Written by Lauren Pike

As we learned from The Greater New England Chapter of the MS Society in April, the biggest advocates for your event can often be found on your board or volunteer committee. These people are dedicated to your cause and are genuinely excited to help your organization. The best way to harness all that enthusiasm comes down to your individual committee members but, in our experience, there are a few tried-and-true methods to help you get started.

Setting Bite-Sized, Specific Goals
Liz Strawn mentioned that their chapter creates action items to help their committee cultivate sponsors and donors. While you can (and should) share your overall event goals, creating a manageable plan for your committee to follow is key. Creating a strategy that is easy to digest with clear, achievable goals is the best way to ensure that they are able to pitch in effectively and easily with the limited time they have to give. Start by identifying what you ultimately hope to have your committee members achieve. From there, brainstorm what steps your members can reasonably take to help you achieve those goals and decide when each step will need to be executed. Simply telling your committee that you want them to help raise an additional million dollars before the event is a great way to start a brainstorming session but not necessarily the most effective way to get the work done. By presenting them with a series of specific goals, you are empowering them to hit the ground running and giving them the best chance of success.

While working on a 5K that raises money for childhood diseases, we assisted in restructuring the goals for their steering committee by taking the overall event needs and making them more practicable. For example instead of asking the volunteer recruitment sub-committee just to ensure that the event had enough volunteers to fully support the walk, we divided up the database of past volunteers and had the committee members make a personal ask (by phone or email) to an assigned list by a specific date. After that was accomplished, we asked them each to identify and contact a set number of community groups who may be interested in creating a volunteer team. These assignments continued, being modified as needed, until the volunteer positions were all filled. By creating these tasks, you transform an overwhelming goal into several smaller goals that can easily be achieved in an hour or two. Your committee members get to know (and feel) that they’ve accomplished something meaningful and you can rest assured that you are steadily making progress toward your ultimate objective. Everyone wins!

Recognize Your Committee’s Strengths and Interests
You know that your committee members care about your organization and you are the first to sing their praises when it comes to the time they’ve dedicated to your mission. But what else do you really know about them? Striking a balance between keeping your committee informed and not overwhelming them with the daily minutiae probably means that there are moving pieces to your event that your committee members aren’t even aware exist. By taking the time to really get to know them – what they do professionally, what they do for fun, and what organizations they belong to – you are building an information database that will guide you the next time you could use some extra help on a tough (or maybe even a not-so-tough) problem. You might be surprised to learn that your rock star fundraising chair has a connection to an IT company that would be willing to loan you computers for your registration tent. I’ll let you in on a secret – sitting down with your committee members for a few minutes to learn more about them not only helps you to better understand how they can support the event, but it also helps them to feel more invested in the organization. And, honestly, it’s really enjoyable!

Recently, I was talking with a friend who found herself in exactly this position. She has volunteered for years with various organizations that benefit veterans, often using her vast personal network to secure in-kind donations for their fundraising events. Through this work, she found herself on a committee to help organize a film festival where she filled the familiar role of acquiring gifts for the event. However, this particular nonprofit also smartly put her to work courting press to cover their event. Although it isn’t her day job, she works as a freelance writer – covering local events just like theirs – and was able to put her contacts in that field to use. Without knowing that tidbit about her, the nonprofit wouldn’t have known to ask her to pitch in with their media outreach and without being asked she wouldn’t have known they needed the help. That little bit of work translated to big success for their event.

Partner With Your Committee
Chances are you selected your committee or board members because they demonstrated their reliability, commitment, and passion for your cause. They are your most trusted volunteers and you value their input. So when one of your committee members shows an interest in a new event element, outreach strategy, or fundraising idea, it just makes sense to allow them to weigh in. Sometimes their ideas may not work within the confines of your event budget or timeline, but it never hurts to talk it through. If you love the idea but just don’t have the manpower or budget to test it out, allow your committee members to become a partner on the project and take a larger role in the execution. As long as you are clear about the expectations, your committee members are an excellent resource.

A few years ago, we began outreach efforts to a few local restaurants to promote a run/walk to end cancer as part of a larger grassroots outreach strategy. The steering committee thought this was a great idea but that it could be even bigger. Two of the committee members stepped forward to take ownership of this program. Over the past two years, this program has grown from 25 participating restaurants to nearly 200. Those two committee members recruit their own volunteers to help with the effort, pound the pavement themselves for restaurant involvement, draft their own correspondence and track the results of their work. We provide support at a high level – like creating a roster of professionally printed materials for display in the restaurants or building a thank you page on the website dedicated to the program. But it is thanks to the work of amazing volunteers that has enabled this program to blossom. By giving the volunteers the freedom to design an outreach program that would work for them, we were able to significantly expand our local awareness while minimizing the expense of paid staff involvement.

We know there are many other ways to make working with your volunteer committee members a successful effort for your organization, while making it an enjoyable experience for the members. Hopefully these three tips: setting bite-sized, specific goals, recognizing your committee’s strengths and weaknesses and partner with your committee, provides you with more to consider as you continue to foster these important relationships to help your organization flourish.

Lauren spends her days focusing on recruitment, volunteer management and participant support programs. Along with her team, she strives to help our clients seamlessly execute the behind-the-scenes work necessary for a successful event.

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