March 21, 2024

Episode #102: 3 Keys to an Irresistible Volunteer Offer 

In this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast, Tobi shares the 3 keys to an irresistible volunteer offer. Tobi highlights the need for organizations to align with the anticipatory and excited headspace of new volunteers, emphasizing the importance of adding to their experience rather than dampening it. 

Tobi stresses why organizations should be shifting their perspective from organization-centric to volunteer-centric approaches, underlining the transactional, relational, and transformational nature of volunteering and how matching expectations on all fronts can lead to successful volunteer engagement. 

Volunteer Offer – Episode Highlights 

  • [03:09] – Unlocking the Secrets to an Irresistible Volunteer Offer 
  • [03:36] – Save the Date: Upcoming Webinar Announcement 
  • [06:09] – Key #1: Understanding What Your Offer Is 
  • [15:54] – Key #2: Aligning Your Messaging 
  • [19:10] – Key #3: Standing Out From the Crowd 

Volunteer Offer – Quotes from the Episode

“When people volunteer, it’s relational, it’s transactional and it’s transformational.” 

“Volunteers do care that your opportunities are inclusive. They want to feel like they belong. And for many volunteers, they want to make sure other people belong, too.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

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Episode #102: 3 Keys to an Irresistible Volunteer Offer 

Tobi Johnson: Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And today I am sitting here looking out the window at a very calm and tranquil Puget Sound. We have been moving to different temporary housing as our house has been flooded. In a couple weeks we will get to move back in, so I’m very excited about that. And meanwhile, I’m getting this beautiful view. So, it’s pretty awesome. And Yesterday I actually spent some time on the deck Planting some seeds getting my seeds going for spring. I’m a little bit behind Because naturally didn’t have access to all my stuff Didn’t have time but finally started working on it and it was really interesting as I was planting my seeds, I started to think about why I enjoyed it so much and I was sitting there with my husband and talking about why I get so excited about seed starting every year. 

And if you’re a gardener, especially a vegetable gardener, and you grow from seeds, you know what I’m talking about. Every winter we’re looking at seed catalogs, we’re browsing the stores, we’re excited about the new opportunities for trying new varieties and we get excited. And it’s really about hope seedlings. It’s, it’s just a miracle of nature. 

Something small and dry. You can put it in the right context with water, the right seed starting medium. If you keep it a little warm, keep it humid, you will start to have seeds sprout. And those plants also create more seeds. So, it’s totally regenerative. So, there’s something really fascinating to me about seeds. 

I love to look at the seed sizes and shapes and colors. It’s always kind of fun, but it, really means to me it, you know, at the core is a sense of hope. You know, it’s a sense of aspiration and excitement for the future. And I thought about this when it comes to volunteers. So, when they join your organization to volunteer, they are kind of at this point like I’m going to plant my seeds. They are excited. It is the point in their volunteering where they are the most anticipatory, the most excited about the possibility of what’s going to happen. And I wonder if our organizations are always connected with that headspace, or if we’re working at odds with it. So today I want to talk about three keys to an irresistible volunteer offer through the lens of whether we are aligned with what volunteers are looking for and where they’re at in their headspace when they start with our organization. Are we adding to their experience of anticipation and enjoyment? Or are we dampening it and I think we’re not always aligned, right?  

So, before we get started with this though, I want to just get a save the date on your calendar We’re going to have an upcoming free webinar called how to become an irresistible magnet for today’s volunteers I want you to become that lucky organization that volunteers can’t wait to join and support You know, you may be struggling to build back your base of volunteers since COVID, you might not be attracting the right people with the right skills, you might just feel like you have a disinterested public, you might have folks ghosting you and not following through, volunteers may feel burned out and so are you. 

If any of this feels familiar, you are not alone, but you know, it may be time for a change and you may wonder, where do I start making that change? Because you know, we only have so much time on our calendar. And the first step for me really is to pinpoint what’s holding you back exactly, precisely, before you start making interventions. 

So, in this free webinar, I’m going to show you how to recruit and retain committed volunteers with the right mix of skills, experiences, and attributes through the lens of our volunteer strategy success path. We’re building out a quick assessment that’s going to go along with this webinar that you can use to quickly diagnose and score where you want to put your attention. And so, you know, teams of highly engaged volunteers can really help you reduce stress on employees, improve your services, and increase your impact. And so, we want to help you do that by first understanding and pinpointing what’s holding you back through an assessment tool that we’re going to give you when you register. 

So, stay tuned. Those webinars are going to be on April 16th and April 18th. Next week I will have a link for you. And if you are a VolunteerPro follower and you get our newsletter, we will also be announcing this in our newsletter. But I wanted you to get these on your calendar. So, this is sort of a Preliminary podcast that starts to speak about what are these things we need to think about. 

So, let’s jump into it, but get that on your calendar, April 16th or April 18th, either one. And we’ll give you the specific times. We’ll give you a link to join next week and we’ll also be sharing it via our newsletter. All right. So, let’s get into it. What are three keys to an irresistible volunteer offer? 

Well, the first question is what the heck is an offer anyway? Why I call it an offer is it’s very similar to an offering or an offer that a business would offer the public. So, an offering or offer is a thing. It could be physical, digital or an experience that a business sells or offers either for free in exchange for an email address and we have lots of offers on our website with lots of freebies you can download that’s considered an offer or it’s something that people pay for and your offer includes the thing, which could be physical, digital, or an experience, but it also includes all of the services, features, benefits that come with it. 

I’s the whole enchilada. It’s the whole package. That’s your offer. So, in terms of a volunteer offer, it’s the experience that you reward volunteers with for their contributions. It’s the things that you give them in exchange for contributing their time and talent. And again, saying things in air quotes, you can’t see me doing this, but things are in air quotes because it’s really about the experience and, you know, volunteering and the relationship between organizations and volunteers is both transactional and relational. Now certainly the relational side of it takes precedence. It’s people working with people, but there is an aspect of trans-actionality in that volunteers have an expectation. They have an expectation. And if you remember from, if you listened to episode 101 with my friend, Pam Cappellini, she talked about tapping the power of psychological contracts to really check out, you know, how volunteer expectations determine their level of commitment. 

So, there is a transactional nature to volunteering in that volunteers have an expectation for what they are contributing. They don’t expect anything. They expect something, right? So, our offer has to be aligned in some ways with these expectations. So, let’s start with that number one key to an irresistible volunteer offer, and that is to ensure what we call in the business world, we call it the product market fit. Now the product again is the thing in our case, the product is the volunteer experience. That’s the offer. That’s what we have on offer. The market is the potential volunteers in our community that might want to step up to help. 

So, consider carefully whether your current offer or volunteer experience in all the perks, all the benefits, all the activities, et cetera. Does it match what volunteers are seeking? Does it match what volunteers are actually seeking? And, you know, you may say, well, we, we only have this one thing we offer volunteers, and we can’t change it.  

And I would challenge you to think about how you can change it. You know, certainly there are certain things that need to get done, but how can you change it? And volunteers are looking for a few specific things in today’s world. Things are, were different, you know, 20 years ago, but times have changed, and volunteers are very choosy about what they decide to dedicate their time to. 

One of the things that’s really important to today’s volunteers is flexibility. So, sometimes it’s flexibility in how to get the work done, you know, is there a method that they can use that’s faster, easier, etc. Sometimes it’s flexibility in the context. So, can I volunteer online? Can I volunteer in person? 

Sometimes that flexibility is because we have a team effort. So, can I volunteer? Everybody on the team doesn’t have to work every shift, quote unquote, or at every activity, we can switch out people easily, so we have flexibility to take time off when we need to. Flexibility might be seasonal, seasonality, so there’s a lot of flexibility, but people, the bottom line is people don’t want to sign their lives away. 

So, our projects also have a beginning, middle, and an end, and at the end people can re up and try again if they want and continue. So, flexibility in many ways people is requiring that today because life is stressful, and No one wants to sign up for something that is going to make their life more stressful. 

Nobody is out there shopping for more stress. Just nobody is right? I don’t know anybody would say yes. I’d like more stress in my life. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? No, so volunteering must make lives easier not harder, right? Also, along these lines volunteers are looking for balance So something that doesn’t take too much, again, doesn’t create too much stress in their lives. 

Something that’s balanced, something that can fit into their lives and volunteers must figure out your opportunity or your offer, your volunteer offer, into their lives. That is the key challenge for a volunteer in a lot of ways. So, we’ve got to make sure it’s balanced and it can fit. 

The other thing is inclusivity. Volunteers do care That your opportunities are inclusive. They want to feel like they belong. And for many volunteers, they want to make sure other people belong too, that is an area of care. You know, people who volunteer often care about a lot of things. In life aside from your cause specifically and many volunteers care about diversity, equity and inclusion, making sure that people are included. 

There’s a level playing field for many volunteers. That’s of concern. So, we want to make sure that we are actively included, but even on an individual level, when a new volunteer comes on, regardless of their background or our walk of life, they feel like they belong pretty closely. Pretty quickly into the process. 

No one wants to feel like an outsider and contribute their time That’s just another thing people don’t want to sign up for and then meaningful Very important that opportunities are meaningful and what meaning, you know Volunteering is also a meaning making type of exercise when people volunteer it means Something to their lives And so it means something that they are living their values. 

It means something that they are contributing to something that they feel needs changing in the world. That they are building their own skill set. Whatever that meaning making is, it must be meaningful. And so, we want to talk about meaning and how we’re creating meaning for our volunteers. Part of our offer, our volunteer offer, is to help a volunteer make meaning. 

To provide an experience that has meaning for them, right? And so sometimes that social meaning might be, it’s not always the activity, you know, I don’t think licking envelopes and doing a mass mailing is meaningful unless It generates a lot of money for a nonprofit so they can actually start a new program or do more with less or Build a new building or whatever that is then all of a sudden it has meaning Sometimes that meaning is you know, volunteers are getting together licking stamps. 

It might be and this is just a metaphor, right? Doing something that’s not, you know high Sort of high risk or a high stakes something low stakes It could be the meaning making is the social aspect of getting together and looking stamps and putting together a mailing So a mailing can be in the right context But we have to make sure that volunteers if we’re creating an irresistible volunteer offer We need to make sure there’s product market fit and one of those things is meaning I’m going to make sure that the market the market wants meaning You our product needs to offer meaning. 

If you want to know more about how to align volunteers special skills and roles with your organization, so they’re, you’re matching their skills with the roles you have available and make sure they’re truly fulfilling, check out Volunteer Nation episode 68, Match Volunteers for Joy and Purpose, and we talk a lot about how to make that match in that episode, so I’ll put that in the show notes so you can check that out. 

So, let’s take a quick break from our conversation about how to create an irresistible volunteer offer. I’ll be right back and I’m going to share with you the other two keys. So don’t go anywhere. 

If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated, high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. 

If you’re interested in learning more, visit  

Okay, we’re back with our conversation about how to create an irresistible volunteer offer. I’m your host Tobi Johnson and let’s just jump into it. Our first key to an irresistible volunteer offer was to ensure product market fit. And remember I talked about some of the things volunteers are looking for in terms of meaning, flexibility, balance, inclusivity. 

Let’s talk about number two to an irresistible volunteer offer. And that is aligning your messaging with volunteers’ motivations. So, this is like meaning making and things we talked about before the break, but ask yourself, does your volunteer offer speak to volunteer needs and preferences or does it focus. 

Mostly on your organization’s requirements. Now, I’ve seen a lot of webpages. I’ve looked at a lot of volunteer recruitment webpages in my day. And most of the time, I would say 80 percent of the time, they are focused on the organization’s requirements. And not very much on volunteer motivations. So, our communications in our field, and this is a key reason why we’re not attracting people to our roles, I believe, is that it is organization centric. 

Our messaging and our communications is organization centric versus volunteer centric. And anybody who’s worth their salt in the world of marketing knows that. that you need to speak to your audience’s desires. It’s not about you, it’s about them. And so, you know, we talked about volunteers wanting to make a difference and make meaning in their work. 

Do you clearly explain in your messaging and show how volunteer contributions transform the community or the people or the animals that are served, right? Are you explaining that? Are you making it really clear what the difference is when there are volunteers? Or when there’s not volunteers, is there a clear difference between the current state and the future state when volunteers get involved? 

It is so important to discuss and share and make that transformation clear. It can be, the transformation can be clear, made clear. Through explanation, it can be made clear through videos of what happens, it can be made clear through client testimonials, people served, it can be made clear through volunteer testimonials, but what is the change. 

When people say they want to make a difference, it means they want change. And so, our websites don’t talk, don’t say anything about change. They talk about our mission, they talk about the 25 things people need to do to volunteer, but they say nothing about the transformation, the journey that people are going to get on. 

Volunteers want to make a difference, so when we align with that motivation, we are sharing with them how that change will happen. For more on how to write volunteer centric messaging, check out Tobi Johnson and Associates blog post, how to write volunteer recruitment messaging that converts. 

I go more into this in detail. We talk about the one thing, focusing on one thing in your messaging and lots of tips in that post. So, check that out. I will link to it in the show notes as well. All right. So we’ve talked about the number one key to an irresistible volunteer offer, which is ensuring product market fit. 

Number two to an irresistible volunteer offer is aligning messaging with audience motivations. And number three, our final key to an irresistible volunteer offer is to make sure it stands out from the crowd. So, something is irresistible to an audience when it’s different. 

Nobody wants to buy the same thing that everybody else is selling, right? We’re always looking for something different. You know, we’re thinking about going to go to a hotel for a vacation. We’re looking at how it is, we’re trying to find something different. You know, what stands out, right? 

Whenever we’re buying a product or service, or we’re responding to an offer, we’re looking and comparing that offer with the other offers that are on the market. And in this case, Volunteers may be, not always, your, your brand reputation may be the differentiator. And they may not be looking at other volunteer offers. 

They may be attracted to your brand itself. I don’t think that’s usually the case, but sometimes it is. It was probably more like the case back in the day. In today’s world, it’s more about the experience. But if you are posting on Idealist, Volunteer Match, Galaxy AARP, Create the Good, wherever you’re posting your volunteer, your local volunteer center’s website, your own website, well not your own website, any others where you’re, there are other people posting their opportunities, you are quote unquote in competition. 

And I use competition with small c here, right? We’re all engaging together, and volunteers often volunteer for more than one organization. But when you compare your posting to other people’s postings, do you stand out? Do you look different? Because people are going to be attracted to that. 

Is your headline, is it enticing? Does it have a punch to it? Does it feel interesting? So, you want to think about and analyze your quote unquote competitors. You can do a SWOT analysis of some of your key competitors. Just Google something about your volunteer opportunities or scroll through those that are posted where yours are posted on these volunteer intermediary sites and conduct a SWOT analysis, a strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of each quote unquote competitor, you know, look at causes that have a similar mission to yours or attract the similar type of people. 

Look at their tone and their messaging, their images, the clarity of their message, their reputation. Whether or not they use jargon. So, you want to think about, you know, what images do they include if they, if there’s a space for images. And you want to see, how can I create something more enticing, something more interesting, so that you stand out. 

Also, in terms of standing out and differentiating, consider your organizations, what we call an unboxing experience. Think about Apple. If you’re an Apple user. If you’ve ever unboxed your iPhone or unboxed your laptop, it is an experience. The boxing, the color, the way it’s organized, the experience is meant to be simple and savory. 

Simple and savory. So, when you’re opening, it’s a little bit of a luxurious experience when you open an Apple product. You immediately get to the meat of the matter. You don’t start with a 25-page guide of how to use this tool. It’s very elegant, very simple, and it was always, Steve Jobs always, that was his number one design requirement was that things be simple. 

And anybody who’s an Apple fan or user knows this experience and knows the boxes are always very well made. And it’s an experience that if you’re an Apple user, you expect. So similarly, think about how a volunteer experience feels. You know, there’s also unboxing experiences. If you ever watch YouTube, when someone’s reviewing a product on YouTube, there’s YouTubers unboxing whatever they bought. 

It’s the same kind of thing. So, think about how a volunteer Would explain their quote unquote unboxing experience of how they’re explaining the experience of joining your organization. Your whole onboarding process is a quote unquote unboxing experience, right? Does it feel exciting, or does it feel, and fresh, or does it feel boring and overly bureaucratic? 

How does it feel? What’s the experience? What’s the emotional experience? Does it feel friendly? Does it feel fun? Does it feel exciting? Or does it feel like I’m, I’m completing 25 million details. In a very bureaucratic and dry experience that has started to dampen my excitement for volunteering. 

Does it feel more about paperwork than people, right? And so that can set you apart, that kind of experience. Wow, I really liked it. I went for my first orientation training. People were friendly. We had a lot of fun. I met some new people. Or, oh, I’ve been, you know, people have been emailing me and nagging me to complete this form. 

You know, which would you choose, right? So, you’ve got to think about designing, becoming that architect of the volunteer experience so that their quote unquote unboxing experience becomes better and so that you are standing out from the crowd and people want to talk about you, right? So, for more on how to specifically think about people’s experience, go back again. 

I mentioned earlier talk with Pam Cappellini’s and the power of psychological contracts. Think about the Expectations that volunteers bring with them when they show up before they even really talk to you and there are key Expectations and that episode and again, I’ll link to it in the show notes. 

We talk about psychological contract theory and it’s all about What expectations people have, not their motivations. You know, Pam talks about the difference between motivations and expectations. Motivation is what got us to the party in the first place. Expectations are what keeps us coming back. 

So, we want to think about what are those expectations volunteers are forming and can we meet them? And a lot of them are very simple. I want to be treated like an equal. I want to be treated with respect. I want to be given all the tools and training I need to be successful. I want to be acknowledged for my work. 

I want to feel like I belong. I want to be given the benefit of the doubt. These are, these are basic things that most human beings want. So, you don’t even have to talk to people to know what some of these things are. You can just think about yourself. So those are my three. Keys to an irresistible volunteer offer. 

The first one was ensuring product market fit. The second was aligning messaging with audience motivations. And the third was to make sure it stands out from the crowd. And when you do this, you will enjoy More conversions, you’ll have more volunteers saying yes to your offer, and you’ll have more volunteers sticking around and making deeper commitments. 

We’ve got to start to think about what’s on offer. This is both a transactional and a transformational experience for people. When people volunteer, it is relational, transactional and transformational. We want to make sure all these things are happening, right? That the expectations are being met on all three fronts. 

All right, so I hope this has been helpful to you. If you liked it or think it might help a friend, please refer us. And if you would, scroll down and give us a five-star rating. I’d love that. Or rate us. We just like to rate and review. That helps us reach more people. But we want to make sure as many people as possible can learn and grow their volunteer efforts. 

The community needs you as much as you need it. Both sides really need to be in the enterprise of volunteerism. It is so good for people, it’s so good for our communities, and we want people and organizations to get better at it. That’s what we’re about here at Volunteer Nation. So, thanks for joining me. 

I will be here next week, same time, same place, on The Volunteer Nation. Thanks, everybody.