I hope you enjoy this guest post from my friend and colleague Cristy Racy, the Director of Donor Programs and Engagement at the Oklahoma State University Foundation and host of our upcoming webinar, Volunteer Engagement: Where to Start. Don’t let this be YOU: “The Board is not engaged enough, so let’s have more meetings.” Do you often struggle with keeping your board engaged? What does engagement really mean? Volunteer engagement can take place in many ways depending on your organization’s goals. For some, it could be keeping your governing board engaged through frequent insider communications from leadership; for others it could be networking breakfasts or social events to encourage connectivity amongst your volunteers. Engagement could also be involving your board in stewardship activities, such as writing thank you notes or attending donor recognition events with prospective donors. Meaningful engagement is the key. Volunteers don’t necessarily want to sit on a committee and attend meeting after meeting to hear about everything going on in your organization. They most often are very busy individuals and want to make the most of their time. A volunteer wants to feel valued. However, we aren’t always taking the time to ensure our volunteers’ experience is as meaningful as it could be. As busy professionals we often get bogged down in a routine of hosting quarterly or annual meetings and what needs to be shared with our board members, that we forget about how to best utilize their time. On top of that, it isn’t always clearly defined who is responsible for engaging the board – is it the CEO’s support staff, leadership team, development staff, or donor relations? The answer is: all of the above. It’s important for all areas of your organization to be involved in engaging volunteers, and it takes good communication and teamwork. Once you have your goals identified and you’ve communicated your goals clearly to your organization – it’s time to plan engagement opportunities for your volunteers. Don’t overcomplicate it! Something Lynne Wester speaks about that resonated with me and can be applied here – donors want three things: Access, Information and Experiences. It’s the same with your volunteers. So avoid spending lots of money of lavish gifts, when all they really want is something at your fingertips…as simple as a reserved parking spot on game day! Here are five creative ways to engage your volunteers:
Ask them to mentor students to help them identify career paths and understand real-world needs.
Ask them to serve as an advisor for your organization's staff—be a sounding board for an individual employee or department, helping the organization progress and look for ways to improve.
Ask them to speak to student groups on campus to share best practices and address specific issues relevant to their industry and expertise.
Ask them to engage with their network and spheres of influence to assist with developing plans for prospective donors.
Invite them to behind-the-scenes tours of new buildings, intimate meet-the-Dean/Administrator events, and provide customized experiences before or after existing meetings.
Providing meaningful engagement opportunities for your volunteers is just a few steps away! Join us later this month for Volunteer Engagement: Where to Start to learn more about the simple ways to make sure your volunteers are so engaged, they shout it from the rooftops: