The subject of volunteers in the non-profit fundraising, marketing, and communication sector has been an interesting and troubling journey over my last 45+ years of doing this work. Interesting in that there has been a huge volume of volunteer talent that has been ignored and unused. And troubling in that when that talent was used it has often been misused and abused.

I remember sitting with the then CEO of a multi-national organization, you would immediately recognize the organization if I told you, who was a volunteer for a non-profit we were helping. We had become friends and he felt free to talk to me honestly about his relationship to this non-profit he and his wife loved.

I will never forget the dinner I had in his home. We had finished eating and had moved to a comfortable sitting area in another part of the house. There was a moment of silence and then he said: “You know, Richard. I just don’t understand. They won’t even let me sit at the table (where decisions and plans are made) and let me participate. I have so much I could contribute.”

It was very sad.

And I was reminded of all the ways we discourage these good volunteers from contributing to our good causes. Oh, yes, you may have a very complex system for managing volunteers. You may even have a Manager of Volunteer Programs. But if you honestly look at it, most if not all those volunteers perform fairly basic tasks for your organization, much of it is manual labor of some sort.

And the excuse for keeping volunteers out of the higher-level strategy, decision making areas of the organization is that they really don’t understand non-profit fundraising, marketing, and communication so they can’t really contribute effectively.

We are working with a non-profit where we have trained volunteers on the best practices of non-profit fundraising, marketing, and communication, where the volunteer now understands how the donor pipeline works and how the mid and major gifts strategy and process we call the Veritus Way is implemented and used. These volunteers are now non-paid Mid and Major Gift Officers who routinely raise five and six figure gifts and who sit at the strategy design table of the organization and effectively contribute to the making and modification of plans that has resulted in the organization growing by 27% last year. All very talented, competent individuals who find joy and fulfillment at contributing their time and talent to this organization they love.

We work with another organization whose current CEO had very limited experience in non-profit fundraising, marketing, and communication. We have trained her. And now those gifts, talents and experience that she was so effective at using in the commercial space have resulted in a multi-million-dollar cash gift – the largest in the organization’s history.

It can happen. You can invite your volunteer to sit at your decision planning and making table.

All you must do is train them on how to use their commercial experience in the non-profit context. It is easier than you think. It just takes a little bit of time.

Buried in your list of donors is a rather extensive list of very talented people who, properly trained and guided, will take your organization to new places. Try it. Change how you view and manage volunteers.