A Marketing Strategy for Our Times

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported on a John Hopkins survey (released in July by the Corporation for National and Community Service) about how the recession has changed charities’ use of volunteers. The full study revealed that the number of volunteers to nonprofits held steady last year, defying expectations that the impact of the recession would mean less people willing to get involved as volunteers in their communities. The study further noted that of all the Americans who volunteer, fully one third of them do so through a religious organization. Wow!

While many Jewish nonprofits already offer volunteer opportunities, most do not promote volunteering as a core part of their outreach and marketing strategy. Rather, volunteering is typically relegated to the back room of an organization’s web site that requires you to search and discover on your own. The one Jewish nonprofit that does smartly market volunteerism is the American Jewish World Service. Of course, volunteering is core to the AJWS mission so it only makes sense that they would excel at it. In fact, AJWS currently sends out more than 500 volunteers each year to deliver service around the globe and enjoys a base of activists, service participants and donors that numbers 100,000.

Back to the rest of our organizations…..

As unemployment and its resulting hardships continue, the demand for services from our already besieged Jewish and secular social service agencies will continue to grow. At the same time, many longstanding, loyal donors of these same nonprofits are licking their wounds and realizing how much their philanthropic capacity has diminished. What better time than now to create meaningful volunteer engagements with them – the very people who already care about your organization and want to help it get through these tough times even if their capacity to give an increased donation is not possible at this moment.

A marketing program designed to involve supporters in your work not only can help solve some of your resource problems, but more importantly, if executed well and with authenticity, a smart plan will bring your donors closer to you and stir interest among others who will discover the power of helping through your agency.

Creating a “volunteer with us” marketing program – especially one that gets center stage online – is one viable way to make lemonade out of lemons. With a little creativity, every nonprofit can shape a volunteer offering that will excite and engage people and do some good for everyone.

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.