February 10, 2013

Marketing a Volunteer Programme

Posted in Best Practice, Marketing, Professional Development tagged , , , at 2:48 am by Sue Hine

Content-MarketingI am old-fashioned enough to still be a regular reader of a daily newspaper, one that has not yet turned to tabloid format.  I reckon it’s a more leisurely way to get my fix of the news.  That includes a browse through the business pages: I look for the columnists who can explain the economy or market trends in plain language.  Often there is good advice for retailers and entrepreneurs.  And the funny thing is, the recommendations could apply equally to NFP organisations.

Marketing and fundraising, for example, are important features of contemporary NFP business plans.  There’s a lot of competition for the charity dollar, and gaining sponsorship or partnering with a for-profit business can require a delicate courtship ballet and some well-honed promotional skills.  Here‘s what is recommended for small retailers and for-profit enterprises:

  • Do everything you can to improve your online presence, website and strong social media representation. 
  • Tune in to today’s market – expectations are changing. 
  • Make sure you include ‘stepping stones’, a range of products and price affordability.
  • Make shopping trips an ‘occasion’ filled with experience, service and old-fashioned hospitality.

It does not take much to translate this advice for promoting a volunteer programme:

  • Get cracking with regular social media entries and pics; make sure the website is specially volunteer-friendly;
  • Heed the current trends in volunteer profiles and adapt to changing expectations;
  • Offer a range of volunteer and donor opportunities and defined commitments; and
  • Remember that quality ‘customer service’ can extend to volunteers as well as service users, and to all organisation relationships.

All familiar stuff we have been talking up for a while now – right?

Trouble is, the ascendance of marketing and fundraising in our sector is pushing volunteering aside, ignoring the potential returns on comparatively low-cost investment in volunteer skills and time – and overlooking the salary costs for those well-paid marketers and fundraisers.  Some of the tales that come to my notice – the shoddy treatment of volunteers by fundraisers, or the last-minute engagement of the manager of volunteers for organising an event – demonstrate a kind of discrimination against volunteering, not to mention the exploitation of volunteer goodwill.

So it has never been more important to get switched on to principles of marketing, to pushing barrows and proclaiming achievements, and to demonstrating the value of our volunteer programmes.  I’ll bet the carpet-bag of management skills carried by volunteer leaders will include patience, tact, empathy, assessment and negotiation – all attributes extolled for fundraising and marketing.  I reckon we could teach those teams a thing or two.

We just have to get out there and do it.  Now!

If you think you need a leg-up to get started just get yourself to the Australasian Retreat for Advanced Volunteer Management in Sydney, March 20-22.  Quite simply, and honestly, it is the best ever opportunity for professional development in managing volunteers, being simultaneously challenging and supportive, and fun.  Try it, and see for yourself.

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