As a former member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, a Vincentian I watched this year’s iteration of Turkey Tuesday with great interest. Turkey Tuesday is a state wide event and is a small part of Eddie Basha’s amazing legacy. He and and the St Vincent de Pau Society started the program as a means of providing Christmas dinner, for those who without help may not have had a real Christmas dinner. The turkeys were collected at the local Basha’s Market, and then matched with a box of other holiday food and distributed by other Vincentians to needy families across all of Arizona. Over the years with the help of Channel 12 it grew into the “largest one day turkey collection in the United States”. When you dropped off your turkey a Vincentian was there to greet and thank you. There was a connection. I know I was one of the collectors. The donors felt they were part of the solution. In a small way they were volunteers.
Over the last few years the emphasis has gone from collecting turkeys to feed people to raising money through donations. And although the event raised slightly over half a million dollars over the month long promotion that connection to the community seems to have faded. Texting a donation on your cell phone doesn’t give you the same feeling of being part of the solution as actually buying the food. And although I am sure the Society will tell you they are thrilled with the money they raised over the month long promotion; when you consider the amount of air time that was donated and the fact that a good portion of that money was large and corporate gifts, that probably were already scheduled year end donations, it seems a bit disappointing. Why is that? Has Middle America quit caring about those in need? Or has nonprofit leadership lost track of the two most critical elements of their leadership? They are telling their story, and recruiting and utilizing volunteers.
Telling their story has to be the number one priority of any nonprofit. The story of what you are doing, why it needs to be done, and given enough help how you’re going to solve the problem. And that telling needs to make your audience what to be a part of what you are doing. If you’re not doing that you may find a way to keep the doors open but you will never complete your mission. The weakness with the new Turkey Tuesday is; it hopes people already know the story and asks almost exclusively for donations. Having been a Vincentian I know that the story is worthwhile and amazing things are accomplished, but the vast majority of Arizonans has no idea. A couple of on air minutes at the “Dining Hall” really didn’t do their work justice. Too many nonprofits skip or fumble through this all important step. Making people believe you have a plan to solve the problem you are addressing makes them want to be part of the process and that’s what builds a loyal and dedicated donor and volunteer base.
That feeling of being part of the solution is what creates the desire to be a valuable volunteer. and volunteers can do more than serve food, pack food boxes, or cleanup. Many of them have training and experience you cannot find in the pool of potential employees a nonprofit has to draw from. And with the work force seeming
in search of better pay and benefits, they provide a real solution to today’s labor shortage. They don’t show up for the pay or benefits, they show up because they believe in the nonprofits mission. But even more importantly these volunteers can be the best ambassador of a nonprofit’s story, and connection with your community. The story of not only what you do , but why, and how effective your nonprofit is. And when they tell that story because they are volunteers, people listen.
Because volunteers seem to fallen out of favor with many nonprofit leaders volunteers seem to be utilized for either menial tasks or are photo ops for corporate team building. The volunteer coordinators job is usually an entry level position that reflects management’s disregard for volunteers. They are often new to the nonprofit and often new to nonprofits in general. TV weather person perkiness seems to be the main requirement. This is a tragic mistake.
Nonprofit leadership is constantly bombarded by challenges that distract them from their mission, and raising money is at or near the top of that list. But when raising money becomes more important than your mission or the communities you serve you have veered off course. We must remember that the only way to achieve our goals is to have the community’s backing. It time to refocus on that goal.
Bill Packard and his wife, Barbara have spent the last two decades as volunteers revitalizing or starting nonprofits, including thrift stores, food pantries and a free medical clinic. And are authors of the GOING FULL CIRCLE books . They can be reached @ firstname.lastname@example.org