The Life Cycle of Volunteer-Driven Fundraising Events

Katrina VanHuss of Turnkey Promotions, black and white imageEven the best volunteer-driven fundraising events seem to have a life cycle that goes as follows: 

  1. Great idea from volunteers about doing an event to raise money.
  2. Volunteers take the reins and start raising bunch of money.
  3. Nonprofit org begins to support and ultimately takes control of event.
  4. Volunteers lose influence and control.
  5. Nonprofit “protects brand integrity” and “reduces risk.”
  6. Volunteers get bored with stuffing envelopes and parking cars and quit.

The charm of volunteering is that volunteers get to do good, have fun, be creative, and have control. Once the nonprofit organization decides that it needs to control an event or the event brand, it starts to rein in and discount the leadership volunteer. Since a lot of control has been taken away from the volunteer leaders, a fundraising event is less fun and more like work.

During the last days of the cycle, I, as a volunteer, can’t plan and execute a large meeting anymore. (Staff takes control of most of that.) I can’t make meaningful decisions about the event so much anymore. I can’t decide on the tee shirt design or the incentive gifts anymore. My funky hand drawn signs are discouraged. If I print something with the logo, I will get my hand slapped. There is a whole lot I used to be able to do, that I can’t now.

Clearly, we know that things like tee shirts need to be done nationally, same with all print materials and so many other things for cost control. But at some point, cost control through consolidation has a cost, and that cost is volunteer engagement that is intimately, AND GREATLY, tied to fundraising. 

Does your nonprofit empower their volunteers, or disable them? I’d love to hear your stories: the good, the bad, AND the ugly.

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