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Converging Campaigns: Empowering Volunteers

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:49pm

Volunteernonprofitteamwork Most nonprofit organizations could be more effective by trusting and empowering their volunteers. This is one theme that was evident at the Converging Campaigns panel discussion.

Several of the panel members discussed the need for organizations to effectively target potential and current supporters. One of the best ways mentioned was through the personalized message of individuals (volunteers). I will discuss the importance of using these type of techniques called micro-campaigning and micro-targeting in a future post.

Brian Rubenstein, Associate Director of Nationwide Grassroots, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was the most vocal about the need to empower volunteers. He made it clear that it was important for organizations to trust their volunteers.

For example, traditional approaches of contacting Congress are becoming much less effective today.  Because it is difficult to determine whether advocacy emails are coming from individuals or being sent by the organization, the impact of an e-mail campaign is reduced. However, a personal visit by volunteers to congressional offices can have a significant impact.

This means it's important for an organization to trust and empower the volunteers not only to support online campaign efforts but offline as well. Using online tools to engage these volunteers can be a very effective method in preparing them to be an advocate. Suggested tools were mentioned throughout the day including email, text messaging, MySpace, and Facebook.

I was able to talk with Brian Rubenstein following the panel discussion.  One of the things I asked him about was the struggle between a nonprofit organization trusting its volunteers and the desire for that same organization to maintain control over the volunteers' actions. He confirmed that it is critical for nonprofit organizations to trust their volunteers. The compromise he suggested was to provide an online presence for the volunteer that would provide him or her a way to:

  • Tell personal stories
  • Connect with others
  • Support fundraising activities

The format of the web site could still be controlled by the nonprofit organization.  The content could be monitored easier by the nonprofit organization.

For some organizations, this may still seem too risky.  Brian indicated the volunteers are going to write about the nonprofit even if they are not provided these tools. He also said that most people, including government officials, know that volunteers might make mistakes. The passion and stories of those volunteers to the cause is what is important. So the tactic of providing online tools to volunteers can actually be less risky than doing nothing at all.

It is important that nonprofit organizations start trusting and empowering their volunteers. Volunteers need to be viewed as an extension of the organization's staff and a critical resource for achieving the organization's mission and goals.

Volunteers need to understand that their voice is becoming more important than ever in today's world. It is important to take action and start making a difference.

Related post: Converging Campaigns: How the Internet is Changing Philanthropy, Advocacy and Politics

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