Understanding Consumer Behaviors to Retain Volunteers

By: Gia Nardini, Assistant Professor, Department of Marketing & Communications

A Little Help, a local nonprofit, had been successful in recruiting volunteers, but the organization was struggling to keep their volunteers engaged beyond a couple interactions. A connection was made between Gia Nardini and A Little Help through the Scholar Shop which led to a successful partnership. MS Marketing students partnered with A Little Help to improve their retention of volunteers. Two teams of students set out to understand the core segment of volunteers, the challenges keeping these volunteers from continuing, and potential strategies to maintain engagement. Throughout the quarter-long project, students conducted research and developed plans for A Little Help. The projects culminated in a marketing plan and presentation for Tanya Matthias, the Metro Denver Director of A Little Help.  

Based on their research, students discovered that volunteers are less motivated by material gifts; instead, sending personalized “Thank You” notes from those who receive help from volunteers would likely have a greater impact. Such personalized appreciation signals the importance of the volunteers’ actions, makes the volunteer feel as though they made a difference, and creates a bond between the volunteer and recipient. This insight helps A Little Help redirect limited funding to initiatives more targeted to maintain engagement. The students’ research also suggested that the time and travel commitments hindered repeat volunteers; therefore they suggested that A Little Help organize their website to help volunteers understand potential travel and time commitments. The students also provided detailed information on how to tailor content shared on various social media platforms for optimal engagement. For example, using Twitter to engage local journalists with press releases and important achievements; Facebook to create a sense of belonging through event pages and invitations; Instagram to tell a visual story that captivates the audience; and LinkedIn to showcase achievements that will appeal to potential donors and stakeholders. Finally, to ensure a steady flow of volunteers, students recommended that A Little Help partner with DU fraternities and sororities who often require that members volunteer in the community. Taken together, the students used insights from Consumer Behavior to understand the challenges facing A Little Help, and they developed actionable plans from their understanding of what motivates consumers to act. 

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