Many non-profit organizations are established by passionate and dedicated founders, who do the brunt of the work of the organization.  But to grow, your organization needs to recruit an army of passionate volunteers who share your vision, and roll up their sleeves to carry a part of the workload.


The challenge often is how to find and motivate others to dedicate their time, talents, and passions to grow your organization.


I have been on the board of the American Marketing Association San Antonio for most of the past 12 years, and founded a Special Interest Group called SAVisión – leaders in Hispanic Marketing.  As a result, I have had lots of opportunities to learn what drives engagement and recruitment for non-profit causes.  Here are 4 examples of ways to drive passionate engagement for your group:


Focus on Recruiting for Events instead of Cash Donations

More than 20 years ago, I watched my mom rejuvenate her dying Lion’s Club organization.  The local membership was made up of just a dozen senior citizens, legacy members from 40 years before.  They met for lunch, and raised money to send to national headquarters to fund missions for eye doctors to developing countries.  Nothing exciting, nothing engaging.  As a result, the membership dwindled until the chapter was threatened with being disbanded for failure to meet minimum membership requirements.  Instead, she did something big and bold and totally unexpected.  She organized a mass vision screening event and the provisioning of glasses to all the needy in the community.


When she visited a small agricultural town 25 miles away which was populated almost totally by migrant farm workers, she noticed how the workers were unable to sign their pay checks or fill out their money wire paperwork due to bad vision, squinting to try to make out the wording.  And no one had glasses – they couldn’t afford them, or the doctors’ exams.  Since the mission of the Lion’s Club is to help restore vision, she mobilized the members to attack the local problem, rather than fund a mission to an underdeveloped country.  Club members recruited local ophthalmologists, organized the donation of an instant vision screening device, and solicited and received more than 5,000 pairs of donated glasses from Lion’s Club headquarters.  They asked for and received donations of goods and services, restaurant meals and snack donations, and got the support of local non-profits.  The local foodbank donated food, the civic center donated use of their building, local churches provided translators and brought parishioners by car and van.  The local police department brought all their jail inmates, in shackles, to get their eyes tested. And everyone went home with food from the food bank.

The results were amazing.  More than 475 people were screened and fitted with glasses, they got featured on local and national TV, and received a front cover feature story in the Lion’s Club International magazine.  Just as importantly, they ended up with more than 40 new members, most of them young professionals excited about the great work they had done, and 6 new corporate sponsors!  The event completely rejuvenated the organization, put it on strong financial footing, and ensured its survival and prosperity for years to come.


Do Something BOLD! 

Create a new out-of-the-box program that will be a rallying cry for others. Tried and true is often boring.  Consider creating new programs to catch peoples’ attention and create a reason to raise their hand and volunteer.  I pioneered a special luncheon program called The Godfathers of Hispanic Marketing, recognizing the three leaders of what had been the largest US Hispanic advertising agency for 20 years – on the 10th anniversary of the organization’s sale to another company, effectively breaking up the founders.  We expected 90 people; 350 attended, and we got national news coverage!  And the Smithsonian honored them with an exhibit using the name we had created!  Then we repeated the event 2 more times, with similar success, recognizing the Godfathers of Hispanic Media, and Las Madrinas (The Godmothers) The Visionary Women of Hispanic Marketing, and each sequel event was equally successful and very profitable.  So try something bold and new to rally volunteers.


Recognize Outstanding Work by Members to Promote the Industry or Organization

For the same Hispanic Marketing Association, I created another signature event – The Showcase of Hispanic Ad Agencies – where 10 agencies each had 10 minutes to present award-winning national work they had done from little old San Antonio.  We had 350 people attend, and raised more than $5,000 each event.  And the presentations were amazing – no one knew our small local agencies were dong such awesome work for prestigious national clients.  We were shocked to learn that the Hispanic marketing efforts for 2 opposing presidential candidates had been done by local shops.  If you create must-attend events, you will break through the clutter and people will come!  And by making the event beneficial for stakeholders, it becomes worth their time and effort to participate and invest.


Volunteers Will Gravitate to a Big and Exciting Vision

Each of the above events were huge undertakings for one person to manage.  But by sharing the exciting vision on how we will change our industry, volunteers flocked to participate, and I had more than 30 volunteers for those events, and another great innovation – The Texas Hispanic Upfront.  More than 450 people attended this gala affair, where 10 different Spanish-language TV stations came to pitch their programming to local advertising agencies.  And we made more than $10,000!  By envisioning something new and exciting, you will attract passionate volunteers who will each contribute to make the event a success.  If you don’t think BIG – yawn – no one will bother to show up to help.  Enthusiasm and vision are contagious!


Of Course It’s More Than Just Events

Events aren’t what non-profits generally specialize in.  There’s a lot of hard work in the day to day activities of any organization to fulfill its primary mission.  But big bold ideas and innovative special events are great ways to create visibility, raise money, and recruit new volunteers – which are the lifeblood of any organization. So be bold and innovate!

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