Connect with your volunteers and supporters everywhere

Connect with your volunteers and supporters everywhere

Gary Kernahan | 22 January 2015

Ahead of the Community and Volunteer fundraising conference on 9 February, Gary Kernahan, Head of Volunteer Fundraising at Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, takes a look at the state of community fundraising in a Q&A blog.

How do you feel engagement with volunteers has changed over recent times?

Community fundraising seems to be enjoying a bit of resurgence over the last couple of years and I do think engagement with volunteers has changed. I think it has become much more sophisticated, particularly as the sector has matured with its approach to managing volunteers. Volunteers have become much more demanding about what they want and they are coming to charities bringing their skills and experience with a much clearer idea about what they want to get out of it. Sometimes that will be because the cause means a lot to them in some way.

In what way are volunteers becoming more demanding?

Well this is a good thing, and the skill for the community fundraisers and managers is to be able to identify the volunteers’ expectations and think of ways they can match those expectations. If this isn’t possible, then it’s important to say earlier on in that relationship. When recruiting, we are very clear about what we want, what the skills, experiences and needs are for that particular role. It helps you be more targeted if you are recruiting for a certain role which needs a certain skill set, you can go out and find people.

So getting a good match between volunteer and charity is important?

The majority of time that you spend with volunteers is when you get them started; with time spent on induction and training, and you hope that person will flourish. But then, if you lose them, after going through that process, you have to then start over. It’s worth getting right from the beginning.

How can charities use social media to maximise opportunities around events for instance?

This is an area I am particularly keen on. Even as recently as 18 months ago, our approach to social media was ‘oh we better do something on Facebook so let’s throw something out’ without really thinking it through. For the first time last summer, we took one of our events and properly planned out what we were going to do to market it online. We did very little of the marketing offline and the results were tremendous with a huge growth in income and registrations for that event. We’ve now been able to launch that particular event a year early, with 30% of people already signed up.

The crucial element with using social media is if you are not engaged with your supporters online you are missing out on conversations and opportunities. In terms of the supporter experience, that is a great shame. Social media allows you to be in contact without being physically there, having conversations with a much greater reach of people.

If you can do things online which encourage your supporters to share your message with their communities, you are on to a win-win. MD Campaign is trying to get the team to articulate with what good online engagement looks like, and giving them the skills and resources to do so, for instance the use of smartphones. I have a responsibility to give people the freedom to try new things and experiment with engagement within reason. So much of our income comes from online fundraising so we need to help our volunteers support us to raise more money with the best advice available.

What impact can good volunteer management have?

Having clear expectations, clear ideas about what everybody’s goals are, agreeing ways to keep in touch. Volunteers often have full-time jobs so may not be available Monday to Friday. From our experience, we know people can raise more money with support of our professional fundraisers.

Is it possible to recruit new supporters and at the same time keep existing ones?

If you are continuously in a state of recruiting and inducting new supporters you don’t have a foundation or sustainable income that one would like. So good volunteer management, good supporter care, giving people a great experience will hopefully help retention. People do move on, so keep an eye on recruiting new support as well.

Currently Muscular Dystrophy Campaign have seen fantastic growth of people setting up new fundraising groups. We also have a pool of fundraising groups that have been with us about 50 years, who are very self-sufficient but still need a level of care and attention so find ourselves having two different engagement plans.

What would be your top tips or advice?

Community fundraising can be a huge asset to any organisation, the eyes and ears in the field. So there is a very important role in making sure they have the skills and knowledge to talk passionately and with authority about your cause. For an organisation with limited marketing budget, we need to be very good verbal communicators – in a way storytellers. Having the infrastructure in place to deliver the best experience to your supporters is key.

Gary Kernahan, Head of Volunteer Fundraising, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign

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