As our population ages and healthcare costs climb steadily, hospitals need to effectively recruit volunteers and donors or risk compromising high-quality care. Through our agency’s 40 years of helping hospitals achieve their marketing goals, we have seen again and again that successful volunteer and donor marketing campaigns are built around four steps:
1. Marketing a good experience
2. Focusing on the wellness benefits of volunteering and donating
3. Recruiting close to home
4. Letting volunteers and donors do the talking
1. Be sure you’re marketing a good experience.
Let’s start with recruiting volunteers. Before you launch your campaign, you need to be sure that the volunteers you already have are satisfied. New recruits won’t stay long if the experience is unpleasant.
Having a declining volunteer retention rate strongly suggests dissatisfaction, but you need to pinpoint the causes. This requires an anonymous survey, complemented by an exit interview with every volunteer who leaves. Structure both in a way that lets respondents propose solutions to the problems they identify. Common volunteer complaints include feeling underappreciated, disengaged from decision-making that affects their work, and not having ways to gain more responsibility and autonomy.
If you uncover serious complaints like these, hold small group meetings in which the problems are discussed and solutions proposed. Follow up with a plan that includes action items and targets, a timeline and a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Common KPIs include:
• Average volunteer satisfaction level
• Number of volunteers recruited
• Average hours worked per volunteer
• Average length of volunteer service
• Estimated dollar value of hours donated
Give your new approach a few months to generate results, and then launch your marketing campaign. You’ll also want to survey your donors, but I’d suggest not asking them if they’re satisfied (why plant seeds of doubt?). Instead, keep it positive with a message like: How can we give you more of what you want? Please take three minutes to respond to our donor survey.
Just by asking, you’ll be making donors feel valued and engaged. Your most important question will be: Why did you become a donor? The answers you get will help you develop messaging that resonates with potential donors.
2. Focus on the wellness benefits of volunteering and donating.
Many recruitment campaigns focus on how volunteers and donors help others. But that’s only half the story. The other half is that volunteering or donating (or both) can make life richer and more satisfying. This is a key recruitment message, especially for former patients for whom giving back to their hospital can be a part of recovering physically and emotionally from a serious illness.
A few of the wellness benefits for volunteers include:
• A sense of purpose, because volunteers are essential to the functions of a hospital
• Feeling connected to those they’re helping as well as to hospital staff and other volunteers
• An increased sense of happiness
• A broader support network and a feeling of being appreciated and valued
• Improved heart health
Together, all of these benefits can lead not just to a better life, but a longer one. The Longitudinal Study of Aging found that people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not.
Being a donor also makes people happier and healthier, which helps explain why it’s so widespread. In 2016, for example, more than 20% of Canadians ages 15 and over donated to charitable or nonprofit organizations.
3. Let volunteers and donors do the talking.
The next step is to get out of the way of your volunteers and donors by giving them a platform for telling their stories. Video is the best medium for this because it so effectively conveys emotions — joy, gratitude, compassion, hope — and not just facts.
4. Recruit close to home.
Finally, find ways to entice potential volunteers and donors to view these videos. Create a campaign page with an easy-to-remember URL. Put up posters with the URL throughout the hospital and in your community. Use 15-second clips of the videos for your social media posts. And consider extending your reach with paid media such as video ads on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
And because your largest pool of potential volunteers is likely close at hand — patients and their families and friends — another way to invite them all into your community of caring is to create a patient alumni association. We’ve seen the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, one of our clients and Canada’s largest cardiovascular health center, do this with great success.
These four steps can help you gain new volunteers and donors, but they may also do much more. By infusing fresh energy and ideas into your hospital, they can help take you to that ultimate benefit: better patient care.