How to Grow Your Volunteers into Brand Ambassadors: Part 1

There’s an abundance of buzzwords in our industry, and brand ambassador is right up there on the list. But don’t look past this one! Spend some time and resources on the concept of brand ambassadors, and you’ll maximize your volunteers to the great benefit of your organization.


Word-of-mouth is still one of the most effective ways of spreading your message and increasing awareness of your organization, and yet there’s not a lot we can do to control what people talk about. That’s where brand ambassadors come in. The idea is that people get fired up and passionate about your organization—what you’re doing and how you’re doing it—and they can’t help but talk about it and share the great work with others.


Like so much in the world of managing volunteers, it takes intentionality. But here are a few steps you can take to grow your volunteers into brand ambassadors.


Repetition, Repetition, Repetition.

When you’re asking volunteers to buy into your vision and mission and share it, you’ve got to make sure they know it. Even when it feels like a broken record, keep repeating your central language. Include it in your email communication. Infuse it throughout your conversational language. Ensure every training or meeting includes a focus on your mission statement or on a specific organizational value. The more your volunteers hear it and see it, the more they will use the same phrases when talking you up to their friends!


Increase your Access

While being intentional with your language is important and necessary, seeing really is believing when it comes to converting your volunteers into brand ambassadors. Do your volunteers have access to seeing your organization in action?

Brainstorm with your team to develop ways volunteers can see more of you. Perhaps this looks like having an open door policy or office hours when volunteers can stop by. Or maybe it looks like inviting an individual or family your organization has served to a volunteer appreciation night. If privacy is an issue for the population you serve, think of ways you can create a simulation, so your volunteers can get a grasp of how things work firsthand.

These experiences give depth and meaning to the knowledge they’ve gained from working with you. As they see you demonstrate your effectiveness, they’ll share what they’ve seen!


Make Space

As you train and invest in your potential brand ambassadors, be intentional about giving them space to grow. As you look at your organizational structure, do you have high-level volunteer roles available and waiting for your brand ambassadors? Think through social media options, guest experience positions, etc. and identify a track for your brand ambassadors to grow. Planning specific roles that promote ownership and responsibility is key to helping your people see they are a part of the team.

As your volunteers continue to buy into your organization and gain knowledge and skill, you have already provided space for them to utilize their passion and to help your organization be more effective.


As volunteer coordinators, we understand how much preparation goes in before volunteers arrive. Creating brand ambassadors is no different! A little intentional planning makes for a smooth path to equipping your volunteers!




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The Importance of New Volunteer Recruits

As a volunteer coordinator, you’ve got your squad. There’s a reliable bunch that you know are behind you and willing to help. They pull the best strings, bake the best cookies, or write the biggest checks. Whatever it is, they’ve got your back, and you love them for it.


Obviously, keep on engaging with those golden volunteers. Retention is an amazing strength and you want to keep communication and relationships strong. That said, keep recruiting! Don’t be that coordinator so focused on what’s in front of you that you forget what’s ahead. New volunteers may take work to recruit, but they will keep your volunteer base going strong.


To persuade you even further, we’ve rounded up our top four reasons to recruit new volunteers:


New energy and ideas!
Maybe you’ve got a system and it’s good, but you never know what kind of new and exciting ideas new volunteers may bring. They are coming in with fresh eyes, so they may be able to identify your weak spots and how to tackle them. Or maybe they’ll find ways to build on your strengths as a team. The last thing you want is a group that’s stagnant and unengaged. The energy and excitement from new volunteers can reinvigorate your current team, meaning everyone benefits.


Expand your organization’s reach.
When you get new volunteers, you impact them with the mission of your organization. You get their time and energy, which means they will be sharing their passion and involvement in their social circles. Maybe that means more people volunteering down the line, but first it means raising an awareness about your organization and the important work that you do.


Raise up leaders.
When you introduce new volunteers, this creates a natural opportunity to create leadership roles for some of your current volunteers. Whether that’s providing a new role for someone on your core team or inviting a volunteer to step up to a more significant role, this promotes everyone. These leadership roles instill a greater sense of purpose and importance among the people involved, which can often mean a better possibility of retention and personal ownership when it comes to volunteering. Maybe it boosts their resume or maybe it helps them grow their own skill sets, but they benefit with the new role, and you benefit by delegating some of the training or organization to your volunteer leaders.


Protect the team.
Let’s face it, there’s always a chance that some of your volunteers will bow out. They might move away, have new time-consuming responsibilities, get sick, or simply get burned out and need some time away. When you continue to invest time in recruiting new volunteers, you won’t be so stressed when someone has to step away. It’s important to be aware of where your current volunteers are and how to support them. Sometimes supporting your team means saying goodbye while they spend their time elsewhere. Having a growing volunteer base makes it easier on you and them when that happens.


So, now that you know why you should keep recruiting, wondering how? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Check out our post on Creative Volunteer Recruitment Methods and 5 Ways to Recruit Race Volunteers.




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Prepping for the Worst – Anything Can Happen

Whether you are planning an entire event yourself or you’re the volunteer coordinator within a group of planners, at the end of the day, something still might go wrong. It may be out of your control – an unexpected change in the weather or human error – but you’d best be prepared for anything.


There are many common pitfalls volunteer coordinators try to avoid when planning an event. Problems can come up due to gaps in communication or unmet expectations. Making assumptions is never good (come on, we’ve all heard the saying about when you “ass-u-me”) and then there’s whatever is falling from the sky, literally.


Here are the top ways to prepare for the worst as a volunteer coordinator:


Communicate effectively

Maybe you send emails or texts or meet with your volunteers regularly. Whatever form your communication may come in, there’s always a chance it could get misunderstood. The biggest thing to remember when it comes to communication is that there are two sides to it and you need to both share and listen. Ask volunteers if there’s something they need from you or if there is a message that is unclear. Connect with volunteers so they know the line of communication is open. When some sort of dispute comes up, listen to the feedback of people to get a read on the situation. Sometimes people just need to be heard. So, listen, share, and reset as much as possible.  


Have a back-up plan in mind

Especially when it comes to outdoor events, everyone wants a day of perfect weather. Sometimes that happens and sometimes it just doesn’t. No one can control the weather, but you can rent a tent. The point is, know what your back-up plan is in case something doesn’t go quite as planned. Perhaps that means calling a rental company for a quote or even making a reservation beforehand. Make a list of people to call “just in case” that is easily accessible on the day of the event.


Redefine success

Think about that epic everything-went-perfectly event and what that looks like. It’s great to aim high! But then, also create your bottom line of what success looks like. For instance, I will host an event on this day and engage with volunteers. Or, We will raise awareness as an organization, even if that means 10 new people attend.  If all else fails, know what your key mission is for the event and count the success as it happens. Some years are building years–they may not meet the high standards you hope for, but they allow you to build up to that for the next time around. Of course, it is important to debrief and assess for areas needing improvement, but make sure to also acknowledge and celebrate the wins that do happen.



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Make Your Race Stand Out

Planning an endurance event is a lot of work!

And we know you’re working hard to make your event amazing. Runners have a multitude of race options to choose from these days, so how do you make yours attractive to new registrants and memorable enough for repeat participants? The same things that attract runners tend to attract great volunteers. What elements of an event make it a positive experience for everyone? Take a look at the categories below for a little inspiration.


Sometimes separating yourself from the pack is as simple as giving away great stuff. (I’ve personally decided between two races based on the design of the medal received at the end. Shallow, I know, but hey! Whatever works!) Look at your budget to decide if there’s an area or two you can spend some extra resources on great take-home items for your runners and volunteers. If you always give away a t-shirt, perhaps this is the year you spend extra on a softer or better fitting shirt or on a higher quality design for your apparel. Or maybe you’d like to branch out from t-shirts and include other branded items such as socks, bags, or towels.

Think of these items as an investment in future races. The more your runners and volunteers use their freebies, the more your race stays on their minds!


Many runners like making their miles count by joining a race that has partnered with a charity or local non-profit organization. Giving back to their community or to a greater cause helps motivate them in their hard work. The same goes for volunteers! How you can you incorporate some meaning into your event? If you have an existing partnership for the event, how can you further integrate it into your planning?

Think specifically about pre-race or post-race activities. Perhaps you can show a video telling a story of someone impacted by your partner or your organization. Or create a display for participants, fans, and volunteers to interact with during down time. A race is a great opportunity to communicate the importance of your mission.


At the end of the day, both runners and volunteers want a well-planned race with a fun atmosphere. Revisit your logistics each year to keep improving how you serve your participants, fans, and volunteers. By anticipating their needs and making their experience simple and enjoyable, you keep building their positive memories and the desire to come back.

These areas surely don’t cover all the ways you can make your race stand out, but use these topics as a starting point in your brainstorming! No matter what length of race you’re planning —3k, 5k, 10k or longer—you can create a memorable experience that keeps your people coming back.




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