The Life Cycle of Volunteer-Driven Fundraising Events

Katrina VanHussEven the best volunteer-driven fundraising events seem to have a life cycle that goes as follows: 

  1. Great idea from volunteers about doing an event to raise money.
  2. Volunteers take the reins and start raising bunch of money.
  3. Nonprofit org begins to support and ultimately takes control of event.
  4. Volunteers lose influence and control.
  5. Nonprofit “protects brand integrity” and “reduces risk.”
  6. Volunteers get bored with stuffing envelopes and parking cars and quit.

The charm of volunteering is that volunteers get to do good, have fun, be creative, and have control. Once the nonprofit organization decides that it needs to control an event or the event brand, it starts to rein in and discount the leadership volunteer. Since a lot of control has been taken away from the volunteer leaders, a fundraising event is less fun and more like work.

During the last days of the cycle, I, as a volunteer, can’t plan and execute a large meeting anymore. (Staff takes control of most of that.) I can’t make meaningful decisions about the event so much anymore. I can’t decide on the tee shirt design or the incentive gifts anymore. My funky hand drawn signs are discouraged. If I print something with the logo, I will get my hand slapped. There is a whole lot I used to be able to do, that I can’t now.

Clearly, we know that things like tee shirts need to be done nationally, same with all print materials and so many other things for cost control. But at some point, cost control through consolidation has a cost, and that cost is volunteer engagement that is intimately, AND GREATLY, tied to fundraising. 

Does your nonprofit empower their volunteers, or disable them? I’d love to hear your stories: the good, the bad, AND the ugly.

One thought on “The Life Cycle of Volunteer-Driven Fundraising Events

  1. Becky Lunders

    From my experience, it all comes down to the right volunteers in the right leadership roles. While designing t-shirts and picking incentives is fun (we all love to shop!), it eats up a lot of valuable committee meeting time and can derail the end result – raise more money and engaging more people. When volunteer leadership sets its compass on volunteer engagement and getting people to the party, it is rewarding work. At the same time, staff must let go and let volunteers lead. This moves staff from the do’er to the delegator and gives them time to focus on the basics of volunteer management – recruit, retain and recognize! Branded stuff (t-shirts, incentives, posters, brochures) gives a professional look and feel to the event. And the volunteer-led event gives the local flavour that makes people feel connected. Bottom line: nonprofit work is a business… with a heart. If you forget the heart part, you’re sunk!


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