May 16, 2024

Episode #110: Using Psychographics to Improve Your Volunteer Recruitment Appeals

In this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast, Tobi explores the use of psychographics over demographics to improve your volunteer recruitment appeals, emphasizing the importance of understanding prospective volunteers’ beliefs, values, interests, and attitudes to create more effective marketing strategies. 

Tobi shares personal anecdotes to illustrate the power of targeted advertising, drawing parallels to recruiting volunteers who align with an organization’s cause, and guides you through creating volunteer personas based on psychographics.

Volunteer Recruitment Appeals – Episode Highlights

  • [01:30] – The Power of Understanding Your Audience
  • [06:57] – Psychographics vs. Demographics: Enhancing Volunteer Recruitment 
  • [16:32] – Creating Effective Volunteer Personas with Psychographics 
  • [24:53] – Join Us for In-Person Training in Manchester, England

Volunteer Recruitment Appeals – Quotes from the Episode

“You’ve got to think about what the psychographics of your ideal volunteer are. This will radically improve your volunteer recruitment appeals and attract the right kind of people. You’re not trying to attract everybody.” 

“Our opinions align with our values, and we do want to be able to speak to these opinions as the values of the organization. The more they are aligned with a potential volunteer, the more likely you’ll be able to recruit and keep them coming back.” 

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 #110 Transcript: Using Psychographics to Improve Your Volunteer Recruitment Appeals 

Tobi Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And I want to talk about psychographics. You know, we spend a lot of time talking about demographics. So, the types of volunteers we want to attract. Maybe we’re looking for bilingual folks. Maybe we’re looking for men. 

Maybe we’re looking for people who are available during the week. We think about our ideal volunteer, but we don’t often connect with the real reason they’re volunteering in the first place. And I feel like if we can take it to another level, a deeper level of understanding for our prospective volunteers, that our marketing and our messaging is going to land more effectively. 

That we can actually improve our volunteer recruitment appeals if we understand our audience better. So, I want to walk us through, maybe do a little bit of a deep dive into this. You know, there’s a commercial for the Premier League. So, if you know me and you’ve listened to my podcast, you probably have heard me from time to time talk about Premier League football. 

I’m a super fan. I’m a Chelsea fan. My husband’s a Tottenham fan. still get along, even though, uh, and pretty much every weekend we watch Premier League football. And right now, we’re on the West Coast, and so often watching football that’s happening in the UK is, you know, pretty early in the morning. We got to get up at the crack of dawn sometimes to watch our favorite teams. 

And it’s a thing we do. You’ll see me sometimes, especially if I want to decompress for the weekend, I will watch games and it’s very relaxing and, you know, I used to play soccer when I was a child all the way through college, I played co rec, I think I played soccer until I was about 55 years old or 50 years old, so I know the game quite well, uh, and it’s just a passion of mine, always has been, always will be. 

And there’s this Barclays commercial about the Premier League, and it’s screened in the U.S., and it speaks to me like nothing else does. It’s so interesting. And it’s It shows, it’s got a sort of a low voice announcer, and he talks, he’s calling out to you, for, for those of you that are up early with the birds, those of you who believe in the, you know, the vision and, and passion of, you know, of football, of the game. 

Now, those are not the words that they use in the commercial, but it gives you an idea of what they’re doing in the commercial. So, they’re basically speaking to a specific, very niche audience, the people who are so passionate about Premier League football that they’ll get up at four or five or six o’clock in the morning on a weekend to start watching their favorite teams. 

During this commercial they’ll have images of people that are watching a game inside their car because they don’t want to wake up anybody in the house. People who are tiptoeing down into the basement because they don’t want to wake up anybody else. That they’re gathering at a club and turning on the electric, you know, the fluorescent lights and they’re gathering with their friends. 

And then they cut to a screen where, or a scene where there’s lights flickering on people’s faces as they’re gazing in wonder at this, what’s happening on the TV. Cuts of people wearing different Premier League football uniforms. So, you know, all the gear that folks wear when they’re cheering on their teams. 

And the reason it speaks so clearly to me is because it is about me. I am one of those people. And so this commercial is calling people who are these people that are part of this club of the early risers here in the States, who watch and are deep fans of Premier League football. So, they’re saying, the audience is saying, we see you, we understand you, and we welcome you. 

This is for you. And it’s just very powerful, if you’re not a fan of soccer or football, this would not call to you. You just, it wouldn’t even make a dent in your universe. You wouldn’t even notice it. You’d go out and get a cup of coffee if this advertisement came on or you’d scroll on your phone. You wouldn’t pay any attention. 

So, when we think about, you know, volunteers and how we’re reaching out to volunteers, we want to make sure that we’re calling to the people who are the ideal people for what we do. The people who already understand why our cause is so important. If your volunteer appeals are narrowed in focus, if they’re focusing on a specific person who is perfect for what you do, it will stand out. 

It will stand out. And so, you know, if there were a similar advertisement, let’s say for American football, I don’t care about American football, I don’t watch American football, I wouldn’t even pay attention to it. But this one, the Premier League, the Barclays commercial. And so, if you want your volunteer appeals or your volunteer recruitment appeals in particular to speak that deeply to someone, you need to understand who that audience is and what they care about. 

And so that goes beyond demographics. In the Barclays ad, they don’t care what language you speak. They don’t care what color you are. They don’t care what neighborhood you live in. What they care about is speaking to people who have a certain belief set, you know, a certain commitment level. Right? And so, when we think about demographics, I hear a lot of people talking about demographics when they’re thinking about volunteer recruitment strategy and their volunteer recruitment appeals. 

Demographics explain who your buyer is in basic terms. So, their location, gender, age, income, marital status, socioeconomic status, whatever it is. They give you a limited picture of who your ideal volunteer might be, you know, might be, okay, we’re going to get this specific bilingual Latino men aged 19 to 35 who live in East Los Angeles. 

That’s a very specific demographic, but it’s also a really limited picture because that’s a pretty wide-ranging group of people. They’re not all the same. Right? Even though they’re bilingual Latino men aged 19 to 35 who live in East Los Angeles, that could describe a wide range of people, right? 

People with different perspectives, people from different countries, people, it could be all kinds of things, right? different levels of Spanish language skill. It could be all kinds of things. So, with demographics, we actually tend to pigeonhole people, and, in some ways, we miss out on the details of what motivates them. 

Psychographics, on the other hand, are more powerful. They explain why people buy or why people take action. Psychographic information includes subjective data like beliefs, values, goals, interests, and attitudes. And if you think about that, it’s not someone’s ethnic background that drives them to volunteer. 

It’s their age or their gender. That’s not what drives them to volunteer. It’s what their values are. Their belief set is what drives them to volunteer. If you want to use psychographics, which I’m hoping you will, it is a. key essential to effective marketing and it can help you narrow your search. We don’t want to widen.   

We don’t want to do any warm body recruitment because it doesn’t work. It doesn’t call anybody. The key to effective marketing again is to narrow, not widen your search. And so, think to yourself, how well do you currently understand your ideal volunteer? Who are they? What characteristics, attitudes, life stage, understandings, lived experience, level of commitment, etc. 

What do you know about them? What key behaviors do they exhibit? You know, in the Barclays commercial, there’s certain key behaviors that make us part of this clan. Number one, we get up early. Number two, we like to wear our gear, right? To cheer on our teams. Those are things that we identify. We see ourselves in that commercial. 

Volunteers want to find organizations that share their identity in some way or find people in organizations that share their identity. So, you’ve got to think about what the psychographics of your ideal volunteer are. This, again, will radically improve your volunteer recruitment appeals. And the right kind of people, the people you’re trying to attract, and you’re not trying to attract everybody. 

You don’t want to attract people who aren’t committed, right? Why bother, right? So, consider these three areas. When you think about that idea of volunteering, take a minute and just get them in the top of your mind. Just imagine who this person is. I’m going to give you just a minute to do that. Just a couple seconds. 


I just took a little sip of tea as you’re imagining. All right. So, if you have that person in mind, I want you to think of three things. First thing, interests. What are their interests? Interests are what occupy your prospect’s mind. They are shaped by a variety of things. It might be family culture, socioeconomic status, the economy, one’s self identity. 

There’s a lot of things. They refer to the way the person interacts with the world. So, what is your prospect’s interest? They Determine the kinds of information as well that that person is most likely looking for. When looking for interest in your potential volunteers, look for the key trends. You don’t need to find neatly detailed interests. 

What are the broad ranging interests like bringing up a healthy child, or becoming or remaining physically fit, or staying mindful? Those are interests. Those are interests that your volunteer might have. Now, what do you do with interests? They might be things you call out. Like, are you a mindful person? 

You know, looking for mindful volunteers, right? It depends on your cause and who might be low hanging fruits. You also want to think about when you’re imagining that ideal volunteer, are they somebody that is, it’s a no brainer that they would want to support your organization in some way, right? So, you don’t pick any ideal volunteer, you try to be smart and pick the lowest hanging fruit, or some people like to call the low hanging watermelons. 

The second area of psychographics is activities. What do folks spend their time doing? These might be hobbies or sports. They’re less significant to folks’ identities, but they’re still important. So, they help you. place your calls to action where your ideal volunteer is most likely to find them. So, let’s say you’re interested in people who have the activities of their daily life or their weekly life. 

You might imagine your ideal volunteer. How do they go about their week? What do they do, where do they go? Who do they talk to? What do they do now? Let’s say you’re someone who believes in fitness. Then maybe they go to the gym every single day. So, if you think about it, hmm, is there a way for me to connect with the gym to maybe do an info session or table or send my information or post my information on their website? 

Is there a way for me to partner with the different gyms in my community, right? So, activities are hobbies, sports, commuting is an activity, right? Commuting is an activity. TikTok, watch a TikTok, that’s an activity. So, you think about that strategically for your ideal volunteer. The third area is opinions. 

The third area of psychographics is opinions. So, these are attitudes about a certain topic. They can be large and broad. big, controversial things. They can also be small things. They can be responses to a person, a concept, a theory, a belief, or a thing. Like, you know what? I don’t like liver, or I don’t like meat in general. 

Right. That’s, that’s an opinion, right. Opinions reveal our values, which are key motivators of behavior. You know, our values really do drive behavior. I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were talking about why people change or don’t change their, their point of view. And why it’s so hard for us to change our point of view. 

And partly because, or change our mind about things. And partly it’s because our decisions are backed by our values. So, our decision to believe or act in a certain way is backed by our values. So, when people challenge our values. these decisions or these ways of being, then we tend to get defensive because they’re so based on values. 

Our opinions really do align with our values. And we do want to be able to speak to these opinions as the values of the organization, the core principles or values of the organization. The more they are aligned with a potential volunteer, the more likely you’ll be able to recruit and keep them coming back. 

Opinions can be things about climate change, animal rights. It could be things like paying it forward. It could be things like, I don’t believe that volunteers should have to pay out of pocket. They should get reimbursed for expenses. There’s all kinds of things people have opinions about, right? But think about the opinions that your organization holds dear. 

What are the opinions of your organization that believe in your values? Those are things to think about. So, when you think about psychographics, think about your ideal volunteer. What are their interests? Your interests can help you speak to them directly, to message them. What are their activities? Their activities help you find where they are, so you can place your appeal, your volunteer recruitment appeal, in front of them. 

And opinions are a way to align. your values to help them understand that you have shared values. So, all three of those things can give you a good picture of the psychographics of your ideal volunteer when you’re writing volunteer recruitment appeals. So, I also have a Volunteer Nation episode along these lines that might also be helpful. 

It’s called Strategic Volunteer Recruitment Ideas for 2024, Episode 89, I’ll link to it in the show notes, and you can check out more on some of my strategies. But I’m going to take a quick break right now. And when I come back, I want to talk about how you build a persona, a volunteer persona. You take the psychographic information that you’ve thought through, and then you build a persona from it. And I want to talk about practically how to do that.  

So, let’s take a pause for my tips on how to build a persona. A Better Volunteer Recruitment Appeal. We’ll be right back. If you’re enjoying 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 volunteers. 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 you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. And it’s the only implementation program of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system The Volunteer Pro Premium. Strategy Success Path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit  

 We’re back with my tips on how to build better recruitment appeals, uh, using psychographics. So, let’s talk about How do you improve your volunteer recruitment appeals? By building a persona that describes your idea of volunteer in detail. Volunteer personas are super valuable. 

They can help you become a mind reader. You know, anytime I get Someone responding is something I’ve sent out and they say to me, you’ve read my mind. That’s exactly what I was thinking or that was exactly what I’m needing right now. I always know that I’m paying really close attention to who my ideal audience is and serving them with information that they need. 

Volunteer personas help you move from. And any warm body approach to recruitment strategy and really helps us relate to volunteers as human beings in full, fully fleshed out human beings. So, you know, demographics can tend to pigeonhole people, psychographics help us focus more on what’s really driving behavior in the first place. 

Psychographics and developing, taking that next step to develop a volunteer persona also helps you anticipate the informational and emotional needs of the volunteers you’re trying to attract because you definitely want a message around both of those things. What is the informational sort of logistical basic information that People need to make a decision, but also what emotional needs do they have? 

Volunteer developing a persona can help you save time by narrowing your volunteer recruitment search to what we call different volunteer niches. So different subsections of your people, a persona, your ideal volunteer. This can help you prioritize who you’re messaging to and so that you begin to attract the right people, the people that are most interested in what you do, the people that can be committed to your good cause. 

When I say the right people, I’m not talking about discriminating against people. I’m talking about attracting people, becoming a magnet to the people who are most suitable, the people that understand, at least on a basic level, what you do and have a belief system that can support that. We want to create a persona, an imaginary person, so you can better understand and anticipate the authentic needs of that group. 

And understanding, we talked about psychographics before the break. Now we’re talking about how you use that psychographics to create a persona. And I recommend that Organizations create more than a couple because it creates a lot of confusion in your messaging. So, start with one. You can create a persona for a single person, or you can create a persona for a single role in your organization, or you can create a persona for all your volunteer roles in general. 

Persona is an imaginary archetype. They’re not a stereotype. We’re actually developing a character, right, a character of a person that is described by their psychographics, right? Their interests, their activities, and their opinions, right? When you’re creating your volunteer persona, you also want to consider a few other psychographic buckets. 

I’m going to talk about these for a minute. One is goals and motivations. So why does volunteering in particular, why giving of time and talent, why does that make sense in the world of your prospective ideal volunteer? What do they want to achieve through volunteering and how can you help them achieve those goals? 

Now, sometimes what they want to achieve is get some information or get some experience on their resume. It might be, I want to meet friends, I want to get out of the house. It might be, I have a value set that volunteering is important and I always want to have a meaningful volunteer role in my life. Right? So, you want to know what those are because you want to speak to those in your messaging. 

Second area, values and interests. So, we talked about this a little bit when we talked about psychographics before the break. What are they committed to? What do they believe in? How does your cause align with that value? Sometimes what are their hobbies? Sometimes their hobbies. Some of our volunteer roles are very hobby based. 

For example, I’m a master gardener. It’s quite hobby based. Gardening and especially vegetable gardening, but all kinds of gardening, it’s a big hobby for me. So, it makes sense that I would be a master gardener volunteer. And then common objections and fears. So, part of this is sort of our more higher-level values, interests, beliefs, et cetera. 

But I also like to look at what’s stopping people from service. What is a barrier for service or what are barriers for service for your ideal volunteer? What are they afraid of? And then how can you overcome those barriers? Sometimes fear is around social anxiety. Sometimes fear is around, will I be good enough? 

Will I be able to do this well? Sometimes it’s a fear around health and disease transmission. There are all kinds of fears that people have when it comes to service. So, we’ve got to understand those, the specific fears for our particular ideal volunteer persona. And then we can also proactively address those in our messaging as well. That gives you a little bit of understanding of psychographics and how to develop a volunteer persona. I really do think this shift from demographics strictly describing the volunteers we want to attract via demographic descriptions, I think they’re limited. I think they tend to broad brushstroke folk. 

And I feel like when we think about psychographics, we can really get down to the motivations of volunteers, what drives people to serve. And it almost opens up to all kinds of people that might have shared values that might not even know that they have shared values. And so, I think it opens things up rather than closes things down. 

If you’re ready, once you complete your volunteer persona, if you put it together, I like to give them a name. I like to choose a stock photo to represent them. I like to describe them in detail. And then when you’re ready to write up your appeals, check out Volunteer Nation episode number 102, Three Keys to an Irresistible Volunteer Offer, where I talk more about the actual copywriting once you’ve decided who your ideal volunteer is. 

I hope this has helped. It is definitely a powerful way. It’s quite creative. Sometimes I like to do this in groups. I often do this in training. In fact, I will be doing this in training in person in Manchester, England. So, if you’re interested, I do want to plug this in real quick. And it is If you actually want to participate in learning how to use psychographics and actually practice building out a persona, you can do it in person with me. And we’ve got an event coming up called Beyond the Big Help Out, how to recruit your volunteer dream team with a solid plan for action. It will be in Manchester, England on June 6th, and it’s going to be a full day workshop on recruitment. 

If you live in the UK, I would love to meet you in person. Come on down. You can go to AVM website at and check it out. Get your ticket. Love to see you there. But if you can’t see me in person, you can still use these strategies I covered today. So, I hope this has been helpful. 

If it has, I hope you’ll share it with a friend or colleague who may be struggling a little bit to get some action on some of their recruitment appeals, volunteer recruitment appeals. There’s a little bit of rocket science to it. It’s not easy in today’s world to break through the noise. There’s a lot of competing information out there. 

You’ve got to make sure that you have some solid strategy behind your volunteer recruitment appeal. I hope today has helped you do that. All right, everybody. Thanks for joining me this week. I’ll see you next week. Same time, same place on The Volunteer Nation.