Monday, July 02, 2012

Don't kill your volunteers, and other fundraising advice

A colleague, J, asked me for advice on doing a fundraiser. Now, J is a very straightforward and funny guy, and I am going to be completely honest with him about the volunteer management aspects of running fundraising events.

I thought perhaps I could throw out some advice for those of you who may need such advice as well.

None of this is made up, by the way. They say managing volunteers is like herding cats...I've found cats to be much more manageable.

1. Don't kill your volunteers. By and large, they fall into these categories:

A. Very helpful - maybe 10-15%
B. Moderately helpful, more than hamsters anyway - 50-60%
C. No shows or have emergencies - 10%
D. Have problems getting along with other volunteers - 5% (usually the person you choose to be in charge of people, who whips out a new personality on event night)
E. Huge motherfucking pains in the ass that make you wish you had never been born - one or two.

There will be - absolutely, positively, without fail, just as guaranteed as gravity - type E if you run an event. You will hear all about everything you did wrong and should have done differently, and how much life sucks because you totally failed in these areas, after this person (or persons) has ripped you a new one, you will hear, "So, do you want me to help again next year?"

2. Don't kill your guests.

Just nod and smile when things like this happen...these are real examples:

A. A participant in your event complains that the line for the free ice cream is too long, even though it's 50, raining, and the event is outside, and you are on a shoestring budget and the ice cream has been donated.

B. Your accountant complains that the band is too loud, even though you have more than 2,000 people there who love the band and specifically request that they play again the next year.

C. A minor politician shows up at your $150-a-ticket dinner with no reservations, says he told so-and-so he was coming (and you know so-and-so, who later says, "No he didn't. What a dick!") and demands to know "what people usually do." Just smile and tell him, "Usually they make reservations and pay us." Resist the urge to knee him in the balls when he then doesn't understand why he can't sit at the VIP table next to your star guest.

3. Laugh at the last-minute REALLY REALLY REALLY important calls and e-mails from people wanting to know where the event is and if it's too late to go, when you're already there and it has already started.

4. Ignore the people who complain about the quality of the free $30-per-person lunch and the fact that they can't sit together when they didn't RSVP for the RSVP-only event.

5. When your volunteer coordinator complains that people didn't get their lunches on time, and it's because she didn't distribute them, it's time to get another one.

6. Expect people to run and grab you and tell you things you can't do anything about, when you have specifically designated other people to deal with these issues. Fully expect them to bypass said individuals. "The parking lot is full!" "They don't know what team they're on!" "It's raining!" (No, I'm not making this up.)

7. When two of your volunteers hook up outside of work and one of them (the one who wears a jumpsuit splattered with paint, hippy cologne and doesn't shave much) e-mails you about it, get some mental bleach.


Anonymous said...

I am scared for the type of volunteer I may soon turn into. Recently, I signed up to volunteer at four different marathons. I thought about running, but I am too lazy for all that. My workouts are one hour. No more, no less. I can't run 13 miles in an hour. Maybe a day.

Lynn said...

I guess you have to summon up much patience after all that! Oh my.

G. B. Miller said...

Don't forget the important mantra and act that goes with it.

Go to a very small room/office and shut the door.

Pour yourself a very large glass of Jack Daniels (or any other good liquid refreshment) and Coke.

Raise it to the heavens and say, "I love my job, I love my job, I love my job."

Then stare at it for exactly one minute, which is just long enough to get your inner chi rebalanced, before putting it on the table and going back to face the yahoos.

Under no circumstances are you to drink it during the event....unless its your last event ever. Then you down it in one gulp and rip everyone a brand new one.:D

Granny Annie said...

When you are in the Breaking News none of us will be surprised:)

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I've helped to organize enough events to recognize that all this is TRUE! You need the patience of Job for that job.

Claire said...

Oh, this made me howl. Love that LOLcat too!

Anonymous said...

Charge on! Working for a non-profit is a breath of fresh air in today's Greed Economy.

Workingdan said...

Makes me glad I'm anti-social. Just chill at home and spare myself the dunbfuckery!

John McElveen said...



after all- i'm doing it for free!




Why can't I type--OK--I volunteer to type and send out all the mailings!!!

Holland said...

You gave me a good laugh and Iam SOOOOOOO HAPPY that I do not have to plan/execute events with volunteers...RSVP's and politicians...LOLOLOL

A Beer for the Shower said...

My wife is probably the only volunteer I know who falls into the A category. That percentage seems high.

Regarding 7, I'm trying to picture how that e-mail came about. Bragging? He thought you should know?

"So, like, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be in late tomorrow. Also, I plowed Sarah.

See you Monday!"

Riot Kitty said...

NV: I know you'd be an awesome volunteer. You wouldn't put up with any shit!
L: I am a much more patient person than when I started...which I guess isn't saying much ;)
G: Too bad I don't drink!
GA: You heard it here first. :)
D: That's true. Luckily the events only last a few hours.
C: Oh good! It actually made me laugh, too.
Squirrel: Thanks, I actually do like my job, just not some of the people I have to deal with. I suppose that's the same everywhere.
WD: I'm actually pretty anti-social...just not very good at it.
John: I'd totally have you as a volunteer!
H: Heh! Glad I made you laugh.
ABFTS: He actually sent me an e-mail saying "This is why I haven't shown up for two weeks..." and copied his supervisor at the program that he's volunteering with. Not the smartest thing to do.

Scarlet said...

The fact that these things really did happen makes it not only hilarious but disturbing! lol

Riot Kitty said...

S: I know! I can hardly believe it myself sometimes.

Rock Chef said...

Loved this, especially the politician!

I came by after seeing your comment on Wigsf's blog, and will be back - this looks like a fun place.

Riot Kitty said...

RC: Excellent! I'll be stopping by your blog as well.