May 15, 2011

The Marketing of Volunteerism

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Language, Valuing Volunteers at 12:24 am by Sue Hine

You:   How dare you put ‘marketing’ and ‘volunteerism’ alongside each other!

Me:      Well – volunteering is a product, isn’t it? Like shampoo and shaving cream or the contents of a cereal box?

You:   No way! Volunteering is a different order altogether. It’s a service industry covering a wide range of community and social interests.

Me:      Ah, a service industry – like those that keep my telephone going, maintain my electricity supply, collect my rubbish and so on. Or maybe you are thinking of Child Care services, Drop in Centres, Home Care services for the elderly, and a whole lot of other stuff where most of the people involved are being paid for what they do. Volunteering is also a service industry – and it comes for free.

You:   So if services are for free, why would you need to promote volunteering?

Me:      Glad you asked! Let me tell you about a marketing programme for volunteering and how it plays out around the world.  The major promo is Volunteer Awareness Week. In the US they’ve been and done their National Volunteer Week in mid-April, and already you can get some marketing tools and resources for 2012. (You see – the US knows about the power of marketing!) Right now, Australia is winding up its week of events; UK is gearing up for their efforts in the first week of June; New Zealand will do its thing from June 19. I have yet to see an evaluation of such promotions that indicates real gains for the industry.

I hope you have noticed 2011 is also IYV+10. Yes, that’s right, volunteering got its own special recognition from United Nations, in 2001, wanting “to enhance the recognition, facilitation, networking and promoting of volunteer service”. Ten years on, and the General Assembly wants “to consolidate successes attained and to build on the momentum created by IYV”.

A nice plea.  Back in 2001 the slogan was ‘Ordinary people doing the Extraordinary’. This year the slogan is Inspiring the Volunteer in You, also adopted by Australia for its Volunteer Week.  The UN Vision Statement concludes with the notion that volunteer action will inspire millions of others.

I’m sorry folks – good intentions and high-flown aspirations never made great profits in world markets. It’s not enough to extol the achievements of volunteers, nor to play the ‘feel-good’ card.  The UN call to Governments, volunteer involving organizations, civil society, private sector, non-governmental organizations to engage in marking IYV+10 has brought only a minor blip to my radar screen.

I have never studied marketing, though I think I have figured the various ploys used by advertising agencies to sell a product. Audio-visual assault through various media, billboards, slogans, jingles, logos – you’ll know them all. The underlying message is all about the benefits of the product, whether the gain might be on price, health, quality, advanced technology, social status or whatever.

There could be some great multi-dimensional promos on the benefits of volunteering.  Volunteering deserves more than the inspiration tag – that’s no more inspiring than breathing in and out.

Forget the abstract virtues.  Let’s focus on the advantages volunteering brings to NGOs, to the substantive gains accrued by volunteers to large and small organisations in our communities.  Let’s see what volunteering adds to the private sector and to Government.  Let’s get real about the real meaning of volunteering, that dynamic force that binds our societal structures.



  1. Tricia C said,

    It strikes me that the marketing of volunteers is another area where resources are not budgeted. Marketing – even putting a small notice of thanks in the local newspaper is expensive especially for the smaller organisations who often have to fundraise for their own salaries!
    Also many managers of volunteers do not have a budget and have to go cap in hand for any expenditure –
    another indication of words not backed by action in the appreciation of volunteers and their managers.


  2. Sue Hine said,

    Good points Tricia – thank you.


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