How to ... Get the best out of your volunteer fundraisers

The 1997 National Survey of Volunteering estimated that two thirds of the 22 million people who volunteer in the UK every year do so as fundraisers. So how can charities make the most of this valuable resource?

1. Know your volunteers Volunteers will all be motivated to support the cause, but not all of them will have the same skills and ambitions. Donna Day Lafferty, ideas bank manager at the Institute of Fundraising, says some volunteers might respond well to targets but others might be put off by the pressure and fear of not hitting them.

Day Lafferty suggests that the 'shopping list' approach, in which volunteers are told what could be achieved with different sums of money, might help new volunteers who have little experience in fundraising. "But if you have someone who is more experienced, you could set them objectives based on unrestricted funding," she says.

2. Provide training in fundraising techniques All charities should set aside time to train volunteers with a general introduction to the charity and specific training for the job. Day Lafferty says that volunteer fundraisers are all too often trained as events managers and can sometimes be shy about asking people to donate.

"Plenty of techniques are proven to increase donations, such as making sure that the first donation at the top of a sponsorship form is a large one because it sets a precedent, or using a script that conveys the idea that the volunteer is trying to achieve a goal - for instance, by using the phrase 'will you join me in ...'," she says.

These techniques will help to ensure that charities maximise the outcome of their fundraising efforts. But Keith Lewis, volunteer fundraising manager at the British Heart Foundation, says it is also important that the training is relevant and that the time spent is appropriate to the fundraising activity and a volunteer's level of engagement.

3. Show them their achievements Saying "thank you" seems so obvious that it is sometimes overlooked. But Kate Engles, policy and information officer at Volunteering England, says that showing volunteer fundraisers what their contribution has helped to achieve - for instance, by going on a tour of a new facility or visiting a new project - can be a powerful way to forge long-term relationships with them.

This is not always possible, of course, but keeping volunteers informed about what the charity is up to and getting them involved in several ways is essential to making them feel like they are part of the cause.

4. Give volunteers ownership of the job Charities must find the right balance between providing individuals with clear job descriptions and letting them use their initiative.

Judy Taylor, head of volunteering at Guide Dogs, says the charity recently defined the key roles that volunteers can have within the charity. Most volunteers are now assigned dedicated role descriptions.

"We don't want to restrict the individual contribution by pigeon-holing them," she says. "So we always seek to look at the volunteer's skills and what they would like to do - and then try to maximise the benefits of the partnership."

5. Ensure that volunteers learn from the charity and from each other Learning from people who have done it all before is probably the best way to pick up good tips about getting the job done effectively. Volunteer days or inductions can be good opportunities for volunteers to meet and share their experiences.

Day Lafferty thinks charities should also harness the power of the internet by using websites such as how2fundraise.org, which allows people to post their comments, ideas and stories.

Lewis says the British Heart Foundation is also trying to foster peer-led learning. "We're looking into developing a buddy scheme," he says. "If a volunteer wants to start fundraising in an area where there hasn't been much activity, we put them in touch with someone in another area so that they can get a feel of what can be done."

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