Volunteer recruitment brochures: How to tap into the marketing power of testimonials

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When it comes to recruiting new volunteers, it's no secret that your current volunteers can be your most effective salespeople. They have, after all, experienced the benefits of volunteering at your organization first-hand. And when they began, they had the same questions and concerns that run through most potential volunteers' minds: Do I have what it takes? Will I fit in? Can I really make a contribution at this organization? What will they be like to work with? Will this experience enrich my life?

The Missing Voice

Nothing is more persuasive or better for easing fears than the enthusiasm and reassurances of those already doing the job. But while many organizations enlist the help of current volunteers in their face-to-face recruitment efforts, far fewer employ the same strategy in their written recruitment materials.

The most glaring thing missing from most volunteer recruitment brochures, in fact, are volunteers themselves.

Oh, there are plenty of bland, generic volunteers-in-action photos, of course, and a whole lot of copy written from the organization's point of view. But where are the volunteers' voices? Where are those first-person "reassurances" that foster a sense of connection, help overcome resistance and allow readers to imagine themselves actually volunteering at your organization?

Testimonials as Marketing Tools

Direct marketers have long known that one of the most powerful ways to engage and reassure prospects is by peppering marketing materials with personal testimonials. People take comfort in knowing how others like themselves have benefited from a product or service and that they've had a good experience with it. Real-life comments from satisfied customers help build trust and often provide the extra bit of motivation needed to dislodge fence-sitters and turn them into buyers. The same holds true when you're marketing an experience like volunteering.

Six Tips for Getting and Using Testimonials

Use the following tips to add volunteers' voices to your recruitment materials and put the marketing power of testimonials to work for your organization.

Not all testimonials are equal. From a marketing standpoint, which of the following quotes do you think is most effective?

  • "I love volunteering here!"
  • "Volunteering as a tour guide at the museum has opened up my world. I get to share my love of history with people from all over the globe and I learn something new every day!"

If you chose the second one, you're right. The first testimonial is a flattering comment that any organization loves to hear, but it's what Nan Hawthorne, editor-in-chief of Volunteer Management Review, calls a "happy quote". And happy quotes are too general to be powerful motivators. Great testimonials like the second one, on the other hand, are specific. They answer "why" or "how".

2. Great testimonials are all around you. Heartfelt, impromptu testimonials are in your midst every day. They're in theair at recognition events, at the table in the lunchroom and in the thank-you notes that arrive in your mail. Just pay attention, listen -- and be sure to save them in a testimonial file or you'll never remember the exact phrasing that made them so great in the first place!

You can also gather great testimonials just by asking for them. But do it in the right way. If you simply issue a general request for volunteers' comments, you'll be disappointed with the results. Many people will hesitate to respond -- not because they don't want to be of assistance, but because they're not sure what kind of quotes you want or they're afraid they don't have anything valuable to say. Help them out by asking one or more of the following questions:

  • What do you enjoy most about your duties as a volunteer?
  • What's been the best thing about volunteering here?
  • How has your life changed as a result of volunteering?
  • If a friend asked you why they should volunteer here, what would you tell them?

If your initial question doesn't elicit the quotable response you were hoping for, follow up with "Can you give me a specific example?" or "Please tell me more about that." And here's a good tip from Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc., author of The Volunteer Recruitment Book: "If you use a tape recorder to capture responses, you can also use the whole tape of testimonials as a background to a slide show of photos. Two results for the price of one exercise!"

3. Gather quotes from a wide variety of people.For testimonials to be most effective, readers have to be able to relate to them. They need to hear themselves in the speaker's words. By gathering comments from volunteers of different ages, backgrounds and interests, you'll be able to make your general recruitment brochure -- and the volunteer recruitment page of your website -- versatile enough to speak to a wide range of prospects.

At the same time, you'll also be developing an "inventory" of testimonials to choose from when you're designing recruitment materials for specific audiences. Whether you're doing a flyer for seniors, an insert for a new resident welcome packet or a handout for a Chamber of Commerce meeting, you'll have quotes to use that your target audience can relate to.

When choosing which comments to include, Susan J. Ellis has this reminder: "Don't highlight only those volunteers who have been around for ten years! Today's volunteers frequently seek short-term assignments. So, along with the 'I've just loved this place since 1942' quotes, also include 'I'm so pleased that I can contribute something even with my busy schedule and limited time'."

4. Don't overlook the power of credit lines. Using more than just the speaker's name in the credit line under a quote turns a testimonial into an even more powerful marketing tool.

Depending on the audience you're targeting and the point you want the quote to make, you might also include the person's age, occupation or town, as well as the volunteer position they hold. Here are a few examples:

  • Mary Flynn: Architect Monday to Friday; gift shop volunteer on Saturday.
  • Barry Wojac, a journalism major at State University, volunteers as editor of our quarterly newsletter for youth volunteers.
  • Empty-nester Betsy Fletcher, 53, keeps up her "kid connections" by volunteering as a tutor in our after-school reading program.

5. Don't use testimonials without written permission. Although most people will feel flattered if you use their comments for marketing purposes, get their permission before you do. Written permission to use a particular quote and credit line ensures accuracy and helps prevent any upsets that could arise after your brochure is printed.

Don't, however, load your release form with so much legalese that it scares volunteers away from granting the permission they'd otherwise have been happy to give! Unless your attorney advises more, something as simple as the following, on your letterhead, will probably suffice.

Dear...

Thank you very much for your comments about volunteering with us. We appreciate your taking the time to provide them. May we have your permission to use the following quote and credit line in our marketing materials?

      (Quote and credit line)

To grant us permission, please sign and return this letter. Thank you!

Yes, you have my permission to use the above quote and credit line in XYZ Organization's marketing materials.

Signed______________________ Date___________

6. Use photos of the speakers. Readers identify even more with testimonials when they can see who's giving them, so minimize the use of those "unidentified volunteer performing indecipherable task, surrounded by smiling children" images that almost every recruitment brochure contains. Instead, include head shots or close-ups of the actual people you're quoting.

This will not only give your promotional piece more marketing impact but, as Nan Hawthorne points out, "using photos and quotes from volunteers of different ages, races, genders and physical abilities is also an effective way to illustrate your organization's commitment to diversity."

Okay, now you know how to use testimonials to put the volunteer's voice into your volunteer recruitment materials. But don't stop there. Testimonials are also a great way to put the donor's voice into fundraising brochures, the member's voice into membership brochures, the attendee's voice into special event brochures.

Katherine Khalife, a marketing consultant and writer, is publisher of MuseumMarketingTips.com and the free Museum Marketing Tips e-newsletter, used every month by thousands of cultural institutions and other nonprofits seeking practical tips to improve their marketing.

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