Friend-Raising aka How to Engage Volunteers

Friend-Raising aka How to Engage Volunteers

I am a huge advocate of volunteering as a pathway to connecting with the people around you. As a big picture, it’s about community-building. On a personal level, it’s about making connections and friends. It’s about belonging so it is important to make new volunteers feel this way.

Some call it ‘friend-raising’ rather than fundraising.


When I ask people what their fondest memories are of volunteering, the first wave of answers will be about the friends made, people met, events attended and fun had. The next wave will be about the great projects they got to spend their money on.

In my book ‘Practical Fundraising Handbook for School and Club Volunteers’, I list an ‘inclusive culture’ as one of my 5 secrets for successful fundraising. Here’s why:

  • If people are having fun and feel they belong, they are more likely to show up as your volunteers and supporters.
  • ‘Connection’ to your cause is so important in fundraising – and this is so much easier if there is a connection between people.
  • Nobody likes to feel like an outsider. It’s just not nice.

It is worth having the conversation: How do we actively create an inclusive culture in our committee and community? How do we make sure that nobody feels like an ‘outsider’? How can we help to create genuine connections within our community?

As a shameless introvert and somebody who does not cope well if plonked in a room full of strangers, I take great pains when organising events to make certain that there is no room for awkwardness. It can take just a bit of imagination but I have to confess I’m pretty good at it (and so modest too!). Here are some ideas.

Ice Breakers

At your next meeting, have a series of ice-breaker questions in a jar and ask everyone to answer one. Nothing painful or deep, just something to lighten the mood and make any new volunteers feel involved. Questions such as ‘If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would it be?’. I have prepared a printable A4 page which you can download here: Ice breaker questions.

Sample ice-breaker questions:

Sample ice breaker questions

The same goes for when you host an event. There are simple activities you can do to put people at ease straight away.

An easy one for a large group is to prepare enough ‘famous couple’ name tags for everyone. Everyone gets one as they enter the room, (or are placed when everyone is there) and have to find their ‘match’. Tarzan, meet Jane.

At a ‘significant milestone’ birthday party I threw for my husband, I had gone back to his childhood family and friends (he’s from the Netherlands) and asked them all to tell me some funny story about him that not many people would know. The responses were hilarious. On the day of the party, I had prepared a piece of cardboard on string that everybody had to wear around their neck. On the front, each person had a different statement, and everybody had to guess whether they were true or false. On the back was a scorecard with spaces to record the answers from everyone in the room.

Straight away, everybody had something to talk about – to start up a conversation. There was no awkwardness, even from people who came alone. I notched that one up as a success 🙂

At another event I ran, I got a series of pictures of monkeys pulling different faces. They were each very similar to each other, with only a slight difference. I cut them up into puzzle pieces – four for each monkey. Everybody in the room got a piece, and then there was chaos and a lot of laughing as everybody had to find the other matching pieces. Needless to say, it lifted the mood and helped to ensure that everyone had a good time and felt connected.

Ice-breaking activities aren’t just about putting the new volunteers at ease, they are part of a broader commitment to an inclusive culture.  As committees or fundraising organisers, it is our job to make certain that this connection and sense of belonging happens and thrives.

Now go away and plan some laughs!

Happy Friend Raising!

Mandy Weidmann

aka the Fundraising Whisperer (join us here on Facebook)

Originally published 24 February, 2018

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