Stretching the Limits of Involvement

Very often when we have developed relationships with professional colleagues, volunteer leaders, or donors in the community we encounter a road block in our efforts to involve them more in our organizations. We find there are issues of competition among organizations, on one hand, and the person’s desire to keep a low profile and not wanting to approach other people for donations, on the other hand. Whether we are communal professionals or volunteer leaders, how do we reach those who are already involved, but are reluctant to become more active and committed to the organizations we think are most important to the community?

It is standard practice to involve in annual fundraising campaigns or special targeted campaigns those people whom we know have a prominent profile and standing in the community. Sometimes these are people who are already sitting on our own boards or are involved in supporting our agencies. Over time we have cultivated relationships with them, and they have always responded to our community’s appeals.

However, too often, when we ask them to take an active part in our resource development programs, they draw a line in the sand: They are willing to suggest the names of potential donors for us to contact, but are reluctant to make those “asks” themselves. They are not willing to approach these people for a gift or even to open the door for a meeting with them.

In another instance of drawing a line in the sand, we sometimes ask these committed individuals to hold a parlor meeting in their homes at which potential donors can learn more about our services and consider making a donation and becoming involved. They are willing to open their house, but are not enthusiastic about inviting their friends or neighbors who have the ability to support our programs to come to the evening. These committed volunteer leaders and donors suddenly become squeamish about encouraging others to support the causes and organizations in the community they have worked so hard to build. In the life of our communities and our organizations, we cannot continue to rely on the same people year in and year out.

There must be a continual growth and expansion of the volunteer leadership and their financial support of the agencies. Fostering this growth has to be seen as an ongoing challenge, and our present leadership must give more than lip service to the concept of renewable leadership. People in leadership positions understandably are prepared to be involved in the community for a number of years, but then they want to turn over the responsibilities to others. Committed leaders who care about the continuity of the Jewish community understand it is not healthy for the community or them, as individual leaders, to maintain their positions for too long.

The time and energy volunteer leaders invest in the community can often lead to burnout that has a deleterious impact both on the community and them as individuals. We have all met those professionals or volunteer leaders who have given too much and have not worked to ensure there are competent people to take their place. By the time they realize they have not addressed the issue of continuity, it is hard to restore the leadership base of the community.

Being aware of these dynamics and educating committed volunteer leaders about the importance of leadership continuity can be the way to encourage them to take an active role in trying to recruit new people for volunteer leadership positions and to facilitate the financial resource development of the community or agency. Those who have worked as volunteer leaders for many years do not want to see all their energy and efforts wasted. Once they understand that new enthusiastic volunteer leadership and attracting financial support for the organization are in some ways dependent on them, they may change their mind about how active they want to be in this realm.

In the same way that donor cultivation leads to increased and sustainable support for the financial needs of the agency, leadership cultivation leads to a broader understanding of the volunteers’ role in ensuring a new generation of donors and volunteer leaders. In the same way that a solicitation provides the donor with an opportunity to provide financial support to the community and/or the nonprofit organizations, the cultivation of new volunteer leaders and donors provides them with an opportunity to participate in the organization’s sustainability.

To engage those who are resisting making introductions, approaching other potential donors, or inviting people to parlor meetings, the case has to be made that their role as active and involved volunteer leaders includes bringing people to the organization who will be the foundation for future support of the agency and its services. This is not a one-time conversation or discussion, but has to be seen as a continuing theme from the beginning of volunteer leaders’ involvement with the community and its nonprofit organizations. It is only through stretching the limits of these volunteers’ involvements that we can ensure the future of our communities and the services we provide to all our members and residents.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.