Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Volunteer Engagement: "Behavior That Gets Rewarded, Gets Repeated"

As volunteer managers responsible for recruiting, training and motivating non-paid staff, it can be helpful to think like a marketing professional.

Marketers have long known that by altering the shopping environment with background music they can influence purchase decisions.  For example, author Gus Lubin highlights 8 Amazing Effects That Background Music Has On Sales including:

  • Classical music at a restaurant makes people buy more than does pop music or no music
  • However, classical music makes people think of a store as expensive, and this isn't right in all contexts
  • People perceive a shorter wait time when they hear music that they like
Similarly, Dr. Robert Cialdini, Regents' Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University researched and documented 6 psychology based principles that marketers could ethically use to increase sales in his seminal text Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

What do these "marketing" techniques have to do with engaging volunteers?

Simply put, engaging volunteers can be thought of as a marketing task. The bottom line is you want volunteers to do something for your organization. Whether that "something" is plant trees, mentor children, visit the elderly or spread awareness, you want and need them to carry out your mission.

What are some practical applications and benefits of using these types of marketing techniques?

The reality is not all of the tasks are easy or pleasant. For example picking up trash on the local beach. What if you could make the time seem to go by faster by playing music that your volunteers like to hear? Would this improve the volunteer experience?

Dr. Cialdini talks extensively about social proof, the ability to reinforce a decision by involving others. If you're not doing it already, what if you utilized your organizations twitter and Facebook accounts to leverage your recruitment and to acknowledge service publicly?

One of the simplest marketing tips for volunteer engagement to remember comes from noted marketing expert Bob Burg. Mr. Burg tells his audiences that "Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated".

Its worth repeating: "Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated."  

How true is this statement?  Think about your childhood.  As a child you were conditioned to "be good" and there will be some type of reward. Perhaps you do this with your children today, "be a good boy/girl and you can have ice cream or go to the park or watch tv."  You can tap into this latent conditioning by rewarding your volunteers early and often and you will likely see the number and quality of your volunteers increase.

Examples of Affordable Rewards for Volunteers

Not every nonprofit can shower their volunteers with rewards. The good news is not every reward will break the bank.

  • Sports Event Tickets - Every stadium is not filled to capacity for each game.  Contact local sports teams to see if they have any unused tickets they would like to donate or sell to you on a heavily discounted basis. Don't forget to contact college teams as well as they definitely don't always sell out their seats.
  • Museums, Aquariums & Zoos etc. - Contact your colleagues at other non profits and see if you can score passes for their slow days. Consider trading passes if you work for this type of an organization.
  • Public "Thank You" on Social Media - Post a sincere message of thanks from one or more of the people your volunteer helped. Simple and free.
  • "Movie of their Choice" - Treat your volunteers to a movie of their choice using txtMovies for only $1.99. You can deliver the movie by text message or tweet with a custom "Thank You". Tweeting a movie has the added benefit of being a public "thank you".  Try txtMovies for free.

Behavior that gets rewarded, gets repeated

No matter what reward you give to your volunteers, make sure its given early and often.  Once they know how much you appreciate their service and how important it is to the mission, they'll be more likely to remain enthusiastic about your cause. Good luck!

About txtMovies
txtMovies enables organizations to deliver volunteer appreciation via cost effective, easy to use tools. Our customers come from a variety of industries including healthcare, automobile, financial services, retail, associations and not for profit including the University of Michigan, University of Iowa and the Livestrong Foundation. For more information please visit