Management & leadership, Volunteer management

Time for a change

A consistent theme in my writing is frustration that in the ongoing climate of austerity some organisations - mainly at the larger charity end of the sector - seem to be responding to the challenges they face by seeking to fundraise their way out of trouble.

This approach seems to originate from leaders in these organisations thinking money is the only viable resource they can deploy in the pursuit of their mission. This in turn helps explain the perception some seem to have that paying people to work for them is the only way to secure competent help.

Sometimes people misunderstand my views as being anti-paid staff…

I’m not, I was a sector employee for many. Or perhaps anti-fundraising? I’m not, in fact I was actively involved on two committees of the Institute of Fundraising and worked in fundraising for six years. Despite the fact that the vast majority of civil society organisations have no paid staff and no real income to speak of, a minority of the sector (what I refer to as the ‘establishment’) have wage bills to meet and costs to fundraise for. I get that.

So I was heartened to read these sentences a while back in an article from Nfpsynergy research consultancy, “Fiscal education; why charities need to speak up when their staff are good value for money”:

“We know from our Charity Awareness Monitor that concern about staff pay levels is a major factor in public trust in charities. We also know that a charity being run by volunteers makes a significant proportion of the public more confident that the organisation will use donations wisely.”

Whilst the press continue to report on the publics’ attitude to CEO pay I think these two sentences carry an important message for sector organisations and those that lead them in these difficult times.

Engaging volunteers to gain peoples’ trust

What it suggests to me is that organisations that actively seek to people raise as well as fundraise (skill-anthropy and philanthropy) are not only able to draw on a bigger pool of resources (including those money can’t buy!) but in doing so can convey a message to the donating public that – through engaging volunteers – they are a body worthy of peoples’ trust, raising confidence amongst potential donors that they will use their money wisely.

In other words, recruit volunteers and not only do you get more resources than just cash, you also may get more cash because the public see you as a wise steward of your resources. Add to that the fact that volunteers give (on average) twice as much money to good causes as non-volunteers and the case for developing volunteer involvement in tough times gets stronger and stronger.

This perhaps explains why studies from the Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administrators in 2009 and 2010 (both entitled “The Status of Minnesota’s Volunteer Programs In a Shifting Environment”) found that those organisations that innovated, maintained and / or grew investment in volunteering were thriving more than those that cut funding for volunteer programmes.

Perhaps it is now time for the debate to change and for volunteering to be taken far more seriously by sector leaders who thus far see money as the only resource at their disposal.