Dear Executive Directors,

I often hear from non-profit professionals that they do not have enough resources to do everything that they want to do. They tell me they could use more funds, more volunteers, and more people willing to serve on their boards. 

This post is not to written to embarrass the organizations I tried to contact (thus, I hide their identity) but to use it as an educational moment on how our potential donors might feel when they reach out to us and the messages that they might be receiving from us, the non-profit professionals. 

My personal story:

I recently became an empty-nester. With this change came extra free time. I made a list of 50 things I wanted to do in the next year. Two of the items I wrote on my list were to add some new philanthropic gifts in my will and to serve on another board.

I thought long and hard about what issues I care about and made a list of potential organizations I wanted to contact. I first wanted to learn more about the organization then become involved in some manner and then serve as a Board Member. Once I felt confident enough in the organization that I would leave a legacy gift in my will.

I reached out to three organizations that address women’s empowerment and girls’ self-esteem issues. I sent an email to the addresses on their websites and heard from none. A week later, I went back to their websites to find out if there was another way to connect with them. On one of the organization’s websites, their Executive Director seemed very accessible, so I reached out to her. Unfortunately, the email response I received was not an email that made me feel valued and one that made me want to get involved with them.

  1. In my email, I asked if I could meet with the ED for coffee so that I learn about ways to get involved. She responded that she did not have time for frivolous things like coffee. 

Best Practice Tip: I know that ED’s have a lot of hats and are very busy. However, don’t tell a potential donor that spending time with them would be a waste of time. Offer to have the person meet with another person (maybe your Deputy) and connect them.

  • This ED suggested that I reach out to her volunteer coordinator. Great! I was happy to connect with this person. Unfortunately, she did not give me a full email. I had to figure out the full email for the staff member.

Best Practice Tip: Copy this person on the email so that the potential volunteer does not have to do ANOTHER email. This will also continue the conversation with the potential donor. If this is not an option and you need the volunteer/donor to reach out to someone else, give them the person’s entire email address.

3.  I sent out five emails; Three were to “info” or “general” email addresses, and two were to a specific person. The only person who responded to me was the ED (note that her Volunteer Coordinator never replied to my email and it has been over two weeks)

Best Practice Tip: Have someone check your general interest email every day and respond to inquiries. 

As I mentioned at the beginning, I am not writing this to talk ill-will about these organizations. I am sure that they do great things and I wish them the best! I am writing this because, through this experience, these organizations helped me understand what it is like to look for ways to volunteer and get engaged in non-profit organizations. I now realize how it feels; It is humbling to be looking for an organization to support. As non-profit professionals, we should make it as easy as possible for our potential volunteers. They should feel valued, and we should appreciate that they are interested in our mission.

I know that these best practices are simple. Both you and I know them but, sometimes we are so busy we forget best practices. I hope that next time you hear from a potential volunteer, you think of this blog and remember that they might have had experiences like mine. The best thing that we can do is to be quick to respond, be welcoming, and be appreciative. You never know who might be walking away. 

These organizations gave me a valuable gift. If we all welcome the stranger into our organizations, we might just solve the scarcity problem and have enough volunteers, enough board members, and all the money we need to address our missions.