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Marketing Volunteers: Who we are and what we do

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

Professional volunteers versus volunteer consultants

If your image of a professional volunteer is a someone who approached you for personal reasons tied to your cause and that you treat as an “unpaid employee”, then I am going to ask you to set that image aside. This article is about professional volunteers that you recruit after you've identified that you a have a specific project that requires specific expertise in a specific time period. You treat these volunteers like an “unpaid consultant” whom you pay in ways other than money.

Everything in this series applies to for-profit consultants who work pro bono. But they are not the focus. Instead the focus is on recruiting professionals who are employees within the head offices of large corporations (or recently retired) who do marketing as their day job and are willing to help you out for a short time. You treat them like consultants, but you pay them in ways other than money. I am going to call them Volunteer Consultants.

The title Volunteer Consultants more accurately reflects what they do. The term Professional Volunteers refers to who they are. These are two sides of the same coin, but since the majority of the candidates will want to put this work on their resume, they need a title that is self-explanatory in the for-profit industry.

Here are the benefits of recruiting volunteer consultants:

  1. Expertise that fills a gap: recruit marketers with the expertise you need.
  2. Short term: you don’t need to nurture them over time like an employee or a long-term volunteer. They do the project and then leave. You don’t need to find them something to do.
  3. Unbiased third party: they can tell you the uncomfortable facts that your employees can’t. They can be honest with you because you can’t fire them. They have an outside perspective on how other outsiders see your nonprofit. They won’t have any pet projects like a board member might. Since you will work with them directly, you can manage the dissemination of the results as you wish.

But before you get started with recruitment, you need to understand: who are marketers? Marketers can be generalists or specialists.


A general marketer will focus on the overall marketing needs for your nonprofit and must know a little bit about every aspect of marketing. Typically called Brand Managers, Marketing Managers or Product Managers, general marketers are usually employees within large corporations. When a general marketer needs extra help in certain areas, they call in the specialists.


Specialist marketers are experts within certain marketing fields, eg graphic artists. Usually they are external consultants, but some large nonprofits may have employees performing the same functions.

Why do you need a marketing generalist?

There is always a risk in self-diagnosing your problem and you need to make sure you get what you need...not necessarily what you originally asked for. A generalist will help you diagnose where your gaps are and either fill the gap themselves or find a specialist to fill the gap. For example, you may want “more donations” – a generalist will help you determine if you need more new donors or retain existing donors.

Be specific about the help you need

Identify what marketing help you actually need and then recruit the marketer with the right expertise.

Here is a menu of potential marketing projects for both generalists or specialists. As you can see, most marketing work can be done by marketing generalists.

Step 1: Select your project. If you don’t know where to start, do the Marketing Best Practices.

Step 2: Create a job description.

Step 3: Circulate your job description.

Step 4: Prepare your own schedule. The figures in the expected hours column approximate how long your professional volunteer will need for each project. Expect your time commitment to be the same so you need to free up your schedule too. The hours are a minimum and could increase depending on the number of staff involved; a bigger team improves the quality of the outcome but can add hours.

Menu of Projects

Brand Best Practices: (elapsed time for each project: 3 months)

Define your brand:
- perform a promotion audit
- clarify message
- understand donor needs
- write Brand Checklist for Board of Directors
Generalist 12 hrs+
Revenue Efficiency (analyze results, set strategies)
- Revenue Efficiency report
- Donor Churn report
- analyze our donor acquisition vs retention
Generalist 10 hrs+


Brand Ongoing Support: (elapsed time 2 years)

- coach staff on all aspects of marketing management
- be a sounding board for new ideas
- analyze costs and benefits of new ideas
- help recruit volunteer marketing specialists
Generalist 2 hours/month


Promotion: (elapsed time for each project 3 months)

- organize events
- how to manage an event manager? should we?
Event Manager
20 hrs+
1 hr
Website, brochures, ads, posters, letters
- audit, create general outline, streamline messages
- write content, interview and write client stories
- design artwork
- create videos for website
Graphic Artist
5 hrs
10 hrs
10 hrs
10 hrs
Donor database analysis
(profile donors, generate leads, trends, data integrity)
- small nonprofit
- large nonprofit
10 hrs
10 hrs
Touch points with donors (review effectiveness) Generalist 5 hours
Print ads
- write creative brief and how to evaluate creative
- make and place ads
Ad agency
5 hrs
20 hrs+
Spokesperson Training
- small nonprofit (one employee, print media)
- large nonprofit (many employees, broadcast media)
PR agency
4 hrs
6 hrs
Social media
- how to increase traffic, website analytics
- should we allocate time vs other marketing activities
Social media
6 hrs+
2 hrs


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   Lelia also has her own website and is available via Skype across Canada.

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