Here at Proposify, we regularly ask our customers about their biggest business challenges. This information helps us improve our product to meet those needs, and we’re always looking for topics to cover in our blog that can be of value to our readers. What’s the number one challenge we hear over and over?
If you’re a business owner or in sales, this likely comes as no surprise to you. Kyle wrote a great blog post a few months ago packed with ideas to jumpstart your lead gen machine. But one lead generation tactic I think is often overlooked by many businesses is volunteering.
“Volunteerism is currency that appreciates.”
Let me be clear that I personally believe that everyone, including businesses, should contribute in some way to improving some aspect of the world - global or local - without an expectation of getting something in return. To me, it’s part of our responsibility as humans to give back and try to make things a little better.
So I’m not being cold-hearted and suggesting that the only reason a business should volunteer is to milk a bunch of new contacts. What I am saying is that it can be a win-win opportunity for everyone, and it’s one that I don’t think enough businesses take full advantage of.
Among companies giving at least 10% or more since 2010, median revenues increased by 11%, while revenues fell 3% for all other companies.
- CECP Giving in Numbers 2014
Let’s look at how volunteering can improve your business.
Make new connections
Let’s cut right to the chase. When you or your employees volunteer for an organization, you expand your contacts - it’s that simple. You meet new people who could turn out to be customers, advisors, mentors, investors, or referrals.
Working alongside them whether on a board of directors or as part of an initiative or event, you build a bond with each other. Without having to do a cold, hard sell, volunteering gives you an opportunity to develop relationships with new people.
Because you’re demonstrating your values by volunteering—and shared values are an important motivator for everyone — they’ll be more likely to think of you when a situation comes up that they need what you offer.
Business development was never my favourite thing and I hate the idea of cold-calling. Among other organizations I volunteer with, for the past three years I've sat on the board of directors for a local theatre company called Zuppa Theatre.
Not only am I inspired by this creative group of artists in a way that improves my own work, but by expanding my network I received several leads for projects when I was freelancing, and lots of referrals for my side hustle of renting baby equipment.
I also worked for a charity early in my career. Our board of directors was made up of volunteers who were executive-level professionals from across several industries - business, finance, banking, retail, manufacturing, and transportation.
While most of them were strangers at the beginning of their terms, they would quickly form a camaraderie and on many occasions there would be side talk of professional referrals and plans to get together to ‘talk shop’.
76% of global consumers believe it is acceptable for brands to support good causes and make money.- Volunteer Canada, Employer Supported Volunteering
Get great PR
If your company gets involved with an event or organization through sponsorship or volunteering, there’s almost always media and promotions involved. Your company name, logo, website, maybe even your CEO will be promoted in conjunction with the event to a whole new audience of potential customers, and be reinforced among your existing customers.
It’s a valuable opportunity to gain favourable public relations for your business, and enhance your brand’s relationship with customers.
According to the Reputation Institute's 2011 survey, 40% of company's reputation is determined by volunteering and corporate social responsibility.
Recruit new talent
In the same way that consumers want to align themselves with brands that share their values and show a commitment to social responsibility, so do employees, especially among Millennials.
A 2014 PwC study (2014) found that more than 50% of recent university grads are seeking a company that has corporate social responsibility values that align with their own. In fact, according to Stanford Graduate School of Business study, “graduates are willing to sacrifice an average of 14.4% of their expected salaries to work at socially responsible companies.”
This is a big change from thinking that competitive wages and benefits were the only key deciding factors for employees, especially if their skills are in hot demand.
By demonstrating your company’s values and commitment to the community, you’ll make yourself more attractive in the competitive landscape for great hires. And in the process of working side-by-side at charitable events, you might get the valuable opportunity to both meet new candidates, and observe them in action.
“I want to work for a company that contributes to and is part of the community. I want something not just to invest in. I want something to believe in.”
- Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop
This is how I landed my first agency job. A marketing agency was sponsoring a huge charity fundraiser that I was in charge of organizing. I worked closely with this agency over several months to develop all the marketing and promotions for the event so I got to know the team really well.
When my key contact at the agency was moving on to another job, she recommended me as her replacement. It made a candidate search, a formal interview, and a lengthy decision process unnecessary since both sides knew going in what to expect of the other.
So if you do decide to volunteer, here are some tips for doing it right:
No company has unlimited time or money to donate to a cause, regardless of how much business you might reap as a result. That’s why you need to be strategic about which events or organizations you get involved with.
You need to look at what issues are not only important to you and your team, but what’s important to your target audience. If you want to use volunteering as a way to generate leads, you need to be sure you’re going to have access to them by finding common ground.
Do some research into both local and global organizations who might benefit from your support and are inline with your business objectives.
For example, if you’re a web design agency or software company, the issue of encouraging more kids to learn to code from an early age could be an ideal fit for you. So maybe getting involved with your local chapter of Coder Dojo, the global network of free computer programming clubs for young people, might be a super way to support a cause and involve your employees.
See what groups your employees are already involved with, contact your local United Way to get some suggestions on organizations in the community, or research a few of your clients’ favourite charities and help them support those.
I knew of an electrical contracting company specializing in residential work who wanted to target homeowners. They decided they would put all their marketing money into sponsoring a Little League softball team. The company name was on all the jerseys, announced at all the games and in radio and newspaper sports reports, and some of their staff even got involved in coaching.
As a result they gained incredible exposure to families, the majority of whom were homeowners, in the most feel good way possible. It’s a tactic they used for more than 20 years. One of the owners once told me, “It makes us feel good to help the kids, it makes the parents feel good that we’re helping the kids, and the result is our company is top-of-mind when they need electrical work done. It’s way better than a billboard.”
Don’t just sign the cheque, get involved.
I saw this a lot when I worked in the charitable sector. A company would sign on as a sponsor and send us a cheque, but there would be no engagement beyond that. Even if we offered free tickets to the event as part of their sponsorship benefits, or an opportunity to speak, sometimes we would see no one from the company.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course we were grateful to get the money but I always felt it was a huge lost opportunity for the company to reap some tangible benefits of being involved like networking, employee engagement, and even employee reward through free tickets to the concert, dinner, or event.
To really make volunteering work for your business, you need to get involved. Help with the organizing committee, encourage your employees to participate, and invite clients to attend the event with you.
And don't hesitate to approach the charity with your own idea of how to get more involved — they want to be of value to their supporters so they're often open to ideas to ensure you get a great return on investment from your sponsorship.
Showcase your services
Sometimes an organization needs your services more than your cash. Finding ways you can provide in-kind services can be a great way showcase what it is you do best and involve your employees without shelling out any money.
For example, maybe a charity needs a new website. They rarely have the budget to do it right and lots of them are outdated. By offering to design and develop a new site, both you and the charity can promote the end product. It’s show, which is always more compelling than tell.
Doing in-kind work for a charity can also be a great way to build your portfolio if your company is just starting out and you don’t have a lot of clients yet.
An important thing to keep in mind when providing in-kind services is to make sure the scope is clear to everyone, just like you do with clients. If you’re willing to provide 75 hours of work to create a new promotional campaign for the local SPCA, that needs to be communicated and agreed upon by everyone involved.
It’s business, not charity
You might think you don’t have time or money to donate to charity and that’s where you need to change your thinking.
If sales and business development is a priority to you (and isn’t it for all of us??) then getting involved in charitable work and volunteering should be just one more of your BD tactics. Money allotted to this type of activity should come out of your marketing or sales/promotion budget.
And just because you might be a small business doesn't mean you can’t get involved. There are lots of ways, whether it’s with one-off events, or developing long-term relationships, to volunteer your time to a mutually beneficial cause.
Done right, volunteering can be a great way to stretch a limited marketing budget, gain powerful brand awareness, and generate new leads. Getting involved will give you, and your bottom line, the warm and fuzzies.
What kind of volunteer work is your company involved with? Have you seen benefits to your business? Would love to hear about it!