Don't Underestimate the Marketing Value of Volunteerism

posted Nov 23, 2011, 10:10 AM by Stirling Morris   [ updated Dec 12, 2011, 3:05 PM ]
Have you ever volunteered for an event, or cause?  Did you feel underappreciated or that your effort and time were abused?  You're not alone.

While I must admit that this thought stems from experiences in my life from community and industry led volunteer efforts, I'm sure you have your own war stories.  When your volunteerism is devalued, it creates unnecessary drama and heartache for both you and the organization, business or group you're working with.  And who needs drama in their lives . . . unless, of course, you're watching a good movie or live theatrical performance.  

For the organizations, groups, and businesses leading a cause or event, volunteers can be some of your greatest marketing assets.  By treating volunteers respectfully, everyone wins:  the leading organization, group or business, the cause or event itself, and even the volunteers.  Volunteers help the marketing effort primarily through viral marketing, spreading the word about your cause or event to people you might not otherwise reach.  But if you abuse their time you lose them and the people they know.

Here are some considerations to show appreciation for volunteers (or for volunteers to look for in a volunteer-driven cause or event):
  • Some volunteers are okay with casual or even formal word-of-mouth or paper certificate recognition (and some are fine with nothing), but most appreciate those little (or big) extra perks.  In my experiences, community organizations often put limitations on the perks or rewards because they feel they will get a better ROI; don't do this.
  • Just because a volunteer runs a business and has expertise in a specific area that they might otherwise charge for, doesn't mean that the business, group or organization asking for volunteerism should expect they'll get everything for free.  I have found this unfortunately and primarily true for industry led and business partnership volunteer efforts.
  • Organizational and (especially) business leaders sometimes automatically expect that the volunteers should be as professional as they are and should devote countless hours toward the volunteer effort; this is simply not true.  Let the volunteer arrange for their time and effort.  In my experiences, this is more often a problem for community organizations holding events requiring hours and hours and volunteer preparation time.
Asking a lot from a volunteer is also asking a lot from their own personal and business relationships.  This a consideration never to be abused.

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