The Marketing Matrix: Six Elements of a Nonprofit Marketing Plan

Nonprofit Marketing PlanEvery nonprofit would love to enjoy the success of a marketing campaign such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the charity: water Thank You campaign.

The success of these nonprofit marketing campaigns is not accidental. Each campaign intentionally followed a plan that was laid out in advance. Likewise, think of your marketing plan as a roadmap that’s going to guide you to a chosen destination.

As with any journey, you begin with your destination in mind, and then start by charting your route from your starting point.  There is no sense in beginning unless you know where you want to finish.

Before you start to create a marketing plan, put your communications into perspective. Frame your perspective on your overall communications strategy with a simple statement. For example:

  • Our goal is fundraising. Our marketing communications are donor communications.
  • Our goal is member services. Our marketing communications are intended to nurture member engagement.
  • Our goal is recruiting volunteers. Our marketing communications help manage volunteer experience.
  • Our goal is trust. Our marketing communications will contribute to building trust between us and our constituents.

How Do You Attract, Inform, Inspire, and Engage Your Intended Audience?

Imagine that your goal is more than marketing. Instead, imagine that your goal is to build relationships through engagement, ultimately arriving at stewardship. Marketing becomes a means to that end.

Marketing is too often a one-way, short-term, transactional exercise; relationships are built through conversations and interactions to engage your audience. Marketing may tend to drive one-time interaction; relationship-building encourages long-term engagement and stewardship. Marketing has the potential to be superficial; engaging your intended audience over the long run helps to develop deep affinity and meaningful relationships.

Marketing is just one component of your comprehensive communications strategy. The most successful nonprofits focus on nurturing relationships; employing a marketing plan and applying it to specific campaigns is part of an engagement continuum.

What’s an Engagement Continuum?

An engagement continuum is a series of touch points between you and the intended audience whom you are trying to reach. Your marketing plan must attract, inform, inspire, and engage donors and stakeholders. Along this continuum, you will find what you consider to be “marketing” will decrease, while relationship-building will increase.  A marketing plan is the path you and your audience follow to arrive where you nurture and steward the relationships formed along the way.

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Strategy helps you begin the journey; a marketing plan serves as a map to guide you to your destination.

Forming the Matrix of Your Marketing Plan

Think of your marketing plan as a matrix woven from the elements of Motive, Message, Market, Medium, Method, and Means. Each element can exist independently, but together they are robust and cohesive.

  1. Motive: What is the purpose for your marketing plan (beyond “the board says we need one.”)? Why are you conducting this campaign? What is the goal of the campaign or plan?
  2. Message: What is the call to action? What is the one message you’re conveying, the story you’re telling, or narrative you’re supporting?
  3. Market: Who is the intended audience you’re trying to reach or persuade? Who are the partners, advocates, and ambassadors that can help amplify your message?
  4. Method: Based on your goals and purpose, when will you launch the campaign? Will it be interpersonal or conducted through media? Where will you conduct the campaign?
  5. Medium: What platforms or communication mediums will have the most success in reaching your intended audience? What specific touch points have the most potential to reach your audience with the message and content you want them to engage with?
  6. Means: How much will this campaign cost? Understanding and investing for success will help you measure the return on your investment.

Before you get overwhelmed with creating a comprehensive marketing plan for your organization, consider the establishment of micro-plans that help you focus on specific goals to achieve. These micro-plans can be campaign-specific or audience-specific; together they will form a complete marketing plan.

If you begin with the idea that you are creating a marketing strategy, and not only executing a marketing plan, you will align your goals with an essential foundation through a smart, tactical communication plan.

Above all else, remember the rule of one: focus your communication on one cause, one mission, and one purpose, sharing that purpose with one voice.

Begin by asking the following questions. As you do, you can fill in your answers following the same framework.

Motive: What Is Your Purpose and Goal?

A marketing plan must be relevant to the purpose for which you’re creating it. Raising awareness and raising funds are two different primary objectives (even though they are complementary to each other); attracting new donors and marketing an event requires different strategies and tactics to achieve your goal.

What is the aim or purpose of your marketing plan? Some examples include:

  • Raising awareness
  • Raising funds
  • Attracting new donors
  • Promoting an event
  • Nurturing trust

What Is Your One Message?

  • What is the one message you want your intended audience to remember?
  • What is the one story you’re sharing in which you want your audience to engage?
  • What is the one call to action you want your audience to answer?

Who is Your Market?

  • Who is the primary (intended) audience you’re trying to reach with this plan? (Remember that everybody is not your audience. Think of the one person who best represents the audience you’re seeking to reach and keep them in mind as you create the strategy.
  • Who might help you reach this audience? Are there partners with whom you have alliances?
  • What other groups, ambassadors, fans, and advocates share your enthusiasm for your cause and can help reach your intended audience?

What Methods Will Be Relevant?

Effective marketing plans are not conceived and executed in a short time. Plan at least three months out, and consider the timing and intersection of your message, market, and medium.

  • Where will you conduct the campaign?
  • Where is the most promising intersection of message, market, and medium?
  • Will it require advocacy, public relations, digital, print, or traditional advertising?
  • When is the right time to conduct your campaign?
  • How long should your campaign run?
  • When must you start planning for a year-end campaign?
  • How frequently should you share the message?
  • Do you need to create content (such as a blog article, event page, or landing page) in anticipation of tactical planning?

Which Mediums and Touch Points Will Help You Achieve Your Goal?

It’s tempting to begin planning the tactics at the beginning of a marketing planning process, but as a communication professional, you will remind your board and executive management that planning precedes doing.

How you reach your intended audience begins with creating meaningful content (i.e., your message) that you share using specific touch points. Think of a touch point as the point (or intersection) where your message and the medium you use to deliver that message touches your intended audience.

The effectiveness of your touch points is dependent on the quality of your content.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the number of touch point choices available to you. If you know you can reach your audience through Facebook and email, why spend the time with Twitter if it’s not going to help you achieve your goal?

For example, after analyzing the effectiveness and reach of its current Facebook, Twitter, and email list, a nonprofit society that relies on publication sales to fund its mission decided to focus on Facebook and email as its primary touch points. Twitter would be allowed to grow organically, recognizing that it is not an efficient way to reach and build its intended audience or sell its products.

Key to success: Choose your media and tactical touch points based on where you will have the most success reaching your intended audience.

Regardless of the touch points you select, all must be integrated—working together to achieve your marketing plan’s goal. Integration means that your messaging, marketing, and methods have continuity between the elements.

For example, if you’re using a phone bank or a direct mail acquisition campaign to solicit donations and send potential donors to your website, the landing page content must match the appeal. Your method for collecting donations must create a straightforward and memorable donor experience.

  • Content and Insight Marketing: Publish content on your website to inform and inspire your intended audience, drawing them into your cause and making them want to be part of your story.
  • Social Media Platforms: The obvious choices of Twitter and Facebook are relevant if that’s where your intended audience is found. Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram may also have their place in your continuum if the platform is suitable for delivering your message to your intended audience. If it’s not relevant, focus on the platform that is.
  • Email Marketing: Email remains an effective method of connecting with your audience if you’re telling (your story) and not selling (constantly asking for money.)
  • Print Media: Print remains an effective medium to reach your audience. Not only can print be disruptive in a digital age, it engages more of the audience’s senses than digital media. According to independent research from Sappi Paper, digital media engages sight and sound, but print engages sight, sound, touch, and smell—making your message potentially more memorable.
  • Video: YouTube is a destination and useful for integrating video with email marketing and other digital media, but it’s just one choice. Consider how you can integrate Facebook Live, Twitter video, and Instagram video stories as additional video platforms.
  • Google AdWords: The Google for Nonprofits program enables eligible organizations to qualify for up to $10,000 per month in Google AdWords. Let that sink in. A $120,000 yearly grant for digital advertising. If your organization hasn’t applied, what are you waiting for?

The nonprofit society mentioned earlier received a Google AdWords grant, and within one week of implementation realized an 860% increase in traffic to its website and a measurable increase in donations and product sales.

Nonprofit Marketing Advice

Key to success: Integration between touch points allows you to measure and share content. For instance, Instagram is owned by Facebook.  Images posted on Instagram are easily shared on Facebook and Twitter, including links to content. Custom or shortened links (created with bit.ly) allow you to measure engagement with any digital or print media.

How Much Will Your Campaign Cost?

The cost of any marketing plan must be measured in personnel time, creative investment, and media expenses. How much will vary depending on the extent of your marketing plan.  Do not forget to consider the value of your investment as you evaluate your ROI (return on investment) and ROE (return on engagement).

Case Study: A Marketing Campaign to Drive Awareness and Visitors to Your Website:

As a practical example, let’s apply the Marketing Matrix to a nonprofit society that sells products and literature to fund ongoing mission-based work.

1. Motive:

  • Attract and engage donors to a new website that sells literature products and resources, empowering the intended audience to be advocates for the shared cause

2. Message:

  • What is the one message to convey? The products and resources are easy-to-read and targeted to specific groups, making them easy to share and appealing to the recipient.
  • What is the call to action? Visit to learn more, read examples, and purchase a product.

3. Market:

  • Who is the intended audience we are trying to reach? Men and women in the continental U.S., aged 24-60, with strong alignment with the values of the organization, and affinity for the cause of the organization.
  • Who are our partners, advocates, and ambassadors that can help amplify our message? Among Facebook and email communities, encourage sharing of motivational and inspirational messages based on our for-sale products.

4. Method:

  • The society is engaged with its community on Facebook, Twitter, via email, and through a Google AdWords grant campaign.
  • The most relevant methods are digital and social media, due to limited means for print-based marketing and the distribution of the audience across the continental U.S.
  • Measure of targeted URLs through Google Analytics conversion goals.

5. Medium:

  • What specific platforms or communication mediums will have the most success in reaching our intended audience, in order of priority? Email, social media, Google AdWords.
  • How will we reach our audience with the message and content we want them to hear? Email to the intended audience directly two times per month, with a minimum of seven scheduled weekly posts to Facebook. Pause current Google AdWords campaign and create a new targeted campaign based on audience and product push.

6. Means:

  • How much will this campaign cost?
    • Email marketing: included in the monthly subscription of service and creative agency retainer.
    • Facebook: Creative and social media management included in the monthly subscription of service and creative agency retainer.
    • Google AdWords Cost: Allocate full $10,000 of in-kind AdWords support for 30 days ($329/day) to targeted landing page.

Within the context of a strategic communications strategy, this campaign serves as one component of a 12-month marketing plan.

Whether you think of a marketing plan as a roadmap or a matrix, beginning with the end in mind and including the elements of Motive, Message, Market, Medium, Method, and Means will ensure your plan is intentional, consistent, and cohesive.






Implementing Transparency and Donor Privacy

transparency-donor-privacyFor a nonprofit, transparency is critical for trust, support, loyalty, and long-term sustainability. This means financial accountability, openness about mission and planes, and a holistic view of the organization.

Transparency also means that a donor’s rights are clearly informed. An organization’s internal work is directly related to the support it externally receives; therefore, non-profits  should give priority to this crucial segment of information to communicate with prospective and existing donors and supporters.

Nonprofit organizations can implement the following Privacy and Donor Policy:

  • Fundraising will be truthful and accurately described.
  • Donations will be spent in accordance with the donor’s intent.
  • Donors will receive prompt, forthright answers to questions.
  • Donors have the right to be informed of the organization’s mission and purpose.
  • Fundraising will respect the dignity and privacy of those who benefit from the organization’s activities.
  • Donors will receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition for their gift.
  • The organization will respect the donor’s requests to remain anonymous.
  • Upon request, donors are entitled to promptly receive the organization’s most recent stewardship report and proof of 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt status.
  • Donors will have the opportunity to have their names deleted from mailing and fundraising solicitations. Their opt out request will be honored promptly.
  • The organization will respect donors’ privacy by not sharing, selling, or renting names and personal information.
  • Donors can expect that all relationships with individuals representing the organization will be professional in nature and that they will be treated with respect, compassion and dignity.

In today’s world, where the majority of transactions take place online or even through social media, it is imperative to remind donors why your non-profit is collecting the information it may need. Here are some additional guidelines that your organization may implement for donor privacy:

  1.  Informing the donor that their information is confidential, and that your organization does not sell to or share donor information with anyone, including partners and affiliates.
  2. Informing the donor that your organization uses the information to accept and process gifts, and providing the donor with the option to receive updates such as mailings and newsletters.
  3. Informing the donor of the type of information that is gathered: name, address, credit card or payment method information, to properly process gift transactions, and that it is protected through a trusted solution for online security.

Informing donors of their rights ensures them that their monetary gifts are utilized with respect and gratitude. This also empowers donors in feeling that their giving is in their control, and provides them with autonomy regarding the personal information they may share. Philanthropy merits loyalty and dedication, and this is where non-profits are to uphold their end by honoring donor’s rights with integrity and compassion.

 

Nonprofit Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is fundamentally about making choices.  While that sounds easy, it is often challenging to do.  Planning committees or executive teams must identify and agree upon what their organization will do as well as what it will not do. In a world of limited resources (e.g., money, staff, time) organizations can’t afford to try and be all things to all people.  This is particularly true in the nonprofit sector where resources are always tight and donors are, and should be, vigilant about how their money is used.

Step 1: Set both Goals and Objectives

The first step in developing a strategic plan is setting the organization’s goals.  Goals are statements about what the organization is trying to achieve.  The more specific you can be the better.

Nonprofit Strategic PlanningFor example, one local organization had a goal “to help people fight poverty”.  It did a great job of fundraising and allocated over $1 million every year to local charities serving the poor.  The grant committee found so many organizations needing help that they donated to over ninety-five each year across the spectrum of education, food services, shelters, addiction programs, and more.  There was such a need, that they were giving a small amount of money to almost every charity that applied.  They didn’t have specific goals in place to evaluate A) which types of charities they should be funding and B) what impact they were looking to achieve.

After conducting a strategic planning process, they honed their goal to “reducing poverty by finding and funding programs that seek lasting change”.  This more specific goal enabled the committee to develop more actionable objectives.

Clear objectives are measurable and guide the organization’s activities. The Planning Committee took their goal and was able to define their objectives.  Their goal now had criteria in it –“reducing poverty” and “lasting change”.  To accomplish this, the committee decided to focus its granting in three main areas:

  1. Provide basic needs such as food and shelter
  2. Help stabilize people and get them on a path to be self-sufficient by helping gain sustainable housing and work
  3. Support early childhood intervention and education

The committee then put numerical targets on each area to track progress year over year.  The organization was making real strategic choices about what it would do and what it wouldn’t do.  These objectives also helped focus their discussions with major donors, grant-seeking agencies and new volunteers.  As a result, donors better understood where their money was going.  Grant-seeking agencies didn’t waste their time applying if they didn’t fit into these three areas.  Volunteers could target a key area and track their impact each year.

Step 2: Define your Target Customer and What You Want Them to Do

The second major step in strategic planning is to define your target audiences and specify what you want them to do.  Again, this requires an organization to make choices.  Does the all-boys school in town target every boy between the ages of 4 and 18?  Does the Episcopalian Church target all Christians in the area?  Does the Breast Cancer Center target all women?  Seeing as all Christians don’t act the same and neither do all boys or all women, this would be difficult.

Furthermore, targeting an audience that you can’t actually support doesn’t make sense either.  For example, a local church wanted more young families to join the congregation.  It hosted outreach events in schools and marketed heavily to families who attended a nearby pre-school but weren’t members of the church.  The church Board couldn’t figure out why it couldn’t attract more families.  Finally, a committee member looked closely at where the church was spending its money.  The top three investment areas were:

  1. Adult music programs
  2. Adult education
  3. Outreach

The church wanted more families but didn’t invest against the needs of that audience.  Hence, those families joined churches that spent resources on Sunday School, Youth Group Programs and Family Mission Projects.

When choosing target audiences its important to have a deep understanding of who they are:

  1. What are their behaviors and beliefs
  2. Where do they spend their time
  3. Who are they influenced by

Next, you need to be very clear about what you want them to do (desired behavior).  Do you want them to volunteer? Donate? Spread the word?  Educate?

Nonprofit Strategic Planning Finally, you need to determine whether “who they are” matches with “what you want them to do”?

For example, a diabetes organization’s target audience was kids who have Type 1 diabetes.  And, the organization wanted these kids to help spread awareness about how difficult it is to live with diabetes.  By doing so, the organization believed more people would donate to find a cure. Sounds easy, however, this assumes that kids with Type 1 diabetes want to talk about it and want to draw more attention to it.  The diabetes organization needs to understand what they believe, how they behave and what motivates them.

Step 3: How Are You Going to Engage, Convince, and Excite Your Targets?

Now that you have identified target audiences and their desired behavior, you’re ready to make choices about how to reach them.  Which channels will you use?  What messages will you deliver through each channel?  Will that reach them and activate them?  Again, start with their behavior.  If you are targeting an older demographic then investing in a strong social media presence may not be the best use of resources. You’ll want to find out where they spend their time, where they get information and news and who they trust.

Step 4: Align Your Resources to the Plan

Once you’ve completed Steps 1-3, you will need to map resources against the plan.

  1. What skills and capabilities are there in-house to deliver
  2. What are the budget requirements
  3. What partnership opportunities are available
  4. What processes need to be in place if they aren’t already

For example, if part of your plan is to target major donors, then you’ll want to invest in having someone on the team who qualifies as a Major Gifts Officer.  They will know what processes to build, how to cultivate relationships and how to build a communication strategy.

Alternatively, if your plan is to target young professionals through a major social media campaign, then actively surround yourself with people who deeply understand different social media outlets, how they are used and what types of programs are most effective.

Step 5: Objectively Assess Your Plan

Most of us in the nonprofit space are extremely passionate about what we do and what we want to accomplish.  This can be a huge asset. Many organizations in the for-profit space wish their employees could be as passionate about the goods, services or ideas they create as those in the nonprofit sector.  Passion can also be a liability when it overshadows pragmatic decision-making. The most successful nonprofits have found the right balance between passion and business rigor.

As such, it’s very important to review your strategic plan with several people who A) have expertise you don’t have and B) don’t have a vested interest in your success.  While humbling, this effort will make you and your plan more successful.  It will force you to think about things you may have missed or address inconsistencies you are too close to see.  Ultimately, nonprofits are stewards of other people’s money in an attempt to accomplish a goal or provide a good or service.  A well thought-out strategic plan will ensure this is accomplished as effectively as possible.

Strategic Planning – Timing, Steps, and Expectations When Creating a Roadmap for Your Organization’s Future

Nonprofit Strategic Planning AdviceOver the years, the term “strategic planning” has become so commonly used (and misused) that it has practically lost its meaning. Strategic planning—creating a roadmap for an organization’s future—is a critical process. It’s important to determine if and when it’s the right time to start the process; what the key components, steps, and benefits are to creating a successful plan; and who should be involved in the process.

Timing Is Everything

As is true in many things, proper timing is essential to the strategic planning process. While it can be tempting to want to conduct strategic planning when a crisis hits, this is the worst time to consider it. It does not make sense to plan an organization’s future through the lens of a crisis when its immediate future is in question. It is best to conduct crisis planning (ideally before a crisis hits) and consider the longer term future when your organization is back in steady waters. Going through the strategic planning process to fulfill a grant requirement can also be problematic. Not only can it bring into question the integrity of the process, but it is also not mission-based, which is a fundamental component of successful strategic planning.

Strategic planning has two main purposes: to determine what an organization intends to accomplish in the future and to figure out how to get there. This process is best undertaken when an organization is stable and has the time, resources, data, and stakeholder buy-in to fully complete the process. In addition, it is essential that the leadership intends to follow through on the recommendations. There is no sense in creating a plan that will never be properly implemented.

Timeline: What’s Realistic and What’s Not

So, how long does it take to create a strategic plan, and how long a time period should it cover? The size and complexity of an organization are significant factors in determining the amount of time it takes to create a strategic plan, but in general, you should be prepared to spend several months creating a framework. If you take significantly longer than that, the plan can lose relevance, momentum, and stakeholder interest.  Given the amount of time they take to create and implement, most strategic plans cover a time period of 3 years—long enough to allow time for the plan to be enacted and show results, but not so long that the data and goals should change.

Day-long and weekend retreats dedicated to strategic planning have become popular for many organizations, but ideally, the process should be spread over several months, so that true perspective and adequate time can be given to data collection and mapping out the future of your organization.

Who Should Take Part in the Process?

Exclusivity is critical to effective strategic planning. Gathering input exclusively from top management and the board of directors will not give you the breadth and depth of information that you need, nor will it create ownership among varying stakeholders. It is best to put together a core group of people that represents a cross-section of the organization to work through the strategic planning steps. An ideal planning group has 20 or fewer individuals, but that does not mean that you cannot reach out to other groups and individuals to get their perspectives. Ultimately, you want and need a vision for your organization that bubbles up, not one that is top-down.

Benefits of Strategic Planning

When done well, strategic planning can have many benefits for your organization. It can create focus and direction for the future, provide goals and objectives that can be evaluated and measured, build teams, give individuals and leadership a sense of control, assist in prioritizing activities, and create scenarios where you can be proactive instead of reactive.  In order to achieve these benefits, you must be conscious of the time, resources, and buy-in that are needed to successfully create and implement a strategic plan. Your organization’s future is depending on it.

 

How to Apply Millennial Engagement Insights across the Broader Nonprofit Workforce

Nonprofit TipsThe impact Millennials are having on organizations is being felt around the world and in all industries. The values they place on many aspects of their work and organizational culture differ from other generational groups causing forward-looking organizations to adapt and change. Millennials’ workplace values are similar to those that many nonprofit organizations’ volunteers bring to their work, including a strong alignment with and belief in the organization’s mission and a desire to use their skills in a way that they see as having the greatest impact. In this article we will explore the traits of these two groups and how nonprofits can apply the lessons learned from millennials’ impact on the workplace to their volunteer force.

Personal Experience and Findings

In a recent leadership meeting at my company, Sapient, we were discussing changes to our performance appraisal system. Having grown over the years into a company of over 13,000 people globally, our workforce today is over 70% millennials. Sapient’s forward-looking People Success group (which is similar but not the same as traditional human resources departments) spent time researching and understanding how this group prefers to be mentored and grown and how that is different to what we had done in the past. Based on these findings, we are changing and adapting our entire performance appraisal model to better serve not just millennials but all of our people.

The findings revealed that millennials desire a more personalized approach to career management and growth that is based on their goals and interest areas. As a result, our new model features a more personal, less rigidly-structured program focused on an individual’s development rather than the hard measures and forced rankings that dominate so many traditional performance appraisal systems.

While countless studies have focused on how corporations and nonprofits can engage the millennial generation, what many nonprofits have not yet realized is these same principles can be used to engage their wider volunteer force. In fact, volunteers share many of the same values and drivers with millennials: they desire personalization, transparency, authenticity, a sense of ownership and accountability and face-to-face interaction with those setting organizational goals. By recognizing the similar motivators between these two groups, nonprofits can draw important lessons from available millennial research to better engage and support their volunteer workforce.

Fairness Drives Commitment

A recent study of over 9,000 high school and college students as well as young professionals entitled The Emerging Workforce: Generational Trends (National Society of High School Scholars, 2013) reveals a variety of career-related preferences and attitudes regarding work atmosphere, job-specific opportunities, salary and perks and the employer perception and image. One of the more interesting findings was the degree to which fairness plays in the minds of millennials as related to employers. Survey respondents ranked “treats employees fairly” as far and away the most important factor in the “perception and image” category.

Though not employees, volunteers, like millennials, want to be treated fairly by the organizations to which they’re giving their time. Volunteers may become less effective if a nonprofit is so focused on its outward mission that it overlooks the importance of enabling its volunteers to meet that mission in the first place. For example, volunteers motivated by an organization’s particular cause may find themselves assigned tasks seemingly unrelated to it. This might include doing data entry or other administrative work rather than actually serving the homeless or ministering to sick children. And sometimes organizations rely over and over again on the same trusted set of volunteers – to the point of overburdening them. It’s important for nonprofit leaders to keep this fairness mandate in mind when planning how best to deploy their volunteer talent.

Next Steps for Nonprofit Leaders

Dedication to authenticity is a contributing factor to the establishment of an overriding culture of fairness, so consider building authenticity checks into your normal business processes. Make sure you’re doing what you say you’re doing and holding firm to the commitments and promises reflected in your mission, by including formal checkpoints at your board meetings, in fundraising and strategy sessions and through formal and informal engagement surveys with your volunteers. Your decisions should be made with donor and volunteer perceptions in mind and always in line with the kind of organization you aspire to be.

A Real Connection

A ground-breaking study of millennials’ attitudes toward work conducted by the University of Southern California and the London Business School in concert with PwC found that despite being comfortable with an array of technologies, “When it comes to communication about their career plans and progress, 96% of millennials want to talk face-to-face, just as 95% of their non-millennial counterparts do” (PwC, 2013). While this finding may be counterintuitive to our perception that millennials prefer screen time to face time, it makes sense at the basic level of human behavior. Not only do personal connections provide the meaningful relationships we crave, but in the workplace, they also serve as a sort of implicit or even explicit accountability check. We all perform better when we have accountability partners to help us along our journey: think Alcoholics Anonymous, whose much-celebrated sponsor model promotes both regular, meaningful personal engagement and accountability.

One of the major issues nonprofits face is new volunteers’ perceived disconnect between how they want to contribute and what the organization actually needs them to do. The key to synching volunteer goals with organizational needs is the same two-way dialog employers must have with millennials: establishing a meaningful, ongoing conversation helps build relationships and connections, which in turn fosters a sense of engagement and accountability among the volunteer force. While most volunteers connect on some level with a nonprofit’s general mission, if they also feel a personal dedication to the organization itself, their potential impact increases exponentially.

Next Steps for Nonprofit Leaders

The challenge for nonprofit leaders is establishing the processes and structure that ensure this dialog happens in a genuine and consistent way, so make it a top priority for your organization. Consider pairing experienced volunteers with new ones. They can serve as ambassadors for the organization’s culture and facilitate a connection and dialog between new volunteers and the larger organization.

The volunteer spirit is inspiring and defining and at the core of the nonprofit sector. Volunteers make the nonprofit world go round, and in many cases, these organizations couldn’t exist without them. The lessons we learn from corporate workplace studies can and must be applied by nonprofits, which can leverage the information to help improve the volunteer experience – empowering volunteers to reach their full potential and helping to take your organization to the next level.

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