I’ve been managing volunteers and fundraising since I was 10. That’s when I decided to help children who had far less than me. I Trick or Treated for Unicef, rounding up my neighborhood pals, equipping them all with donation boxes and “elevator speeches” (or, the 10-year equivalent, at least), and fanning out into the neighborhood for contributions along with our candy.

I remember coming home, counting up all of the nickels and dimes, trading them in for dollars with my mom, and sending them off to help children in need in far-away lands. That impulse to give feels good from an early age.

Fast forward several decades, and that desire to give back translated into managing special events and other development efforts for several important causes – a Special Olympics Chapter, a food allergy organization, a nonprofit serving adults with mental illness.

Although I was fundraising, each position depended heavily on the involvement of volunteers. It became clear to me that sustaining an organization is not about the dollars; it’s about engaging loyal supporters who feel aligned with your organization and will give in whatever way is most meaningful to them.

Volunteering is the most powerful force out there for creating connections and forging long-term relationships.

Along the way, I continued to volunteer myself, eventually becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA Volunteer) for abused and neglected children. I had never had a volunteer role with such a direct ability to change a child’s path in life for the better – it was incredibly rewarding. The experience inspired me to take a staff position with my program, eventually becoming Associate Director for Recruitment and Training.

My CASA experience revealed how much structure was necessary for the volunteers to succeed in their roles, much less enjoy them. Our program had solid practices for volunteer management ― practices are the foundation of the training and consulting that I do today.

The Board Chair of my CASA program used to say that I’m good at systems – and that’s true. I’ve fine-tuned practices to find the right volunteers, screen them effectively, train them properly, and establish lasting relationships. These are the factors that lead to high volunteer retention and generous giving.

But those systems only work because I’m thinking strategically. A strong volunteer program is part of the big picture for capacity building. It’s a carefully considered investment which, if properly stewarded, will yield significant results. Work with me and I’ll show you how to get there.