It’s been days since you emailed your Board members asking them to recommend invitees for your upcoming cultivation event – and you have only two responses. Your CEO’s assistant is making follow-up calls to the people you’ve invited to your corporate breakfast, and no one is calling back. Does this sound familiar? Don’t you wish there were a way to get people to follow through?

We polled our consulting team and asked for their best advice on how to be more successful at getting that return call or email. While there is general agreement that most requests must be sent at least twice before busy people will respond, suggestions for improving your results include a wealth of best practices:

    • Start Engaging Before You Need Help. By building relationships with volunteers and other constituents over time, you’ll create stronger ties and participation, and they’ll be more likely to offer help when you ask for it. “Ask volunteer leaders to write articles for your newsletter, talk with them about the real issues of the moment,” says S&W Vice President Cathy Card Sterling.S&W Senior Consultant Carol Forte agrees: including Board members in donor or prospect visits “allows them to feel that their time is a valued contribution.” Development officers should keep active volunteers apprised of the advances that have been made as a result of their input. The next time the volunteer is asked for suggestions or assistance, he or she will know they can make a difference.
    • Make Sure the Right Person Is Asking. S&W Senior Consultant Carole Karsch notes that staff are not always the most effective people to do follow-up. “A Board member or other peer can say, ‘Please join me.’ You need to be thoughtful about making the right matches or connections.”
    • Get Competitive.

When people see that their peers have already pitched in, they may be more likely to help, advises Senior Consultant Kathy Watson. When you make that follow-up contact, “give people a sense of who has already responded: ‘Thanks to John Doe, Sally Smith and Joe Jones for their good thoughts/early response.'” Similarly, set goals for key volunteers and keep them informed of progress: “We’re at 50 registered toward our goal of 100 attendees.”

  • Tee It Up Face to Face. “Catch them at another event or meeting, and let them know you’ll be calling tomorrow and why,” says Kathy Watson. It’s hard to hide behind email or voicemail when you’ve had in-person contact with someone.
  • Know the Gatekeeper. “Get to know the volunteer’s spouse/significant other and their front-office person, who can be an ally,” recommends Carol Forte.
  • Make It Worth Their While. Hold events or meetings at places where people want to go, suggests Kathy Watson. “Get out of the rut of meeting in the Board Room and meet at a club or in someone’s office or home.”
    These strategies and tactics should yield a good return on investment for you as a staff person and for your Board members and volunteers.