Volunteers are one of the biggest assets the third sector has. This is a fact, or at least it became one for me when I discovered the NVCO’s statistic that an estimated 15 million people in the UK volunteer at least once a month. That, collectively, gives us a voice louder than the last X Factor final!
Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate volunteers can sometimes feel more of a hindrance than a help but with a little investment they can be your strongest ambassadors, most committed supporters and a voice that changes your reach beyond recognition.
Volunteers as brand ambassadors
The Kiltwalk, for example, is a Scottish charity that is going through a time of crisis and change. They have a strong volunteer programme that provides training and encourages volunteers to have a voice. With a change in management and the cancellation of a number of events there was a lot of criticism and speculation over the charity’s future, which was voiced on social media and through the press. The Kiltwalk’s volunteers have been incredibly inspiring, highlighting their positive experiences and helping the charity move on for a brighter 2016. Volunteers really can give the best endorsements.
So if a volunteer’s voice can help build your brand, grow your reach and attract more supporters how do you make it work?
- Provide your volunteers with communications training. This can be an en masse face-to-face training session or simply a presentation they read through in their own time. Either way, tell them how you like to talk about your charity and what your key messages are. This provides your volunteers with some light touch guidance on what to say and what not to say about your work.
- Encourage your volunteers to set up a social media account. For example Macmillan Volunteers, utilises Twitter to talk to their volunteers, talk to others interested in supporting their cause and even joining in on relevant conversations and hashtag campaigns.
— Macmillan Volunteers (@MacmillanVol) July 17, 2015
- If you don’t have a regular volunteer communication such as an enewsletter, start one and make sure you include information about your marketing priorities. What Twitter campaign are you launching? What event is taking top priority? Even include downloadable posters. Your volunteers will get behind your plans, using their passion and story to give you a stronger impact than any celebrity tweet will ever produce.
- Set-up some volunteer-specific campaigns – could your volunteers create, administer and succeed with a crowdfunding campaign? The other week I saw a volunteer close a £2,600 crowdfunding page – her personal story and desire to make change made the campaign a great success.
- Give your volunteers localised lists of Rotary Clubs, Guilds, Church Groups and any other community organisations you would like to target. Having your volunteers approach these organisations to speak about your cause and their experience can increase your reach but also directly bring in funds.
- Micro-volunteering is one of the growing trends in the sector and communication projects are an ideal ask. Could volunteers give 30 minutes to tweet or blog about your cause? Do you have a “Share Your Story” page on your website? Why not use micro-volunteering to build up an incredible database of case studies and stories?
I appreciate for some this may create a sense of anxiety – what if they misrepresent your charity?
There is always a risk, as there is with paid staff, however with the right training and guidance they will prove invaluable to your charity. And if they do get it wrong, as they are a volunteer it will be seen as a simple mistake from someone trying to help.
It won’t be rosy all of the time but a few hiccups versus the potential impact makes growing your volunteer voice a must. What better way to raise your profile than through an army of passionate ambassadors that will go above and beyond to make sure your voice is the loudest?
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