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Marketing Volunteers: How to develop a volunteer relationship with a for-profit marketer

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This is the third in a series of four articles that explains how to attract and manage marketing professional volunteers.

Developing a good relationship with a professional marketing volunteer doesn't just happen overnight. Consider these tips for a positive relationship:

1. Orient your volunteer marketer. Once you find a marketer, they will most likely have marketing experience in the for-profit industry. Give them a complete orientation. It will help them get up to speed on how to market in the nonprofit industry, how to customize the advice to help you and how to be a consultant.

2. Approach from a position of strength. You are offering a marketer a great opportunity. A typical marketer spends most of their time dealing with implementation issues with only a small part of their day concerning strategic development, and this is usually the most fun. You are offering this marketer a chance to work on the “fun stuff”.

3. Understand what is in it for them. Treat volunteer consultants just like paid consultants, but pay them in ways other than money.

Recent graduates are motivated to:

  • Build their resume with concrete examples.
  • Learn how to apply their marketing education to a new industry.
  • Learn how to be a consultant.

Other marketers will want to:

  • Stretch intellectually.
  • Share the expertise they have learned.
  • Reconnect with marketing because their career path has gone onto other areas.
  • Volunteer but fear doing mundane assignments.
  • Help a cause they support.
  • Meet new people outside their existing network, camaraderie, connect with neighbourhood.
  • Reduce boredom with retirement.
  • See the difference they can make, get a sense of accomplishment (in large organizations, it is hard to measure the impact one person makes).

Don’t expect marketers to be emotionally tied to your cause. Marketers love marketing and adapting to new challenges. It is important for marketers to gain lateral experience in other industries and helping you out part time is a great way to gain new experiences with no down-side risk to their career.

4. Don’t expect marketers will want to be board members. Certainly you can offer a board position if you discover that your marketer wants to expand their skill set beyond marketing. However, if your marketer wants to focus on honing their marketing skills, keep them on as a coach.

5. Expect marketers to work faster. Marketers will expect work to be completed quickly, so prepare your staff. Marketers typically operate in a hierarchy, where decisions are made faster than in a consensus environment.

6. Be specific about what marketing topics you need help on. Work together with your volunteer consultant on a specific project. This will help clarify your expectations, give them concrete results they can add to their resume and will help you if you are asked to be a reference for them.

7. Help them learn to be consultants. Most generalist marketers are employees of large corporations, with no consulting experience. They know how to do marketing; they may not know how to do consulting. Structure the relationship to help them adjust to being a volunteer consultant. Give them an initial contract. At the end, the final close form is important because that is how you “pay” your volunteer. It contains your results, which your volunteer needs for their resume. Every marketer needs a resume that contains concrete accomplishments but in a large corporation, it can be hard to measure the impact that one employee makes.

8. Remember that marketing is deceptively hard. Marketing done well should look easy and obvious. It takes a lot of experience to make things look easy. It requires an outside perspective, to see you how your donors see you. It also requires tact, to communicate the uncomfortable facts that your employees can’t.

9. Allow the relationship to stay temporary or become permanent. After the initial tasks are complete, you may wish to keep the marketer “on retainer” so you don’t have to recruit and orient a new marketer later. It is really convenient to telephone an outsider who already understands you for a second opinion on opportunities presented to your nonprofit. For example  with just 24 hours notice, a local newspaper offers you free space and you are wondering if it is worth your time to create an ad. The conversation with your marketer could cover: What is the objective of the ad? Does it fit with your strategy? Is the target audience correct? How beneficial is this opportunity compared your other marketing projects?

10. Be sensitive to the distinction between marketing and fundraising. In large corporations, sales departments (ie fundraising departments) are completely separate from marketing departments. Separate but equal. Sales people and marketers differ in personality type, skill set, emotional triggers and time frame for projects. A sales person would not be expected to handle a marketing assignment, any more than an accountant would. And a marketer would not be expected to do a sales job. In large nonprofits, the marketing and fundraising (ie sales) departments are also separate and equal. In smaller nonprofits, there appears to be an expectation on fundraisers to also do marketing. This sometimes causes a sense of unease. See this link that explains marketing vs fundraising.

11. Select carefully the other employees who will work with the marketer. Don’t necessarily assume that your director of development should be involved, when in fact, they may feel threatened. Select employees based on knowledge of the database, experience with clients, open to new ideas, etc. Expect your employees to spend the same (or more) time on a selected project because they will be working together with the volunteer consultant.

12. Sensitize your employees that the volunteer may use for-profit language. Marketing concepts in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors are similar but the language used to discuss those concepts is different. Despite their best efforts, there is a strong probability that your volunteer will inadvertently use business terminology. Prepare your employees to expect the occasional mixup and focus on the underlying concept the volunteer is communicating.

13. Volunteer consultants report to one person, not to a committee. You recruited this volunteer to give you objective advice. It is your job to communicate the advice internally, convince your colleagues and build consensus.

Lelia MacDonald is a Volunteer Consultant with MAS, a free consulting firm that serves Toronto nonprofits since 1993. MAS is a charity with 40+ volunteer consultants that is funded by donations from satisfied clients. You can apply for help at www.masadvise.ca.   Lelia also has her own website and is available via Skype across Canada.

 

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