Monday, October 15, 2012

Guilt is not the answer!

On Friday I received an email that went like so:

Dear Melissa,

We hope October is finding you well. We're so thrilled that the _(insert project name here)    is going so well and we hope to be up and running with it early in the new year.

This morning a memo came across my desk about another important program.    (insert another project name here)    has done great work connecting vulnerable teens with mentors and we have committed to funding the project for another 5 years. We have hit a serious snag as WE HAVE NO VOLUNTEERS and NO MORE FUNDING though. We'd love if you could feature us on your blog to make an appeal for volunteers BEFORE THE PROGRAM GETS CANCELLED and also for you to volunteer as a mentor SO THE PROJECT DOESN'T GET CANCELLED. Also, we need funds. How can you help us?



**all emphasis is copied verbatim.**

First thought: Sweet mother, why are you shouting at me?

Second thought: Why are you guilting me?

Third thought: How can you promise to fund a program for another 5 years when you have no money?

Fourth thought: Since we've never met nor worked together, why not email me and request a lunch or phone date so we can discuss the needs your organization has and how I can help? 

I'm no ace when it comes to professional correspondence.  My emails are filled with smiley faces, winkys and most likely, severe grammatical errors. To my untrained eye, this letter reeks of unprofessionalism, from the shouty capitals to the expectance of my help to save your program. In order to lure me to your cause, I need a few things:

- Information about your program
     Mentoring vulnerable teens is great but who are some of your mentors, what are your goals for the project and how many teens have you worked with so far?

- Track record
     You've just finished telling me your new program is off to a great start, without giving me any links or information to what it is. Then you tell me that the other program you have running is failing miserably. Do you have any record of great programs that have had any continued success or am I going to be jumping onto a sinking ship?

- Volunteer Recruitment Strategies
     Please don't tell me this is the only way you recruit volunteers. I imagine that 98% of these emails ended up in the trash before being read. I need you to tell me why you don't feel you have enough volunteers and what your volunteer recruitment and retention strategies are. 

- Why should I help you
     You've told me your programs are failing. You have no money and no volunteers. Now tell me WHY exactly I should put my time towards your organization when there are so many that need help.

Which all brings me to my final point: Guilt is the worst possible way to recruit volunteers. I rarely see guilt used in secular social profit agencies but often see it used in faith-based ones. Heck, I've even *tried* to employ it myself a time or two.  It's a recruitment process that's used a lot in churches;


You may gain a few volunteers using this strategy in the short-term but in my experience, volunteers who have been "coerced" have the shelf life of milk... your volunteers will sign up because you've made them feel guilty that they're not doing more but will often quit soon after when they realize the job isn't for them (because if it was, they probably would have already been volunteering with you).

Before you do any call for volunteers it is imperative that you have a job description for each position and if you are doing personal appeals to professionals, what that person's area of expertise is. Last year I was on the receiving end of a mass email call for mentors specifically for troubled teens. 6 of the others also on the list were philanthropists who were born into money and had never "worked" a day in their lives. While these people are great volunteers in other organizations, 4 of them told me that they'd have no idea how to relate to teens battling addiction, abuse and prostitution.

In short, I need you to appeal to my volunteer spirit. Tell me why I'll be making such a huge difference, who I'll be affecting. Give me ways to help you if I can't give you my time. You need money? Give me the link to donate. You have other specific volunteer needs, such as accountants or web developers? Let me know that and ask me for referrals. Ask me to tweet a link or publish an article to Facebook. I may be a unpaid worker, but I do expect you to value my money and my time and frankly, I'd loved to be "wined and dined" a little.... even if that means you taking just a few more minutes with your email campaign so I don't feel like I'm just another body in your volunteer machine.

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