Small Organizations and Volunteering

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I have noticed lately that a lot of small organizations are closing. Granted, this is mere observation, for the theme among them is that most started having problems during the recession. They held on, trying this and that, and finally exhausted their options half a half grinding decade later. It’s tough, because our worlds are not always predictable and nonprofit leaders tend towards tenacity.

The fact is that sometimes when we try hard enough and wait long enough, something does unexpectedly turn around. So it was for two nonprofits I wrote a newswire about last week. Both had their mortgages unexpectedly assumed by a donor. One organization is worth noting in particular:

In Huntington, Arizona, an anonymous local donor has agreed to assume the $545,000 mortgage for the Jeffrey George Comfort House. The facility provides a temporary home for families of patients recovering from serious illness at one of the local hospitals. Jo Fannin, the executive director, said, “The gentleman, who wants to remain anonymous, told the bank he would assume the loan himself, and the house would pay it back as it could…He said he had total faith in the folks running the house, and his only desire and goal was to have the good the house has done in 14 years to continue.” In the last 14 years, the Comfort House has hosted 25,000 guests. It is staffed entirely by volunteers.

At its annual fundraising dinner, held just a week and a half ago, the board chairman for Comfort House had announced the house would not be able to accept any new patients after May 1st because the bank was calling in the loan. Fannin said the donor read about the problem in the paper and immediately made contact because he knew a lot of people involved with the house, and he is only one of many who have presented themselves to help.

And here I come to my point. At the point of crisis, a community of volunteers was a wellspring for this organization. Why do so many of us tend to forget that engaged and passionate volunteers are some of our best ambassadors to the known and hidden donors around us?

I also wrote a newswire last week about the fact that volunteering, according to a new study by the Department of Labor, appears to be on the decline. At least some of this should be attributed, in my opinion, to the lack of respect too many nonprofits have for volunteerism as core to our purposes as a sector. This links back to “Seduced and Abandoned,” an article submitted a few weeks ago by a reader named Judith Randall, and to this wonderful article, “Why You Should Run Your Business Like a Nonprofit.”

Here’s what I suggest: Spend a few moments this week thinking about how your organization might engage volunteers to transform its work, deepen its roots, and broaden its intelligence. You may be surprised what riches—of all kinds—eventually accrue to you.