While transformational gifts from your most generous donors greatly impact your mission, having an engaged and committed group of volunteers is essential when implementing and executing a successful Diocesan campaign. Volunteers are key players, as their presence and involvement throughout the campaign help inspire the parish’s vision in both the short and long term. Fostering volunteers and their willingness to serve their pastor and their parish also helps drive participation, and high participation is necessary for accomplishing your goals of reaching both a financial benchmark and influencing the parish community to be further involved in the campaign. Without a robust program in place to keep volunteers engaged and committed, Dioceses run the risk of squandering their dedication to the mission. To ensure success, there are a several aspects to consider when designing your volunteer program.
Helping to Build Credibility
Volunteers are one of the pastors’ greatest resources because it is not feasible for the priest to personally meet with every parish family, and the objective is for every family to be contacted. He needs a team to support him in the vision and with the outreach.
The volunteer opportunity in a campaign enables parishioners to be personally invested in the case and the broader mission of their parish and their faith. By informing other families and sharing the pastor’s vision for what the campaign will help their community accomplish, volunteers create a sense of credibility for the campaign. Building credibility around a case increases the chances for the parish to not only reach their fundraising goal, but also stimulate more interest and involvement in the effort.
Creating Structure and Consistency
Volunteers thrive when they are given clear roles and expectations. From the beginning, providing the group with materials that define their position is paramount to cultivating a strong committee. Throughout the campaign, remaining consistent is key to creating structure, which is needed to keep volunteers motivated and engaged. Set the precedent by establishing a weekly meeting where the team will provide updates, and the pastor and director will have the opportunity to share campaign documents, and answer questions. In the first committee meeting, asking the parishioners to share their personal stories about their parish and their reasons for volunteering creates camaraderie and unity. Building a cohesive team can also help increase productivity. Remember to be flexible with the volunteers’ schedules, too. Weekly meetings may be a substantial commitment for some, so acknowledging that you will provide updates after every meeting and be available to speak on the phone at their convenience shows your collaboration with them and appreciation of their time.
Nominating a Campaign Executive Committee Chair who is the pastor’s right hand person as well as establishing Phase Chairs are also effective strategies that create structure. These committee leaders have the opportunity to take ownership of particular tasks during a specified time (i.e. the major or advance phase).
Acknowledging Small Wins
Any campaign is an extraordinary endeavor and requires of its volunteers and the other parishioners considerable sacrifices. Once momentum is gained through early supporters and substantial gifts, it is imperative to maintain and preserve it throughout the campaign. Acknowledging the existing momentum and establishing enthusiasm around the success-to-date keeps people motivated. Showing them incremental success, no matter the gift amount, is proof of getting closer to goal, which boosts morale and sends the message to your volunteers that their work is valued at every step of the process.
Utilizing incremental benchmarks gives volunteers something specific to look toward and aspire to reach. Positive reinforcement and recognition for their part in achieving certain milestones is a useful reminder that their time and effort is having an impact.
A small win to someone may be something different to another individual. For example, there was a volunteer at a parish who felt very uncomfortable calling parishioners about campaign receptions but decided since they were committed to helping their pastor, they would proceed with the task. This person shared their discomfort multiple times to the group, so after overcoming these insecurities and making several calls, it was important to acknowledge this person for the evident capacity to go beyond their comfort zone.
Encouraging Ongoing Communication
Campaigns are fast-paced and constantly changing. To ensure transparency with volunteers, maintaining continued communication is critical. Volunteers are the pastors’ ambassadors. They are not only representing their parish, but they are representing their spiritual leader in a challenging endeavor, so it is essential that they are well informed and can answer any questions that prospective donors may ask.
Before the campaign begins, the needs of the parish may not be fully developed. For example, a parish’s needs may entail renovations to the interior of the church but prior to fundraising, plans may not have been finalized. As updates about the projects surface, the volunteers should be the first people to know about the developments, so they can be prepared to quell any doubts among the other parishioners who have not been informed about the campaign yet. They can also include this information in their solicitation meetings with families.
Presenting the campaign timeline while acknowledging that dates and prospective events are subject to change is recommended to share in the preliminary stages of a campaign. People get busy and have other responsibilities, so providing this information early on shows them that there is an expiration date to the consistent activity in this fundraising effort.
Giving volunteers a variety of activities is an effective method of keeping them engaged. The Campaign Executive Committee Chair and Phase Chairs are useful in sharing responsibilities as well. Being leaders of the campaign, they have the autonomy to encourage and invite the other volunteers to help with a specific need.
While fundraising for an important cause is exciting and rewarding, the expectations within a Diocesan campaign are robust. Pastors and directors increase their chances of retaining their volunteers when they provide different options of tasks for them to accomplish. These options may include helping run report meetings, creating agendas, presenting at receptions, making calls, stuffing and stamping envelopes, and assisting with packet handouts.
Utilizing the “doers” of the parish is a smart strategy in recruiting a strong volunteer base. More often than not, Ministry Groups are members of the parish community who are identified as individuals who are willing to volunteer and demonstrate stewardship to their parish. As an example, a seasoned pastor of over 20years at a parish had some trepidation about requesting assistance from his parishioners to help him solicit families. Instead, a compromise was made after agreeing that he ask people whom he knew and was more comfortable with – the members of his parish and finance council. Evidently, eight devoted parishioners agreed to volunteer and help the pastor reach out to the families in the Major and Advance phases. Creating this small team not only helped with securing more gifts, but it also boosted the pastor’s confidence. They wanted to help their pastor because they trusted and supported him.
Parishioners who are willing to get involved in a campaign and assist with a fundraising initiative most likely have a substantial network of friends within the parish. Requesting that they tap into their network and recruit their friends to volunteer expands the opportunity to directly engage more parish families.
Encouraging feedback and counsel from volunteers instills more confidence and shows them that they are an essential part of the mission and vision of their parish. Their time and talent should never be overlooked. Part of a successful volunteer program is asking the parishioners honest questions about their opinions, concerns, challenges, and insights about the campaign. They are the ones who know their parish and know their pastor, so as you provide them with fundraising counsel and direction, remember to trust their ideas, too.
Taking the First Steps
As you establish a clear rapport with your pastor in the initial stages of the campaign, consider encouraging him to begin thinking about the parishioners he would want on his team to help him with the campaign. Recruiting the engaged and involved individuals of the parish will ensure that you build a foundation from which your campaign can launch, and it also provides the opportunity for you to develop necessary momentum as you move forward in later phases. After having your discussion with the pastor about prospective volunteers and then inviting these preferred members to join the team, take inventory of this initial group before implementing your volunteer program strategy. Considering roles and structure for the group may help you determine gaps which may prompt the need to recruit more volunteers.
Lastly, think about the project that the parish is addressing. Is it one that will benefit the whole community, or will it focus more on a sector of the community? If it’s a project that will primarily benefit the youth group, identifying the young families of the parish and requesting their help on the committee would bolster the group’s productivity and effectiveness. While we have recommendations for you to create an engaged volunteer base, remember that there is no foolproof formula. Be creative, ask your colleagues what they’ve done, and remain open to new ideas.
CCS Fundraising is a strategic consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page.
About the Author
During her time at CCS Fundraising, Caitlin Forsthoefel has helped clients build and sustain fundraising success. At present, she is working with the Diocese of Bridgeport on a $75 million capital campaign. Caitlin also has international nonprofit experience, having worked with several nonprofit organizations across sectors and geographies. Caitlin is well versed in project management, marketing strategies, research and analytics, events, and community outreach and engagement.