Do Volunteers Know What Their Role Is In Fundraising?

I am convinced they do not.

I am also convinced that this is not deliberate avoidance of responsibility but genuine confusion over who is best positioned to do what.

This is the second of a two-part blog on the discrete fundraising responsibilities of professional staff and leadership volunteers.  Previously I reported findings that showed fundraisers believed they, not their leadership volunteers, were responsible for almost every fundraising task. However, they also strongly suggested that leadership volunteers would actually be more effective in some functions.

What Volunteers Feel Are Their Responsibilities in Fundraising

The following tables show the views of 854 American and 217 Canadian leadership volunteers. Qualified respondents were serving on Boards of Directors of not-for-profit organizations that employ professional fundraising staff and which do not have a separate Foundation Board for fundraising purposes.

American Leadership Volunteers’ Views on Who Is Primarily Responsible for Various Fundraising Tasks

(Click to enlarge)

Canadian Leadership Volunteers’ Views on Who  Is Primarily Responsible for Various Fundraising Tasks

As you can see, leadership volunteers generally agree with professionals that fundraising staff are responsible for almost everything!  Almost everything, but not quite.  Taking ownership of any fundraising task is an opportunity for professional fundraisers to turn volunteers’ acceptance of responsibility into action.  Here is one example:

offering names of and information on potential donors – Fundraising success is a product of interest and influence combined. Asking board members for names of their friends and colleagues will generate a list (assuming they cooperate) of people with whom you can assume your volunteers have influence. But that doesn’t mean there is interest.  There is a much more productive way to capitalize on board members’ willingness here, one that improves fundraising performance while lessening donors’ concerns about what you will do with the names they provide.  If you have a database of current and lapsed donors, do you really need more names or should you be doing a better job with the ones you already have?

While volunteers expressed confidence about where responsibility lies for certain tasks, they were very hesitant about others.  For example, American respondents were split on whether developing the fundraising strategic plan was their responsibility (28.8%) or that of professional fundraisers (28.9%) This is definitely NOT volunteers’ responsibility, but I can see why confusion exists between setting strategy for operations and setting strategy for fundraising.

Dealing with this problem is one of the topics I will be exploring in an upcoming webinar on Board / Fundraiser relations on April 29th called
We Have to Have the Money Now

Canadian Volunteers’ Views

Canadian leadership volunteers agreed with their American counterparts on most points, but there are some differences. I was particularly intrigued by their assumption of responsibility for determining the “case” – ie, specific programs and services or initiatives that will be offered to donors for funding.” In fact, they are right on this one, though there is a critical, symbiotic task related to case development that belongs to professional fundraisers. The waters are muddied on this issue in many not-for-profits, which causes a missed opportunity to develop volunteers’ willingness to play their unique role more effectively.

Professional Fundraisers’ Biggest Responsibility of All

Even though the list is already very long, professional fundraisers have yet another responsibility if they expect their leadership volunteers to be more productive in fundraising. From literally hundreds of comments from fundraisers and volunteers engaged in our recent research study, this one sums up what I mean.

The Board’s willingness (or lack thereof) to be usefully involved in philanthropy usually has more to do with the staff’s leadership than with the Board’s willingness. Too often, we don’t ask Boards to do the things we cannot do as well, or we don’t prepare them adequately to do what is needed. We should operate within their confidence zone, not their comfort zone.


Our research study is rich with implication and possibilities.  If you are interested in learning more about this and other issues on the relationship between Leadership Volunteers and Fundraising Staff, I will be hosting a one-hour webinar on April 29, 2010, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. EDT.

I hope you will join me next week to continue the discussion.
Click here for webinar information

Showing 5 comments
  • Susan Ratcliffe

    Interesting – but what’s a “Professional Fundraising Staff”?? In all the Volunteer groups I belong to, the volunteers are everything. We can’t afford paid staff of any kind, so all fundraising, such as it is, is up to us. You must be focussing only on huge associations. So are they fundraising to pay the staff??

  • Gerard Gibbs

    Theoretically, if you have no staff, your fundraising needs are very small. In other words, it may take the effort of one volunteer to make a single call once a year and your fundraising needs are met. That’s fine. For organizations with budgets in the six to eight figure budget ranges, a professional fundraising staff is necessary. I think this is the point of the information you see here. In your case, some principles may apply and others not.

  • Virginia

    I think just asking your board members and paid and volunteer staff these questions and then working out the answers together would be extremely helpful. I am going to do that.

  • Laura Cerruti

    I’ve just stumbled across this article, but these findings definitely point to the need for tools that help focus volunteers and free up the staff that manages them–especially for larger organizations, such as universities and private colleges. For example, volunteers involved in a class gift campaign can certainly be involved in soliciting donors that they know. Are you planning on updating this survey at any point?

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