Episode #013: Is Volunteer Word of Mouth All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you. 

Let me ask you a question. How do you learn about books to read, shows to stream, recipes to try, places to visit? All of these are through word-of-mouth. Even Amazon is a giant word-of-mouth machine, with reviews and input and advice from people driving billions of dollars in purchases.  

It can give us confidence or dash our hopes. In fact, last night I was buying a dryer. Our dryer broke down. I decided I would go out and buy a dryer. We were in a hurry. So, I really was just looking for a reasonably priced dryer so that we could continue to dry our clothes, right?  

Sometimes when it gets to that point where you’re really worried about getting something done quickly, you just choose the lowest hanging fruit. The easiest thing to do. I didn’t take any time to research or check reviews.  

I found a really good deal online. I felt pretty confident that I had chosen the right dryer. My husband and I went out and checked out dryers for a minute. We came home, we got online, we ordered our dryer. And then I started to have doubts. Doubts started to creep in. I thought, “Hmm, did I make the right choice?” 

And then I went online and started reading the reviews. Hmmm, maybe this wasn’t the right dryer for me after all. So you can see how word-of-mouth and what we call “social proof” in marketing can have a powerful effect on the decisions we make and how we feel about the actions we’ve taken.  

Same goes for volunteers. I want to talk about in this episode all about volunteer word-of-mouth, the pros and the cons. And maybe it might not be the right answer. Not sure yet. Let’s talk about it.  

So welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. And this week when I talk about, is volunteer word of mouth all that it’s cracked up to be? What are the pros? What are the cons? What are the things we should think about if we have specific goals for our volunteer program? 

We’re going to talk about it all in this episode. So let’s get started. Let’s kick it off with the basics. There are basically four fundamental ways to recruit volunteers. Through special events…so you might be putting on trainings, luncheons, fundraising events, community fairs, or other special events, even info sessions for potential volunteers. These are all ways that we are attracting volunteers to our organization. So that’s one key way.  

Another way is through community presentations. Short pitches to community groups like service clubs, et cetera, schools, classrooms about the community need, the solution, the project details, team responsibilities, time commitments, specific steps to join…these are all covered in these types of community presentations.  

Sometimes they’re to corporate groups. Often, we’re out in the community making presentations about specific ways to get involved. The third way, which is a very popular way to attract volunteers is through advertising and posting online and on land. E-blast, newsletters, flyers on volunteer posting sites, our local volunteer centers, you name it.  

Folks are posting calls to action all over the internet, looking for volunteers and sometimes in person using flyers, et cetera, handouts, brochures, you name it. People are out there asking for volunteers, but one of the number one and fourth way we can attract volunteers is a very popular way.  

It’s one that when I’m out working with my students, my VolunteerPro members, my Volunteer Recruitment Accelerator clients, I’ll ask, you know, what is the number one way that volunteers are finding out about your organization and its opportunities to serve? And the number one way, what do you think it is? Personal networking, AKA word of mouth marketing.  

Word-of-mouth marketing again can be online or on land, but it’s about making direct asks and asking others to help spread the word. So, a lot of your volunteers are learning about your volunteer opportunities through people who are already volunteering.  

And if you’re interested in bumping up your volunteer recruitment opportunities and results, by the way, I just want to mention this. You can check out episode five of the Volunteer Nation Podcast, “Eight Ways Your Nonprofit Website is Failing to Attract Volunteers.” So you can check that out. I’ll link to it in the show notes, but you can go to Tobijohnson.com/005 and check that out.  

But back to word of mouth. When I asked, again when I asked volunteer involving organizations, my students, my members, et cetera, how new volunteers find them, again word-of-mouth is the number one reason. Volunteers find other volunteers for you. 

But there is one slight problem with this approach if you rely on it singularly or mostly. It’s that people by their very nature are more likely to spend time with other people who are like themselves. And so if you’re hoping to attract volunteers via word of mouth, you’re going to end up with more people who are like the volunteers you already have. 

So, think about in today’s world what many of you are trying to do. You’re trying to make volunteering available to different kinds of people. You’re trying to increase the diversity of the volunteers that are representing your organization. You trying to welcome people from all different walks of life. You’re trying to expand the scope and the access to people from every corner of your community. 

Well, if you rely on word-of-mouth marketing as your primary way to attract volunteers, if your current volunteer core is not very diverse, it’s not going to get more diverse unless those folks are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and are willing to network into new communities. And that’s absolutely possible, but it’s going to take some work. 

So I think it’s important for us to recognize as volunteer involving organizations where a strategy that we choose or just default to, in this case word-of-mouth marketing, might actually be getting in the way of things, might actually be blocking our progress. Just something to keep in mind.  

So I want to talk a little bit more about word-of-mouth marketing and how to promote it after the break. I gave us our caveat. We talked a little bit about how it might be keeping you from your goals around diversity, but it also might be something you want to lean into.  

And so I want to talk about that after the break, how can you lean into word-of-mouth marketing and make it work for you. So let’s pause for a quick break and after I’ll continue on how to mobilize better word of mouth if you decide to go ahead and choose that strategy.  

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Management Fundamentals Certificate. In it, you will learn the essential what’s-working-now strategies to not only attract qualified volunteers with confidence, but how to make your organization THE place they want to return to again and again. And you do it all in just five focused weeks.  

This online course is specifically designed to help new and emerging leaders of volunteers get a running start by offering a clear, focused set of practical tactics aimed at results. If you’re interested, visit VolPro.net/begin.  

Okay. Before the break I covered the pros and cons of word-of-mouth marketing. Let’s talk about why people are talking about you. Let’s into why people are talking about you and how you can inspire them to say more.  

There are basically three reasons why people will spread the word about your cause. Whether it’s about the opportunity to volunteer, the opportunity to contribute financially, just more about your cause. The opportunity to advocate for the policies and legislation perhaps that you’re working towards or the actions in the community you’d like to see. 

Lots of reasons why people might spread word. So this doesn’t necessarily have to be only about volunteer recruitment. There’s basically three reasons why people spread the word. It’s either about you, me, or us. And I want to go into each of these in a little bit of detail so that you can think about ways you can tap these primary motivations in people. 

When it’s about you, it’s about your organization and its services. Usually it’s because your volunteers or your supporters love you. They love your cause. You’ve given them something to talk about. They’re excited about what you’re getting done in the world.  

You’ve also made it very easy to share. You’ve made your information easy to share. So how do you promote this type of word-of-mouth that is mobilized by the fact that it’s all about you and your organization and services? You want to make sure you create buzzworthy information, information that is exciting for people to share.  

You can create smart tips, facts, feel-goods. You also want to include social sharing buttons everywhere possible and ask people to forward emails, to like things on your social media, to share your webpages.  

You also should share what’s happening in your organization. What’s coming up. What the latest news that people can share on your behalf? So that’s really about that pillar of you.  

What about the pillar of me? Me is because people will share because it makes them feel good or important. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, right? They feel smarter. They feel more important. They want to help. They want to express themselves. 

There’s lots of people who are sharing information about your organization because it makes them feel good. So, if you want to promote this and lean into it, you can talk about, or you can bring on advisory roles for volunteers. So give them opportunities to feel important, to actually be important, ask for testimonials and endorsements from your volunteers.  

You can give them special badges. If you have an online community, or for LinkedIn you can give volunteers badges to add to their LinkedIn profiles, and you can invite those volunteers to lead teams. So if becoming or being part of your organization makes them feel good or important, then they’re going to be more likely to share your good news.  

The third area or pillar is us. It’s feeling connected to each other and the group. So in this case, your volunteers feel like they’re part of your family. They belong to your community. They are part of a team that is closely knit. They are on the inside. So, when people feel connected like that, they are more likely to share the good news about what you’re up to because they feel this sense of connection. 

So the way to promote this is to give them insider information that reinforces this connection, give them insider information they can share. Give them priority registration for events and trainings, engage in team-building activities, set up group projects.  

Anything that can help people feel more connected and more integrated into the group. And when they do, they will be more likely to talk about you and your cause to the world. 

So those are the three reasons why people will spread the word about your cause. It’s either about you or me or us. So, if you are able to reinforce those things, you will naturally have more word-of-mouth marketing going on.  

And by the way, if you’d like to create even more volunteer loyalty, I also encourage you to check out our freebie. It’s a “Seven Secrets to High Volunteer Loyalty Cheat Sheet”, and it helps you do everything you can to keep volunteers happy and sharing positive things about your nonprofit.  

You can check out our free tip sheet and fresh research-based ideas on how to keep enthusiastic engaged volunteers coming back for more. Just go to VolPro.net/freebie-high-volunteer-loyalty. So freebie-high-volunteer-loyalty, and we’ll also link to this in the show notes.  

So head on over to our VolunteerPro website and you can grab that freebie “Seven Secrets to High Volunteer Loyalty Cheat Sheet.” And I hope it helps you continue thinking about these ways to build connections, build loyalty, and to boost positive word-of-mouth about your good cause.  

I want to end with five tips on how to boost sharing even more. So one is on your web page, make sure that you include a “Tell a Friend” link on every web page that mentions volunteering. So you may have a hub of separate web pages, or you may just have one webpage where you’re recruiting volunteers.  

Make sure you have a “Tell a Friend” link or a “Share This” link. Ask your web designer if you don’t know how to put that on your website, or don’t have access to put that on your website. Just ask them, “Is there a way for us to have a ‘Tell a Friend’ or a ‘Share This’ link on these web pages?”  

It makes it really easy for people when they’re looking at your website browsing, or ask your volunteers to go to that website and share with friends. Just makes it really easy for them to share your information in your words to their networks.  

By the same token, make every digital communication shareable. So everything else, for example, if you create an email you’d like folks to share, put in the subject line “Share This.” Just make sure everything is easy to share.  

You also want to directly ask your volunteers to share and like anything that you’re doing. So if you have calls to action in your social media, if you can get folks to jump in for a specific period of time, maybe for a week between this date and this date and show your social a little bit of love, you’ll have a better chance of showing up at the top of people’s or inside people’s newsfeeds.  

The algorithm will favor you and you’ll show up more often, but you’ve got to have that activity. But you don’t want to ask volunteers to do this day-in day-out, week-in, week-out all year round. So limit when you’re making the ask to directly share and like, limit it to certain periods of time throughout the year.  

You can also offer sneak peek or insider information that your volunteers, your current volunteers can share with others as someone in the know. So again, we’re thinking about feeling important. We talked about the “me” earlier, one of the reasons why people are sharing.  

So if you can, from time to time, give people some information. Give your volunteers some information about what’s coming down the pike. What are the new initiatives? What are the new opportunities? What are the things, the strategies you’re moving forward with?  

What are the types of goals the organization has? All of this kind of insider information gives people a sense of importance and makes them more likely to want to share those types of things.  

And then finally, very simply create videos with volunteers in them, videos, photos, any content with volunteers themselves in them. When you do that, volunteers are more likely to share with others. We like to share with others when we’re featured in different places. 

Simply by sharing social media posts, blog posts, interviews, videos in your YouTube channel. If you have a podcast, interviewing volunteers on your podcast. Wherever you are communicating, whatever channels you are using at your organization, feature volunteers and you will naturally start to see word-of-mouth pick up. 

So I’ve talked a lot in this episode about word-of-mouth, what it is, why it’s important, why it might get in the way of the goals you’re trying to reach specifically around diversity, equity and inclusion, and also some ways to promote it if you choose to continue to double down on word-of-mouth marketing. 

I talked about the three reasons people will spread the word about your cause and I gave you five tips to boost sharing. So I hope this has been a valuable episode for you. I hope that you’ll join us next week for another episode of Volunteer Nation.  

And if you liked it, would you please share it with a friend or colleague, a little bit of word-of-mouth marketing I’m requesting. Just share it with somebody you think might need or want a little extra inspiration in their life. 

And if you would rate and review, we would very much appreciate it as it helps us expand the audience we’re trying to reach with this podcast. So thanks again for joining us in this episode of Volunteer Nation. We will see you next week. Same time, same place. Take care, everybody.  

The Volunteer Nation Podcast is produced by Thick Skin Media. Be sure to rate, review, and follow the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more tips and notes from each episode, check us out at TobiJohnson.com.