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Double Duty: Fundraising Events Promote Community Charm

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How to Collect Volunteers with the Least Amount of Begging

One of the most frustrating areas of fundraising might just be gathering enough volunteers. For me, I know that is certain. I’m going to guess that you might have the same problem. Because it’s 2013 and people have other things going on. Fortunately, it’s 2013 and there are new ways to entice potential volunteers with a minimal amount of begging! Try a few of these options and let me know if they work as well for you as they have for me.

1. Facebook is arguably the best tool to efficiently recruit help. I use it in a variety of ways, the first being to promote the event ahead of time. Of course, the main point of promoting the event is tell everyone how great/fun/exciting it’s going to be and that they should attend. But it also gives folks a heads’ up that Something Big is coming. So when you ask for help, they’ll already know what you’re talking about. This is important for first time events AND annual events. People don’t usually keep up with those dates so we’ve gotta get them primed and ready.

2. Post pictures! On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever. You want pictures of the volunteers (if possible) and guests having fun. You want great-looking pictures for this. (Throw out the out-of-focus ones!) If a professional photographer (or an amateur one) took pictures at your event last year, ask them if you can use the shots to promote this year’s event. Don’t let a sorry picture dissuade volunteers (or guests) from thinking your event is top-notch. People are much more willing to work at a successful event.

3. Make preparation into a party! The annual tea party that I help organize has to provide food for at least 200-250 people. That’s a lot of (sometimes fussy) food for non-caterers to prepare! In the beginning we relied on numerous members of our group to make a double recipe of such-and-such to donate. The problem was that there wasn’t much consistency in the finished products because our volunteers were usually making a new recipe for the very first time. So a few years back we instituted “Cooking Parties” during the week before the big tea party. We borrow our university’s Home Ec kitchen, which consists of four individual kitchens, and can instruct everyone in person about just how big to make those scones. It’s a little bit more work for the committee members who oversee these parties, but everyone agrees it’s worth it in the long run.

Maybe your event will be catered, but you still need major help with set up. Spend a little money (of your own, if needed) – order pizza or make brownies. Keep the caffeine flowing while people are working. Volunteers are more loyal when food is involved! No, but really…they are more loyal to those who appreciate them and take care of them. What easier or better way to take care of them than feeding them?

4. Offer something in return. If the volunteers are working at the actual event, will they get to eat afterwards? We tell our tea party student volunteers that we will feed them after they work. And for college students, that’s always a draw! Maybe you need a pianist or someone with a special talent for your event. You may not be able to pay them what they’re really worth, but if you’ll explain the worthiness of your cause and offer them a small token of appreciation (maybe a restaurant gift card), oftentimes that is enough to get a yes.

5. Cast your net WIDE first. Ask for anyone-who’s-interested (Facebook and a blanket email work the best) – tell them the essentials: how many volunteers you need, for what date(s) and time(s), and what they’ll be doing. Sell the perks. Brownies! Give them a deadline to sign up.

6. Narrow your search. If you’ve sent a blanket email to a TON of other people, each of them will probably be tempted to think, “Oh, everyone else will sign up – I won’t be needed.” So here’s where you follow up. Pinpoint your potential volunteers…make a list and start contacting them individually. I dislike talking on the phone (I’ve got problems, ha!), so I always email or message them on Facebook. It works. One last thing here: remember that you don’t want to recruit EVERYONE. So if someone wants to just attend the event, thank them genuinely and move on. After all, you still need plenty of people to be guests!

7. Be organized during event preparation and during the actual event. If your volunteers get there and stand around, not knowing what to do, that’s not a good thing. Have someone handy to take charge of the volunteers at all times. Keep them moving. Keep them busy. This little tidbit actually prepares you for Next Time. I’m certainly less likely to volunteer a second time if there’s nothing for me to do…or if the event organizers aren’t clear with their instructions.

8. Always say thank you. In person, at the event. On Facebook or Twitter afterwards. At every opportunity! People need to know they’re needed and that they actually helped make your event successful. They can take partial ownership in its success.

9. Keep a list of your volunteers. Once someone has worked at an event, they should be among the first people you need to ask the next year. (Providing they did a good job!) Most of the time, those people will be glad to help again since they know what to expect.

10. Don’t stress out about it. It can be frustrating (and people will back out at the last minute) but somehow, it will all work out anyway. It always does.

Double Duty: Fundraising Events Promote Community Charm

Do you live in a small town? I do. In my West Tennessee town of about 6,000 people there may not be restaurant selections and recreational activities as far as the eye can see. Some people are not O.K. with that and can’t wait to move to “the big city” after they graduate – most likely Nashville. I don’t hold that against them…but some people (and I genuinely adore these people’s spirit) stay home and make our small town a bigger place to be. We have Relay for Life events year round and Arts in the Alley every week during the summer (benefiting our fairly new Arts Council). We have pancake suppers and bake sales and fall festivals and 5K races and a BBQ Festival…because really, our pulled pork BBQ is famous, y’all. My fundraiser of choice is a Victorian tea party that I’ve helped plan for 10 years now. I’ve never seen anything like it! It is just lovely.

Ladies at tea time

These events don’t just raise money for their intended causes. They give area residents a chance to pull together and create something for all of us To Do. Together. They feed the flames of community spirit – and before we know it, that fire is flickering mightily and we’re all sitting in the warmth. Neighbors and friends may not sit on the proverbial front porch much anymore, but a fundraising event is one place that we often gather.

So before you make your decision about what type of project you’re going to commit to, ask yourself if you miiight have a little more time to bond with your fellow man over some burgers and blue grass at a community block party.

A few questions to see if this kind of thing is for you:

1. Did you feel all warm and fuzzy inside when you read those previous paragraphs? Maybe you’ve been longing for an event that will draw people together and hadn’t realized you could kill two birds with one stone.

2. Are you already thinking of friends to ask for advice…or to serve on your committee? You are going to need help. That’s a given. If you choose plenty of talented people who you also like to spend time with, well, you’ve got yourself a recipe for a *fun* fundraising experience.

3. Are you a party planner? If you’re always on the lookout for outstanding birthday party ideas for your family, you could definitely use that creativity and attention to detail in organizing a Bigger Party.

4. Do you long to live in a town like Mayberry on the Andy Griffith Show? Even if you live in a big city, there’s still numerous possibilities for creating community spirit and cultivating small town charm.

Maybe you absolutely don’t have time to plan a fundraising event right now. That’s O.K.! Really. Some seasons of life are too full to squeeze in anything else. But that doesn’t mean that your good ideas have to go by the wayside. Ask around for someone else to lead the way – you can still serve in an advisory capacity as needed and even work the actual event. You can still have a hand in it without serving on the committee. And in another life season, maybe you’ll be at the helm!

Training the Next Generation of Fundraisers

Kids are natural salesmen. I remember various times when I was younger that my cousins Beth and Adam and I would (unknowingly) try out our sales techniques on our parents and grandparents. Whether it was convincing them to sit through a made-up play or let us watch an extra hour of our favorite TV show, we become salesmen – and we didn’t even know it. My husband laughs and tells me of pestering his dad to go buy fireworks every summer. Those were some amusing memories – and defining moments – from our childhoods.

That’s how it is with children. At that stage, they’re not in charge of anything. They have to eat vegetables they don’t like, take naps that they hate, and they can’t just jump in the car to purchase fireworks whenever the urge strikes. Kids dream of what it’s like to call the shots themselves – and so they’re motivated to come up with creative ways to convince the adults of their idea’s merit.

All too often, parents squelch this budding salesmanship when it comes to actually selling something. They take their kids’ order forms to work and ask their colleagues to buy popcorn or cookies. Why is that? Of course…it’s easier that way…but here’s where I tell you that sometimes, easier is not naturally BETTER. Just like hundreds of other situations in life.

Some (maybe most) of your potential customers feel the same way. Just the other day, I “overhead” a conversation on Facebook. A mom was advertising a fundraising project for their kid (totally fine – how many 5-year-olds have Facebook? Zero, I hope), and someone commented that they would surely buy one if the child himself came to ask her. Good call. Love that!

I’m going to give you several reasons why letting your child develop his or her natural salesmanship is so important:

1. Your child might be shy. Will it be painful for them to go talk to an adult and ask for money? Yes, probably. I was very, very shy as a child and Girl Scout cookie season wasn’t the most fun I’d ever had. But I did it. My mom helped me, but *I* was the one who had to ask. And it helped me learn to talk to adults…an important Life Skill.

2. You know that advice about letting your children help you cook? And how the kids will be much more likely to try (and like!) the food afterwards, even if it’s a “disgusting” vegetable? Maybe your child will take super great care of the new equipment that she helped her soccer team purchase. Maybe your child will learn that she LIKES selling things. That she’s really GOOD at making money. Maybe she’ll be inspired to own a business one day. Maybe she’ll major in marketing. A learning experience like that is invaluable in so many ways.

3. Or perhaps he will learn that direct selling is absolutely NOT his thing. Mark it off the mental list. That’s valuable, too! But learning sales techniques are truly needed for many (if not all) careers, whether you’re in direct sales or not. You want a raise? You might have to learn how to ask for it. Want to woo a new client for your graphic design firm? Sell them on your fantastic creativity. Trying to get your 20 kindergarteners to lie down for nap time? Sell it. The list is never ending!

4. What if your kid thinks selling spaghetti supper tickets sounds like ZERO FUN? Well, there’s a life lesson in accomplishing something that we might not have a genuine interest in. How disappointing would it be to grow up and not even realize that piles of laundry wouldn’t fold themselves? And that the boss wants that boring report on his desk by 5:00pm, no kidding? That you might have to wake up a thousand times a night with a newborn? Life is full of work that we may not be inspired by…that we may dislike with every fiber of our being. But getting the dread off your mind shapes character. And you want your child to have lots of that!

Now let’s chat about practical ways to train this next generation of fundraisers:

1. Get ALL of the parents on board. Email them this article! Maybe even have the students and parents sign an agreement that states that the STUDENT will be in charge of the selling, with HELP from the parents. Talk about what that looks like – a Facebook posting with a picture and/or quote from your child about what they’re selling. Super cute…it works!

2. Here’s a crazy idea, but what if your committee selected one or two student co-chairs? Some promising (usually outgoing and/or creative) kids who could benefit from learning about the whole fundraising process. Maybe they don’t need to be at every meeting…or maybe they do. That’s your call. Here’s the thing: most people will tell you that a college degree isn’t enough to know how to perform at their new job. It takes getting in there, getting your hands dirty, and actually seeing real life situations UP CLOSE to feel confident in a skill. This is an pre-college internship. For free. Looking back, this is exactly the kind of thing I would have enjoyed. I might not have said much the first go-around (I’m a big fan of listen-and-learn) but I would have LOVED it.

3. You’re going to need to sell the students first on the WHY of your fundraising. Bring out your old, worn out soccer equipment and tell them what your team really needs – and how they’re going to accomplish it. Giving them a visual aid will be very important to remembering their goal.

4. Play to any entrepreneurial spirit you can find. Do some of your kids have a great idea for a fundraising event? Brainstorm with them to see if you can work together make it a success!

5. After the sale/event is over, survey the kids about the most successful sales tips. Make lots of notes for next year. It would be fantastic to have a separate prize for the most creative sales strategy! Not just who made the most money. Remember, you’re encouraging learning – and not only the person whose grandmother made a huge donation.

I’ll leave you with one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos. I’ve probably watched it at least 10 times already, but I genuinely laugh every time. Kids are hilarious – don’t forget to use their imaginations in your own fundraising project!