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Make volunteers an integral part of your comms activity

11 March 2011

Bottom Line Ideas founder Kevin Baughen thinks that we should get volunteers more involved with our charity communications 

The overwhelming majority of charities enjoy the support of volunteers of some description. But I don’t come across many who use their volunteer workforce explicitly and overtly to help meet their communications objectives.

Yes, it’s implied in any volunteer role or job description that they should be good ambassadors for the charity. And yes, there are a number of charities who have created specific roles for volunteer speakers, whose job it is to evangelise where possible…. but in 2011 there is much more scope to get volunteers to help when charity resources are stretched.

Here are a few ideas:

Base your communications plan on what you want to do, not how many members of staff you have available

Then look to fill the gaps by recruiting volunteers with specific skills, just as you would to hire a new team member.

Think about all the facets of communications you need to cover and tap into society’s changing skills base

For example, I’ve developed specific volunteer roles for two disability charities which encourage younger supporters to help deliver their social media plans.

Throw internal silos and ‘false’ boundaries into the recycling!

The outside world doesn’t care that volunteering sits within X department, they just want to use their experience and skills to help meet a need. If you have to, hire someone like me to come and explain the benefits of creating new volunteer roles to drive better communications to your Board or Trustees.

Write formal job descriptions

Then volunteers are 100% clear about what is expected of them and the rules within which they will be communicating.

Use third party organisations to recruit

For example IT4C who hold details of skilled IT professionals willing to take on specific projects – I’ve seen these volunteers used successfully to develop donor contact databases and even help set up online meetings for members’ groups and other volunteers.

Make a group of skilled and like-minded volunteers responsible for developing and implementing the volunteer communications plan (you need to recruit them first, obviously)

I believe Macmillan Cancer Support uses this ‘volunteers leading other volunteers’ approach very effectively.

Recruit or develop volunteers whose role it is to find and recruit other volunteers to help with the communications effort

This may seem a bit risky (as it’s different) but we know that today’s volunteers, particularly younger and professional groups, want to be more engaged with their chosen charities in ways that reflect their lives. So why not involve and engage them on their terms to help meet your communications needs? Everybody wins.

Kevin Baughen

founder and director, Bottom Line Ideas

Trustee, Director, volunteer and champion of marketing and communication ideas for not-for-profits and ethical business.