Nonprofit Frustration: 12 Ways to Help Clients Overcome It

Retirees who enter the nonprofit world can often use some tips to improve their experience motivating volunteers.

By Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

“You have got to be kidding me.” Your client who spent their life in the corporate world has decided to get involved in a favorite nonprofit in retirement. Through their organization skills and generosity, they’ve landed a leadership position in this organization. However, they’ve quickly become frustrated and disillusioned upon discovering the volunteer world is different from the business world. Advisors often find themselves venting similar frustrations. How can you advise your client who is still interested in doing good for the community.

A retired husband and wife corporate couple summed it up by saying, “When you are working with volunteers, you cannot fire someone for doing a poor job and you cannot give someone a bonus for doing a great job.”

Your client has found that it’s very frustrating to motivate people when these tools are taken off the table. If they were working for a big operation (such as a museum, hospital or university), it might be easier because such organizations tend to have a large, paid, professional staff along with a role for volunteers. Instead, your client has joined a community organization that has a noble mission but limited financing and staff. Your client is wearing many hats.

Here are 12 suggestions to help your client improve their experience:

1. Get to know your fellow board members

Remind your client that their team is comprised of well meaning, actual people — not the corporate executives with big budgets and big departments whom they recall sitting with around a conference table. Develop a personal relationship with as many fellow board members as they can. Keep up the contact afterward. This is not turning a prospect into a client; it is turning a volunteer into a partner.

2. Build support beforehand before floating a big idea

Your client thinks the group should hold a gala, launch a capital campaign or build a dues-paying membership. If they bring this up at a board meeting, they are often met with silence. This sounds like work to the other members. This is a step into the unknown. What if we fail? Encourage your client to meet with some fellow board members, one at a time in the weeks beforehand. The more influential, the better. This is done over coffee or drinks. Float the idea. Get the feedback. They are building support. When they introduce their idea at the next board meeting, these influencers voice their support. Their chances of getting their big idea approved increase greatly.

3. If you feed them, they will come

Now your client is in charge of a committee. There are several members, but many meet that criteria in name only. They do not show up at meetings or they cancel at the last minute. Your client marvels that these folks consider themselves board members. Tell your client to organize the meeting around a meal, ideally in their own home. Encourage them to produce an agenda beforehand and give people the opportunity to add items. Your client can budget a defined time period for the meeting, continuing the relaxed discussion through the rest of the meal. They will find some of the best ideas come during the latter period.

4. Recruit committee members with necessary skills

This applies to board members too. If your client needs fundraisers, they should bring on a couple of people in sales who are good at asking for money. If they need auction items for the gala, bring in some people who know everybody. If they will be mailing an impressive invitation, get someone onboard with a graphic arts background. By bringing in fellow volunteers or even friends, they can start to make the seemingly impossible now possible.

5. Publicize the committee members

If your client is organizing a charity gala, they should list the committee members on the invitation. Listing board members is good too. When someone’s name is connected to a project, they should have an obligation to see it succeed. Friends will see their name listed and ask, “How is it going?” and “What is your role?”

6. Assign tasks within skill sets

The problem that often develops is the organization asks the introverts to do fundraising and the recluse to solicit auction items. This is like pushing a stone up a hill. Going back to the earlier examples, your client should get the salespeople to do the fundraising and ask the artistic person to design the invitation. Volunteers are more likely to do a job if it showcases their talent or special gift.

Additional Reading: Help a Lonely Client Make 150 Acquaintances and 15 New Friends

7. Take a role in every aspect

This might sound like micromanaging. It is not. If event sponsors need to be found, your client should get the first ones. They can set up a photo shoot with the local paper showing those sponsors on the lawn holding a big paper check and get the first few auction items lined up. They are getting the ball rolling, inspiring others.

8. Avoid taking credit, heap it upon others

When volunteers bring on a new sponsor, get the invitation designed or bring on a great auction item, your client should shout it from the rooftops! There is a saying in the nonprofit world: “You can never thank people enough.” If they reward the desired behavior, they embolden their volunteers to accomplish more.

9. Hold frequent meetings

These are those mealtime meetings. Frequent meetings keep the energy level up. It also holds people accountable. If your client has committee members who skip meetings and don’t report, it is clear they have dropped the ball on their assigned task. This is an early warning system.

10. Put a backup system in place

In many cases, this backup system is your client. Has one of their fundraisers dropped the ball?  Tell them to step in to fill in the gap. The other fundraisers on the committee should be enthused enough to pick up the slack too.  Tell them to not let any problems remain hidden until the last minute.

11. The project needs a conclusion

Your client held the gala, they built the membership and they completed the capital campaign. Now is the time to declare victory, disband the committee and move onto the next project within the organization. People are more willing to take on responsibility if they know their required time commitment is limited.

12. Hand out plenty of praise at the end

Perhaps the local paper will run a story about what was accomplished, along with a picture of the entire committee. Sometimes a paper will let an organization prepare the article as a press release and provide the photo too. Volunteers appreciate recognition. Friends will say, “I saw your picture in the paper.”

Once your client learns how to get things done through volunteers, community involvement can be very rewarding.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.


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