Your skills and vision ramp up every kind of outreach

It’s clear to me that volunteer managers think differently from their nonprofit peers – and that’s a really good thing.

We understand that an individual connected with an organization has the potential to provide all kinds of valuable resources. Our job is to build those relationships and strengthen the affiliation with our nonprofit – no matter if we are working with a volunteer, a client, a staff member, or a donor.

It is our natural talent for integrating that serves our organizations so well.

Michelle Thyen, the Director of Community and Volunteer Engagement for Brain Injury Services, discovered that her natural ability to leverage resources had a huge impact on her organization’s sustainability.

Brain Injury Services provides an array of programs and services that support individuals and families who have experienced brain injury, stroke, or concussion. Michelle was hired 16 years ago as the Volunteer Program Manager to expand volunteer opportunities. She did just that, creating programs that allowed brain injured clients to volunteer for other nonprofits – and she connected community volunteers with the clients.

But after a dozen years a running the volunteer side of things, Michelle could see that her volunteers might help resolve more than direct service needs: they could also expand the fundraising program.

Michelle Thyen (right), with one of her volunteers.

“Over the years,” Michelle observed, “while I was in charge of a growing volunteer program, I was watching the traditional Directors of Development feel stifled and challenged in their role within our agency. Without a marketing team to support their efforts, it was difficult to create donor buy-in and make an ask without the other pieces of the puzzle in place.

“Volunteers were part and parcel of the mission, but donors would come and go without a strong sense of affiliation with the organization. We saw a way to change that scenario by integrating the two.”

Michelle suggested that Brain Injury Services change her title to shift some attention to community engagement so that both volunteers and community partners were on equal footing.

Even with her vision, she knew her success would be limited unless her organization made an investment in staffing. Michelle told her Executive Director, “If we had a marketing team, we could possibly pivot some volunteers into donors. Integrating volunteer and development efforts may create the shift we need.”

Brain Injury Services got the green light to create a marketing team that includes a full time Marketing and Communications Coordinator, a marketing consultant, the Chief Operating Officer and Michelle Thyen. They collaborate together on a clear path for growth.

“When I talk about a marketing team, I don’t mean a big stand-alone department – we’re talking about a few staff making deliberate choices. And because of this collaborative approach, we have made significant changes.”

After 2 ½ years, the number of donors who gave during the Brain Injury Awareness Month campaign increased by 323%. and the team has witnessed a surge in contributions from volunteers and partners.

Here are three actions the team takes to fuel growth:

  • They fully engage corporate donors. As Michelle puts it, before the team, there was ”no sense of synergy when it came to engaging corporate partners.” A company might sponsor a special event, but they were not offered opportunities for employees to volunteer and develop stronger ties to the organization. Now, corporate partners are given an array of ways to connect with the organization.
  • They leverage their existing contacts. The marketing team are the first to reach out to the individuals who love them most – clients and volunteers – and ask them for contacts. Then they went one step further and asked clients or volunteers to accompany them when fundraising.
    “One client made the ask of the company he works for. They gave a large gift and funded an annual award.”
  • The became very intentional about the events they host. With limited resources and funding, the team needed to become intentional about the events they were hosting. Every event needed to create an opportunity for guests to feel a sense of belonging and therefore, creating a window for volunteer or donor buy-in. They trimmed their “big four” to a golf tournament, an annual reception, a client/caregiver driven conference and an educational conference.

For all of the capacity-building that Michelle has accomplished, she is equally proud of how the focus on the client-volunteers has elevated them. “My volunteers are active participants in delivering on our mission. And thanks to enhanced marketing and visibility, they are loved and appreciated by people all along the continuum.”

It turns out that what’s good for the bottom line is even better for the cause.

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