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Volunteering is Big Business
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” - Winston Churchill 7/3/2018 | Gregg Emmer, Marketing Matters
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The annual value of volunteers is determined to be $193 Billion (yes - billion!) each year. The calculations for 2017 are that each hour worked as a volunteer has an impact of $24.69 to the organization. 63 million people did volunteer work last year and totaled 8 billion hours!

Points of Light alone said their volunteers totaled nearly 5 million strong and collectively they gave 20 million hours of service valued at $493 million.

I think everyone can agree that volunteering is big business. From selling cupcakes at a church picnic to handling dozens if tasks at hospitals, volunteers are essential to both the private and public sector operations. There are hundreds of volunteering opportunities in every city including hospitals, schools, election boards, and fundraising of every kind. You can find organizations involved in recycling, home repair, and neighborhood cleanup. There are youth leadership, coaching, and tutoring positions. The arts is another area where you find volunteers producing community theatre, filling docent positions at museums, and playing in civic orchestras. The list is nearly endless.

Consider that list a prospect list for your promotional marketing business! Volunteers need to be attracted in the first place, kept interested and rewarded and recognized. It should be obvious from the value of volunteers that the budget for awards and recognition is strong. If, for a moment, you think about a not-for-profit business as a conventional business - they have employees that they don’t have to pay, that they don’t have to administer taxes for, no benefits are provided, and everyone is happy to be their working. That would be a dream come true for any business owner or investor.

Most organizations that rely on some level of volunteerism will have a person or department specifically engaged in attracting, maintaining, and recognizing volunteers. They generally have significant budgets and are always looking for fresh ideas to make their jobs easier and more successful.

There are also many opportunities for co-op marketing where a sponsor actually provides the funding for the promotional, recognition, or award goods. While most volunteers are not able (by law) to show their time as a tax deductible donation, a business that provides sponsorship generally can show a deduction. Admittedly it takes some work to bring sponsors and organizations together but once you do the programs tend to go on for years.

All these organizations need and use promotional, award and recognition merchandise. The number of volunteers giving their time is staggering. Habitat for Humanity has 2 million volunteers. The American Red Cross has 500,000. Even the ASPCA operates with more than 800 volunteers.

Unlike some other prospecting where reaching the right people can be more intriguing than a good mystery novel, finding the key people responsible for recruiting and retention of volunteers is really easy! Simply call the organization and say you want to talk to someone about volunteering. You will be surprised how quickly you are talking to a decision maker.

A typical volunteer giving just two hours of service a week will have a monetary value to the organization of nearly $3000 each year. A 5% budget ($150) would allow for several incentives throughout the year and certainly have something left for end of the year recognition. With a sponsor, the organization will have even greater benefit and lower or no cost at all. And remember that sponsors need recognition too. Plaques, trophies, and gifts to sponsors are usually a budget item for these organizations.

Low unemployment is a great thing for our economy but not so great for organizations that depend on volunteers. Many who volunteered in the past are gainfully employed for the few hours they used to donated. Using promotional goods to recruit and retain is more important now and the value for each hour given continues to grow.

Programs don’t have to be complicated. A nursing home gives volunteers a logoed sports shirt after twenty hours of volunteering. They receive a jacket at fifty hours and then can earn points towards other logoed items.  

A parochial school gave tuition credits to volunteers for many years but switched to a merchandise incentive program putting much more revenue towards running their school.

Annual events will build a package to attract volunteers. A riverfront festival provided a tee shirt, water bottle, sun glasses, and a cooling bandanna in the volunteer package. The cost to the sponsors for the package was under $8 .

With 63 million volunteers you don’t need much market share to be successful!

Gregg Emmer is chief marketing officer and vice president at Kaeser & Blair, Inc. He has more than 40 years experience in marketing and the promotional products industry. His outside consultancy provides marketing, public relations and business planning consulting to a wide range of other businesses and has been a useful knowledge base for K&B Dealers. Contact Gregg at gemmer@kaeser-blair.com.

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