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Volunteers: Do We Achieve Success Because or In Spite of Them?. James M. Langley President, Langley Innovations. Volunteers. The Either/Or of Volunteers Either one of the best ways to magnify the capability and reach of an institution or

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volunteers do we achieve success because or in spite of them

Volunteers: Do We Achieve Success Because or In Spite of Them?

James M. Langley

President, Langley Innovations

  • The Either/Or of Volunteers
    • Eitherone of the best ways to magnify the capability and reach of an institution or
    • The greatest waste of the time and talents of the professional staff
    • Eitherthe best source of sustained support (volunteers give 10x more than non-volunteers) or
    • The greatest drain on the fundraising capability of an organization
  • What makes the difference between the two?
    • Selecting the right people
    • Creating the right environment
    • Assigning real work
    • Matching talents to tasks
    • Avoiding myths, assumptions, and linear thinking
  • The right people
    • Socially responsible
    • Strong belief systems, values
    • Live by their beliefs
    • Altruistically aspirational
    • Well educated
    • Very busy
      • These traits tend to lead to financial success but financial success, in and of, itself, is not proof of them
  • The right people
    • Those of faith, any faith, give significantly more than those of no faith
    • Those that attend their faith services more regularly give more
    • “Religious” about something
    • Evidence of social responsibility
    • Rooted in community



Philanthropic Propensity

+ Aspirational

  • Identification/Recruitment
  • The best are the hardest to get, take the most time to court but ultimately make all the difference
  • Don’t just accommodate those who come to you looking for something to do
  • Avoid the “heavy hitter” syndrome, look for the mission driven, socially responsible, those who give outside their immediate self-interest
  • Create a farm system – task at time
  • Americans are still philanthropic
  • Believe in giving time and money
  • If they give time (and 73 percent have, 43 percent in the last year), they give 10 times more
    • About half are consistent givers
    • Another 25 percent occasional givers
    • Another 25 virtual never givers
  • Believe they should be given nothing in return (84 percent), including recognition
  • Six in 10 (63%) Americans cite a renewed sense of the value and importance of community service within their network of friends and family
  • Voluntarism is at the heart of the American experience
  • Americans give more volunteer time than any other culture
  • Americans give more of their disposable income than an people in human history
  • One relates to the other
  • Time, talent and treasure – a sequential strategy
  • Yet, 6 in 10 Americans says charities have become too much of a big business
  • 56% say many charities have “disorganized” management
  • More than one-third say they want to see immediate results when they volunteer
  • 44% say that if an organization cannot take advantage of their specific skills, they will volunteer elsewhere.
  • Want to “touch the baby”
  • Experience is predictive of giving
    • SFO
  • What happens if experience is a turn off?
    • Bloated and moated
    • Meddlers or insiders?
    • Risk management, legal office, project mistrust or suspicion
    • Alumni compact example
higher philanthropic ground
  • “There’s a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits to build greater awareness and understanding of how they manage their organizations by sharing insights into their funding structure, project management and volunteer coordination practices. Transparency through open and frequent communication with current and prospective donors should always remain a priority.”
    • -Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, Volunteer Match Survey
  • Giving volunteers real work
  • Definition
    • To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will.
    • To do charitable or helpful work without pay
  • Real work
    • Not something you spend a lot of time making up for other people to do
    • Not something that forces you to put aside your everyday duties and responsibilities to create
    • Not a means to humor people into feeling important so they give you more money
    • It’s the stuff you do to advance the mission of your school
      • The more effort relates to mission advancement, the more satisfied everyone is – staff and volunteer

Engaging with Purpose

Financial Aid


Sponsor and/or Provide Public

Service Internships

Career Opportunity Mentoring

Assisting the Student Discovery


Career placement assistance




Freshman Send-offs

Off-site introductions

Yield events and activities

Financial aid education and advice

Affinity group orientations

Campus Tours



Prospective Students

Enrolled Students

Prospective Parents

Current Parents

Human Development Cycle

Recent Parents

Parents & Friends

Recent Grads

Salon events

Strategy sessions

Project leadership

Franchising GU causes/values


Helping hands

Common cause/Relevance/


Local orientation and introduction

Career mentoring and networking


Salon events




School (State) % of alumni U.S. News rank & category

Princeton University (NJ) 611, National Universities

Carleton College (MN) 59.9 6, National Liberal Arts

Amherst College (MA) 58.2 2, National Liberal Arts

Middlebury College (VT) 57.2 5, National Liberal Arts

Williams College (MA) 56.7 1, National Liberal Arts

Judson College (AL) 56.1 RNP*, Liberal Arts

Centre College (KY) 54.5 42, National Liberal Arts

Davidson College (NC) 53.7 11, National Liberal Arts

Holy Cross (MA) 50.7 29, National Liberal Arts

Thomas Aquinas (CA) 50.7 71, National Liberal Arts

*Connotes ranking in the lowest quartile of that category

high alumni participation
High Alumni Participation
  • Common Denominators
    • Rich teaching traditions, accessible faculty
    • Palpable, pre-existing sense of community, belonging, mattering, shared purposes, rituals
    • Continuity of purpose, leadership
    • Absence of divisive crisis, lingering controversy
    • Sustaining the compact for alumni
    • Advancement as culture carriers
    • Value exceeded cost
  • Real Work
    • Beyond boards, please (especially fundraising boards)
      • Task forces
      • Blue ribbon panels
      • Commissions
    • Immerse in mission, delivery systems
    • Touch the baby, render real service
    • Trust
  • Real Issues
    • Emotional health
    • Family health/dynamics
    • The creation of community
      • Students as stakeholders, responsible
      • The anatomy of bullying, alienation
      • Commitment to a common cause
      • The celebration of values
        • Athletics vs. academics
  • Create work modules
    • Look at political campaigns
    • Define important work that can be done in one hour, try out volunteer, increase increments according to interest, capability and performance (Student Discovery example)
      • Tours
      • Interviews/Polling/Market Research
        • Peer to peer
        • Parent to parent
  • Create work modules
    • The running of every organization requires the assessment of what people are capable of doing and finding the appropriate level of work
    • People with sophisticated skills do not want to be assigned administrative tasks
    • If administrative tasks need be completed, find volunteers capable of and content with doing them
      • Phone answering, stuffing envelopes, staffing events
  • Boards
    • Should be a huge source of talent
      • Strategically assembled to create a skill set
      • Assemble the skills, and the character-set, and the money will follow
      • But, if you over-emphasize money, your create fractious boards and sub-optimize your philanthropic potential
  • Board Duties/Obligations
    • Representational, advocacy
    • Stewardship
      • Review
      • Relationship management
      • Pare back standing committees, replace with occasional task forces
      • Add other volunteers to task forces, standing committees
  • Boards
    • Don’t let them get cocooned, sweep in and out of a board room
    • Move them around
    • Invite testimony, don’t shy from controversy, tough issues
    • Confide
    • Create inner circle
      • First to know, good and bad
  • Boards
    • What do they do between meetings?
    • Need to maintain “top of mind” status
    • Board meetings should be about reports of what has been accomplished in the intervening period
    • Danger in a board becoming purely supervisory
    • Need a critical mass
      • Example, altruism, civic engagement
      • Giving of time, keeping of commitments
      • Giving
  • Reached a point where the greater logic says that volunteers need to be a permanent and critical extension of the professional organization
    • How we began
    • How we got so much done
    • Institutions over-professionalized, stilted volunteer spirit
    • Cannot continue to increase costs
    • Need more financial support
  • Need to think about building a professional organization and think about volunteers as non-paid, part-time professionals
    • Job definition
    • Recruitment/application
    • Goals, objectives, metrics
    • Performance reviews
  • Volunteer Skills
    • High end abilities that we couldn’t otherwise afford (voluntarism tied to years of formal education)
      • Investing
      • Law
      • Strategy
      • Marketing
      • Computer science
      • Health
  • Think of professional staff as functional core
  • Volunteers as selective, strategic augmentation
  • Advertise, interview for specific skills
  • Create a certain amount of redundancy
  • Stop thinking of them as prospects
    • Humoring, ingratiating
    • Tiptoeing around
  • Every time someone says, “I need more staff to ….”
  • Ask ourselves if that need represents an opportunity for volunteer contribution
  • Peter Drucker – A knowledge worker needs to be treated like a volunteer
  • Need to explore the relationship of control to productivity
  • Volunteers are unmanageable, undependable
    • How much time did you spend seeking out specialized talent vs. accommodating those that showed up?
    • When you don’t train and trust, how do you expect people to feel valued and essential to the enterprise?
    • When someone is given inconsequential work, how do you expect them to stay motivated?
    • If volunteers are highly successful in their professions, how could they not offer valuable service?
  • In too many cases, volunteer sub-optimization is attributable to one primary cause – urgent, unimaginative fundraising
  • “Volunteers” were/are really prospects; we sought to engage them to advance the fundraising process
  • Since they were more prospect than volunteer, we put them on boards and put on shows for them
  • We need to get real
    • Real skill
    • Real work
    • Real contributions
    • Real assessments
    • Real decisions
    • Real results
  • The building of communities, or communities of support is non-linear
  • Not every institutional action triggers and opposite and equal philanthropic reaction
  • The maintaining of high purpose and making a difference will always attract interest and support
  • Time, talent and treasure – a sequential strategy
  • Create a culture of constructive volunteerism
    • Higher Purposes
    • Common good
    • Everyone has an essential role, if not fulfilled, the whole is affected
    • Effort relates to outcome
    • Shared success
  • Epochal
    • New World
    • Mayflower Compact 1620
      • “ …combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation …; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony.”
      • Preamble to the Constitution, 1787
          • “We the people ….”
  • Questions?