Engaging Volunteers (4): When Volunteers are Brand Partners

What I’ve shared up to this point in this series applies to volunteers in most nonprofits. In some organizations, however, volunteers serve multiple roles that require different engagement strategies.

I can explain with this segmentation model from the Drucker Foundation Self-Assessment Tool for Nonprofits that identifies two types of nonprofit “customers”:

  • Primary customers – the people and entities who benefit from a nonprofit’s services
  • Supporting customers – the people and entities who help a nonprofit provide its services.

For example, a Girl Scout and her parents are “primary customers” of the Girl Scouts in that they all benefit as the daughter develops new skills from her scouting involvement. If her parents participate as troop leaders, help chaperone troop events, etc., they are also considered “supporting customers.” This segmentation model helps a nonprofit understand and recognize who its “customers” are (in one or both segments) so it can engage them accordingly.

But don’t let the simplicity of this model fool you as volunteer segmentation can be extremely complicated depending on the organization. It is particularly messy in professional membership associations that offer professional development and networking opportunities through national and regional (chapter) affiliation; e.g., the American Marketing Association, Society for Human Resource Management, Public Relations Society of America, etc. While all members of such organizations are primary customers, some may also be engaged as supporting customers on one or more levels as:

  • Local brand ambassadors – recruiting and welcoming other members at the chapter level
  • Chapter volunteer leaders – serving on committees/councils/boards and providing member benefits at the local or regional level
  • National volunteer leaders – serving on national committees/councils/boards
  • Volunteer speakers – presenting at association-sponsored conferences & workshops
  • Volunteer instructors – training (for free or a small honorarium) at association-sponsored educational programs.

The important role these volunteers play in delivering member benefits at the local, regional, and national levels can be taken for granted. Beyond providing token recognition for their service, some associations overlook the fact that these highly engaged volunteers help generate revenues via new and retained member dues as well as from conference and program fees. That’s why these truly “supporting customers” need to be recognized, valued, and respected as partners in delivering the brand promise.

How do you engage and manage volunteers who are also your brand partners?

  • Make volunteer involvement a focus of attention by the Board and executive staff. (See my previous post on Intentional Volunteer Management.)
  • Recognize and acknowledge volunteer value. To truly appreciate the impact of their involvement, analyze your volunteers’ lifetime value. Note: most volunteer calculators measure this value in terms of manpower hour & benefit cost-savings. In addition, consider volunteers’ economic contribution to revenue generation. [If anyone has a formula or model for this, please let me know.]
  • Keep volunteers informed of the organization’s vision and direction. You can’t expect them to serve as brand advocates if you don’t keep them in the communications loop.
  • Be sensitive to how operational/policy changes impact volunteer efforts to deliver on the brand – you want to facilitate volunteer (and staff) efforts to deliver member value, not create extra work for them. Communicate all changes in operations or policy openly and honestly, sharing the rationale behind such changes.
  • Proactively seek and respond to volunteer feedback & ideas.

Keep in mind that besides their individual and collective value as volunteers, these brand partners have strong influence on the frontline with access to fellow and prospective members who are your primary customers. Treat them carefully and with the respect they deserve.

In my next post I’ll address the volunteer-employee connection.

 

 

One Comments

  • Cherry Woodburn May 25, 2010 Reply

    Have to keep those volunteers coming back. Good suggestions Sybil. cherry

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