Making Events Easier for Volunteers

As many of you know, I HATE events. I understand the need for them, but I have found that many not-for-profits (NPOs) rely heavily on events to secure their philanthropic income (which is a huge no-no). I also don’t like events, because many times, these organizations don’t take the time to make the implementation of the events easy for their volunteers. I have a great example of this.

This year, I’m co-chairing my local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) continuing education conference, the Philanthropic Institute (#2018AFPpi). Our local chapter is volunteer run and we are on a small budget because our membership is small (less than 100 members). We saw a need to provide a professional development opportunity for area nonprofits and so for the first time, we’re hosting an all day conference for NPO leaders, staff, and board members. For the most part, the planning of this event has been pretty easy, BUT there are certain aspects of the planning and implementation process that have posed some unnecessary challenges.

The first challenge was the fact that our chapter doesn’t have a CRM or donor database. Even though we are part of AFP, an international organization, they don’t provide us use with a donor database. And since we are a small chapter with a small budget, we haven’t explored purchasing a donor database. Because we don’t have a database, we don’t have a central location to keep area NPOs contact information nor do we have a place to keep our members. Currently, we use Constant Contact as our email platform, and we’ve just been adding to people to the email list, but haven’t really culled the list. This means, our committee has had to build the invite list from scratch. This isn’t something your volunteers want to do. Instead, NPOs need to invest in a CRM, regularly conduct an audit, and then take time to update the information. That way, when you are hosting an event, you can provide the list to your volunteers and they can update the list: provide revisions, additions, and even provide you with individuals to remove.

The second hiccup we faced dealt with communication. As I mentioned above, our chapter uses Constant Contact to communicate with NPOs and their development professionals. The committee was responsible for drafting the communications to go out and then the Chapter would be responsible for sending the communication to the appropriate individuals. Technically speaking, this is what was happening, BUT when developing the invite list and putting them into Constant Contact, we didn’t clean up the existing list. Some of the individuals receiving the communications on the conference were targeted, but many, many others were not. Remember, we are a volunteer run chapter, and we never took the time to create a process to review the list and update. The planning committee for #2018AFPpi already had our plate full and didn’t feel it was worth our time to review and clean up the existing Constant Contact list. Unfortunately, we don’t truly know how our communication is performing because we have such a massive list of addresses that could be outdated. As a NPO, you need to make sure your contact list is updated and regularly reviewed. You don’t want volunteers to feel like they are hitting a brick wall as they try to market the event through electronic and print communication.

The third challenge we have faced, and I believe it is a challenge that many NPOs and their volunteers face, is finding an event registration platform that encompasses everything they need in one central location. For #2018AFPpi, we are using Constant Contact and rather than the Board handling the registration process, it is the planning committee. None of us were trained in Constant Contact, so it might be a strong platform for what we need, but that doesn’t really help us, if we don’t have the training to use it effectively. Using this platform has been a nightmare for me. I’m not able to make edits to registrations, register a person offline, and if individuals registered more than one individual, I’m unable to enter the attendee names later. In addition, I haven’t been able to figure out how to remove individuals who have registered from the marketing emails we are sending about the conference. This makes our chapter look incompetent, when in reality, I just don’t have the time to figure it out, because there are more pressing issues. NPOs need to find a way to make the registration process easy for their attendees AND for the individuals who are responsible for the registration process (which in our case is the planning committee).

The final challenge faced by  the planning committee, was the that Chapter didn’t take the time to create a process of notifying the committee when payments were received. The chapter had an individual who checked the mail. Then another individual was responsible for deposits of payments, but there was never a process outlined on telling the committee when these payments were received. The committee wrongly assumed no payments were being sent in and so they were contacting these individuals, only to find out that in some cases, payment had already been sent and processed by the Chapter.  Don’t let your volunteers go through this embarrassment! They are doing a great service for your mission and we want to make sure that they don’t have to have an unnecessary negative touch point.

I know that for many NPOs that we have limited time to accomplish everything we need to do to advance our mission. However, if take the time to plan and make sure we have outlined ways to make our events easier for our volunteers, we will make the event planning and implementation more enjoyable for them and reduce the risk of losing those engaged volunteers.

What is your NPO doing to make events easier for your volunteers?

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