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Designing a Strategy for Persuasion

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Section I: The Training Design


After years of training thousands of Directors/Coordinators of Volunteer Programs, I am convinced that the ability to persuade and influence is at the heart of successful leadership of these endeavors. Many leaders of volunteer programs or groups have learned the technical skills of good volunteer management but continue to say, “It still isn’t working and I am burning out in the attempt.”

Good, skilled people in the field of volunteer management are often unsuccessful because they function reactively in programs where there is little or no true commitment, understanding or support for developing and sustaining a healthy, cutting-edge volunteer program. Individuals leading volunteer programs must not only be excellent technicians but also be able to proactively influence individuals and systems to work effectively with volunteers.

This being said, the reality is that most people coordinating volunteer programs are positioned in the middle level of an organization and rarely have any authority over the people they must influence to ensure an effective program. Thus, they must have superb persuasion skills and strategies to garner the support they need to manage an excellent program.

Think about the key folks who must be influenced to ensure a successful volunteer program:

  • Paid staff
  • Administrators
  • Long-term volunteers
  • Funders
  • Potential volunteers
  • And many more….

When training on this topic I use the following definition of “persuasion”:

Persuasion is any attempt to influence the actions or judgements of someone through any method of communication.

To obtain participants’ buy-in for the need to enhance the skills and strategies of persuasion, I ask them to determine what percentage of their work time is devoted to using, or needing to use, this skill. Often the response of managers of volunteer programs is “nearly 100%” of their time. The importance of this topic gets their attention fast at this point!

Once people connect their success or struggles with the need to have excellent persuasion skills, they are eager to experience a strategic process that can be used if they are:

  • struggling with staff who are resistant to utilizing volunteers
  • attempting to target a new market of potential volunteers
  • wanting to convince long-term volunteers to change or adapt to new systems or technology
  • wishing to raise money to support the infrastructure of their volunteer program
  • requesting support from top administrators who are giving lip service, not real support, to the volunteer program
  • desiring a group of volunteers to work as a team under their volunteer leadership

No longer can we use the old methods to get things accomplished: begging, cajoling, whining, arm-twisting, or reliance exclusively on our charm and charisma!

Those who study influence generally indicate that the two key skills in persuasion are:

  • Asking the right questions; and
  • Listening to understand the response.

With the understanding that persuasion is not about telling and re-telling but about asking questions and listening, participants can utilize the Persuasion Worksheet that follows. This tool can be successfully used in training or coaching sessions to help individuals answer some key questions, leading them to develop a strategy enhancing their chances of getting to “Yes!”

Persuasion Worksheet PDF | Word

Following the Persuasion Worksheet are my question-by-question suggestions for how to conduct the training or consulting with this tool.

Question-by Question Suggestions  PDF | Word


Persuasion is a very complex topic. This exercise does not begin to touch on all of the delicacies of this skill (art), but I have often found that if workshop participants are trying unsuccessfully to make a change in their volunteer program, they discover something very practical that they have not considered in their approach. Hopefully you will find this tool or some variation of it useful as you train on the critical skill of persuasion.

Here is one last handout that you can use during a session:

Tips and Quotes on Persuasion and Influence:  PDF | Word

Section II – Invitation for Feedback

I invite all readers to submit their tools or strategies for training people in this arena or to give suggestions for additional questions to be part of this tool. Any tool is simply a method of helping people organize their thoughts to come out with useful information to help solve/improve their situation.

Section III – Resources

There are thousands of resources on this topic. The most popular book on the topic currently is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. (Click on the title of the book to purchase on Amazon.com.)

My favorite Web site with information on this topic is Steve’s (not McCurley) Primer of Practical Persuasion and Influence. It is very humorous and thorough and can be found at http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/primer.htm.



Betty Stallings' piece on Persuasion is great! I plan to use as part of our Volunteer Development University, as well as with a team I lead to implement our organization's strategic plan.

Thanks for a comprehensive training package on "persuasion." I think it is a template for managing "chang.e" It is documents like this that make the cost of subscription to e-Volunteerism worth every penny.

I do not doubt the premise of the piece, but this brings back old questions for me. If persuasion is at the heart of volunteer management, how much of it is really a skill, and how much a personality trait? A while back I wrote a piece on the volunteer manager as a professional schmoozer. At that time I was forced to reflect that while I can teach most people the skills concerning schmoozing, there are certain folks who have innate gifts that make them better schmoozers than others. Might this not be true for Persuaders as well? If this is true, how does this affect the hiring of volunteer managers? How does it affect how we use the native gifts and talents we have, even if they are neither schmoozing nor persuading? Just bunches of questions that the article resurrected. Thank you! I always love the questions more than the answers.