Tag Archives: volunteer management

Nonprofit Employee Swap: An Undesirable C-Level Management Tactic

Katrina VanHussRecently I spoke with one of my clients, a VP of event income at a national nonprofit. He was upset.

He described to me the current environment, in his organization and in others, where C-level leadership looks at the fundraising results of the organization independent of the environment outside the organization. Taking that decision-making path led C-level folk to “We need better people.”

If income loss were considered in context, a different path might be taken: “Our organization and most others are suffering income losses. Maybe we should do things differently.”

Now, I get it that sometimes heads must roll in order to effect change, but not in every case. Often, the current income leadership is ready for change and is looking for C-level buy-in and support. But what my friend and I see are C-levels taking the easy course – get another organization’s walk director or event director. It’s actionable and assignable to someone else in the organization to execute, and that’s easier than, for example, a strategy change.

Another reason C-levels are opting to swap employees (and truly, that’s all they are doing) is that a new employee proves you are doing something and is virtually risk free: “His resume looked good. He interviewed well. His references were great. I did my job in hiring him; he simply failed.”

Doing what’s expected and getting bad results is more acceptable than stepping outside the expected path and getting bad results.

We have a merry-go-round of highly qualified and effective event walk directors, income directors, VP’s of income and development directors being pushed out or bailing before the ax falls. And almost always they are jumping to a situation JUST LIKE the one they left. And, in all likelihood, the results they experience in the first couple of years will be due to the excellence of whoever got pushed out before them.

Know of a situation like that?

Fundraising Event Secret Sauce Revealed: Will You Believe?

Katrina VanHussI had a surprising revelation at the 2013 Run Walk Ride Conference in Atlanta last week. I listened to Melissa Aucoin, National Director, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, talk about the “secret sauce” Komen has which makes the organization successful at running fundraising events.  The sauce is empowered leadership volunteers. Crickets chirped; few questions; no hands raised. Melissa said, “the overall vibe was disbelief.”

Later, I talked to Becky Lunders, Founder of TeamWorks, who presented to emerging events on a similar topic – empowered volunteers are the route to building capacity. She was met with disbelief, incredulity and even a little hostility.

THEN I talked to attendees and what I heard was this, “No WAY does Komen let volunteers run its events. No WAY do they let volunteers make high level decisions. No WAY could you run a $3 million dollar event with no logistics company and little staff involvement. No WAY could a committee be formed the way Becky described. No WAY would you give volunteers that much leeway.”

To this Becky and Melissa say, “Way Dude.”  (I inserted “dude” because I like imagining Melissa with her southern accent saying it. Becky’s from California and it comes natural to her.) Melissa said,

“In middle markets, like St. Louis, Columbus, Denver and Kansas City, our volunteer infrastructure is very strong, driven by the sense of community in those places. These middle markets raise as much money as much larger markets. And, what we found is that event participation is directly related to the robustness of that volunteer committee.  Interestingly, during last year’s trauma those middle markets with strong volunteer leadership involvement were less hurt than those markets without strong volunteer committees. Volunteer leadership seemed to have an insulating effect.

As an example, in St. Louis the event has an executive director, three staff members, no event management company and raises over $3 million every year. Even the four staff members in St. Louis only spend a portion of their time on the Race. St. Louis has a volunteer committee of 31 people, and another 900 volunteers to help execute the event which has over 60,000 participants.

More than 15 of our events have no staff at all. On average any given affiliate has 3-4 staff including the ED.  Larger affiliates might have 10 staff members, some of whom don’t even touch the Race. It’s a big misperception about Komen, that we use lots of professional staffing when we really don’t. Our volunteers even help with event goal setting to gain buy in.”

So how do you get a volunteer committee to raise over $3 million? Melissa said, “We trust those volunteers because of the extensive amount of training we do. I’m frequently in front to 50 to 60 volunteers, training on every aspect of the Race. And we document everything. We hand them all the tools and resources necessary to be successful, then we get out of the way. For the most part, our events look pretty consistent. All have same key components and that may be where the disbelief is coming from; our presentation looks very consistent and polished.”

The 2012 Planned Parenthood controversy clearly hurt Komen, resulting in significant decrease in donations. But, Melissa noted, “The decrease we did experience I believe was due to the loss of volunteer leadership more than directly attributable to donor loss. Fewer people gave, because fewer people asked, because fewer people were in volunteer leadership. Our markets with opportunity are the ones who lost their volunteer leadership.”

Becky offered similar examples from the smaller market, where she helps organizations build capacity through volunteer infrastructure and leadership development. She felt the same push back from conference participants as Melissa, but was quick to refer back to her experience as a staff person for a large cancer related nonprofit, helping to grow income from $4.1 million to over $30 million for one division using a volunteer driven model. She said,

“I totally felt the audience was disbelieving at Run Walk Ride, though they were really fun and polite. I could feel some people get tense as I suggested that they relinquish control to volunteers. And really, you can understand that fear. If someone gets fired for not making goal, it likely won’t be the volunteer right?

There is no way you can have growth like that without using volunteers for important jobs, in true leadership, installed purposefully in a carefully constructed org chart.  If you’ve got a professional accountant stuffing envelopes, you might want to re-examine how you recruit and place your volunteer talent. But I must say, nonprofit paid staff often have a hard time believing that volunteer empowerment is anything but trouble.”

Small and large income programs suffer the same fear of letting go, Becky said. “If nonprofit staff leadership isn’t bought into volunteer leadership, it won’t happen and the growth will be limited. But, seriously, people think I am kidding when I talk about it.”

In the course of my work at Turnkey (delivering messaging and recognition gift programs for nonprofits), I mess with a lot of organizations’ data. “Mess with” is southern for “I use the data for the rendering of unique and valuable services to my ever-loving and most-deserving clients.”

As I talked to these two ladies, I wondered, is anyone collecting the data necessary to study the effect both purport? Studying the effect of volunteer empowerment on event income would require one field on a nonprofit’s participant table – “served on committee…yes/no” in order to evaluate.  To Becky’s, Melissa’s and my own knowledge, no nonprofit collects and stores this one bit of data on their participant table —  the one piece of data about a fundraiser that appears to be the leading indicator for high, sustained event income.

Fundraising Ditches: How to Spot Them, How to Avoid Them.

Katrina VanHussI recently watched one of my volunteer committees for a peer-to-peer fundraising event careen into a ditch. Here’s how:

1. They recruited a set of brilliantly talented and committed volunteers.
2. They then let the volunteers do what they are personally GOOD at vs. what the fundraising effort needed.

As staff, you want these exceptional volunteers to be empowered and autonomous or you’ll end up micro-managing them. But, we also don’t need them to send our fundraising gravy train down a new, unplanned set of tracks.

Here’s what I mean. It’s just plain human nature to pick the jobs that we can accomplish easily, those we are good at. Sometimes, what we want to do because we’re good at it and what the organization NEEDS just don’t match.

Example: Exceptional marketing person wants to change the event logo. Why? It could be better. Sure, it could. Will changing it raise more money? Likely, and almost assuredly, not. In this case, it’s a peer-to-peer fundraising event. We raise money when we convince people to ask other people for money. But our exceptionally talented marketing person is now redesigning the logo… which impacts every piece of collateral we have, every brand asset, and most importantly, gets other volunteers focused on something other than raising money.

Is there ever a time to change the logo? Of course… when there is a reason more compelling than “we have a great person to do it.” Think about it. Just because you have a great car jack doesn’t mean you need to change your tire.

Party planning is another easy way for volunteers to inadvertently steer your focus into the mud. Why do people gravitate to planning the party? Because it’s a skill they have, and the job is clear. Does the event need to be planned? Sure. Does it need to completely distract the volunteer from fundraising? No. Does it completely distract them? Very often.

So, my dear nonprofit leadership comrades, how do you keep your volunteer’s eyes on the road?
Have a strong vision and articulate it clearly and frequently. Good luck!