the level of commitment you were hoping for. That’s why we often stress the importance of bullet points in your volunteer listings.

Provide Plenty of Training and Support

One of Joe’s most interesting points in my mind was this: The more you do for your corporate partner, the more likely they are to focus their considerable energy on raising money for you. So give them the training and support they need to do a great job!

Volunteers also need lots of training and support from you. No matter how passionate they are about your cause, or how much time they have to give, you need to be there to answer their questions and show them how to do stuff. The more supported they feel, the more efficient and effective their work will be.

Show Your Impact!

It's important to show your impact, both to corporate partners and to volunteers.It’s okay to brag – in fact, it’s great to brag about the impact you made with a corporate partner during a fundraising project. How many people did you help? How many beaches are now clean? How many puppies have a new home? Not only will this drum up even more excitement and support for your cause, but reporting the success of your program will help your corporate partner make the case to run it again in the future.

The best way to retain and appreciate volunteers is to show them how their work made a difference. Even a simple email can do the job, but a phone call, a handshake, a smile, and a thank you are all great, too. Also, people love infographics. Seriously.

Technology is Helpful

Some of the strategies in Joe’s book are technology based, like the Pin-to-Give fundraiser, or the Facebook Likes fundraiser. But even those that happen more offline can benefit from the involvement of technology, whether it’s for promotion, coordination or tracking.

And if you’re not already using technology as a key element of your volunteer program, you’re a bit behind the times. Even if you don’t have a fancy system for tracking and managing volunteers, you’re probably using Excel. Plus, we all know how helpful social media can be when it comes to volunteer engagement.

I highly recommend you check out “Fundraising with Businesses” by Joe Waters. Joe also has some great supporting resources like Pinterest boards and a hashtag (#fwb40) to help you join the conversation.

How have you partnered with businesses to help support your organization? Tell us about it below!