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This post highlights the wisdom that campaign expert and Capital Campaign Toolkit advisor, Sarah Plimpton, offered in a lively conversation about campaign volunteers with Toolkit co-founders, Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt.

This is the fourth of a six-part series of posts drawn from discussions with six of the Toolkit’s experts. A full audio discussion of the topic has been recorded for the podcast, All About Capital Campaigns, which you can listen to on your favorite podcast platform.


There’s nothing quite as powerful for your campaign as enthusiastic, committed, energized campaign volunteers.

Just think about all the things one excited volunteer can do…

The Power of an Excited Campaign Volunteer

A volunteer that’s excited about your campaign can — and will — have a reach far beyond what’s obvious. Let’s look at a list of possibilities. A delighted and excited campaign volunteer might:

  • Make a gift that’s bigger than anything she’s given before
  • Tell her friends about your amazing organization
  • Invite her friends to participate and help
  • Tell stories about the campaign at dinner parties and picnics she goes to
  • Identify prospective campaign donors
  • Engage and cultivate campaign donors
  • Solicit gifts for the campaign
  • Serve on various committees
  • Help organize and staff small and large events
  • Provide advice and expertise

And those are just the things off the top of my head. I’m sure you can think of even more things a volunteer might do.

So, the obvious question is this:

What can you, a staff member, do to make your volunteers so delighted and happy with their volunteer work for your campaign that they are eager to help?

And that’s what this post is all about.

Tainted by the Past: Sarah’s Story

Years ago, our Toolkit advisor, Sarah Plimpton, was brought in to a school to work on a campaign. It didn’t take her long to feel the lack of energy among campaign volunteers. People were hesitant to sign up to help with the campaign, and even those who did lacked the enthusiasm she had expected.

Curious, Sarah asked volunteers, “Why?”

They told her that the organization’s last campaign had gone on for years and years. It had finally eeked over its goal, but the entire process had been a slog and had left a bad taste in the mouths of the campaign volunteers. So bad, in fact, that 7 years later, they still remembered the lousy experience.

Sarah set about trying to make the current campaign be a far better experience for campaign volunteers. She thought carefully about what was needed to make volunteers feel excited and enthusiastic and not exhausted.

5 Ways to Fuel and Excite Your Campaign Volunteers

Here in summary form, are five ideas Sarah, Amy and I came up with.

1. Set Volunteers Up for Success

Make sure that every volunteer has exactly what she needs to be successful. People are happy to do things they can succeed at. So, to start, don’t ask a volunteer to do a task that has little or no chance of success. Instead, ask volunteers to do things they are perfectly set up to do, and then give them the support and help they need to do that task.

2. Notice and Celebrate Every Success

It’s very easy to notice and call out the things that go wrong. But a far more powerful strategy is to get in the habit of noticing the things that go right. And when you do, you can celebrate those successes. They might be small successes — like making all of their phone calls, or big successes — like successfully soliciting a gift.

You don’t have to do big, splashy things to celebrate a volunteer’s accomplishments. Just notice them and let them know you see the great work they are doing. People are delighted when they think someone has noticed what they have done well. Get in the habit of calling out the good stuff and your volunteers will feel great and be happy to do more.

3. Break Volunteer Tasks Into Small Assignments

When a volunteer committee has a small, specific, time-limited assignment, you have opportunities to recognize people’s success and effectiveness. Small committee assignments provide beginnings and endings to punctuate with volunteer appreciation (see number 2 above).

4. Share Information and News Early

Think of your volunteers as being insiders or family members. Share good news with them before sharing it with everyone else. Most people like to feel as though they are insiders. And with email and texting, making that happen is quite easy.

Just keep a list of your campaign volunteers and their contact info handy. And when something good happens — a big gift for example — send each of them an individualized email or text telling them that you want that person to be among the first to know. Then, when you share information with your entire community through a broad, group newsletter, your insiders will feel special.

5. Highlight and Celebrate Endings

People remember endings. In fact, by ending things of all sorts well and with high spirit, you can shape people’s memory of the entire experience.

Remember Sarah’s campaign with the lackluster volunteers? Had the earlier campaign ended with a big and exciting celebration, the volunteers might have left feeling great. So don’t give short shrift to endings. Even though you may be tired at the end, save some creative energy to end well.

Listen to Our Podcast for More Tips

In addition to discussing why delighting your campaign volunteers matters, the podcast provides a great many very practical suggestions based on our understanding of how most people function. We discuss what happens when volunteers are not happy. And reflect on what happens when they are getting more back from their involvement than they give.

For the full conversation, listen to the full discussion here. And check out the All About Capital Campaigns Podcast on your favorite podcast platform.

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