Social Enterprise

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

For a lot of us, when we think of selling, the word “empathy” doesn’t come to mind. In fact, for many in the cause-focused space, particularly nonprofits, selling (just like marketing) is a bit of a bad word. However, it shouldn’t be.

If you have something that someone else needs or wants, isn’t that a good thing? That’s where it all begins.

Today, one of my spring interns, Rima Patel, is going to share how empathy intersects with the sales process, particularly the selling of products. I think this will not only be insightful, but good news for many of you.

You’re already leading a nonprofit, social enterprise, or other for-profit doing good, which means that empathy is at the core of what you do. This post will take it one step further, allowing you to see how empathy can be the glue that holds your triple bottom line together.

How to Use Empathy to Make a Social Impact

No one will deny that the key to creating a successful product is by thinking like the consumer. Putting yourself into their shoes and figuring out what they want can help make your great idea even more desirable. This concept is not unfamiliar to us; in fact, it’s something we aim to practice in our day-to-day lives. Whether it’s individuals trying to build strong relationships or cause-focused organizations trying to connect with consumers, empathy is essential.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is the difference between feeling for someone and feeling with them. Acknowledging feelings from shared experiences connects us as humans, beyond all the ways in which we separate ourselves—and that’s special. So special that it has the power to change lives and make an impact.

Maybe you’re an entrepreneur and you want your consumers to have an emotional connection to your product. Maybe you’re a nonprofit and you are trying to fix a social issue by inspiring others. Or maybe you’re a social enterprise and you just want to do more good. How can you use empathy to make a social impact?

Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Empathy in the design process

A human-centered approach to innovation

Design thinking is a popular process that many social enterprises use today to creatively solve problems and make social impacts. This process takes a human-centered approach and involves five steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

This semester, my Intro to Entrepreneurship professor decided to focus her class around the design thinking process, giving us the task of creating a product that would help solve the issue of climate change on campus. After the project was over, in a class with almost 300 students, we all came to the same general consensus: the empathize stage was the most important.

At first, many of us had a lot of great ideas, but the empathize stage made us quickly realize that our ideas could be better.

We all knew the problems associated with climate change and we all knew the different methods to prevent it, but what we didn’t know was how much people were actually willing to do. We found that college students want to help the environment, but don’t want to go out of their way to do it. You’ve probably seen something similar with your audience.

We realized that methods requiring the consumer to take some action like using water refill stations or compost bins don’t go as far as methods that don’t require the consumer to take an action, like putting motion detector lights in dorms. Creating the most value for our consumer requires using empathy to understand the best way to solve the problem.

The empathize stage not only helped us understand the consumer and how they felt about the issue to make the most efficient product, but helped us understand what steps they might actually take. Without empathy, our product might have ended up useless, unrealistic, and ultimately unsuccessful.

So, how do you use empathy in the design process? The first step is to ask questions.

Ask yourself:

  • What do you know about the problem?

  • What do you not know?

  • What are your assumptions?

Then ask others:

  • How do they feel about the problem?

  • How does it impact their life?

  • What are they willing to do about it?

These insights will help you understand the problem, who is involved, and how you might go about solving it in a way that brings others into the process for a more successful solution.

We all have great ideas that we want to see come to life, but if we want to be as successful as we can, it’s necessary that we open our ideas to other perspectives. Using empathy, you can see what would work and what would not, how people react to and feel about your ideas, and how to make them better.

There are many solutions to a problem, but the best solution is the one that begins with empathy.

Consumer empathy

Stop marketing products, start marketing feelings

Today, consumer empathy has become quite popular because companies are starting to realize its impact. If people have an emotional connection to a product, they are far more likely to buy it. If people share the same feelings as an organization, they are far more likely to support it.

Consumer empathy makes people feel less like consumers and more like humans, and that appeal is strong enough to make a positive impact on businesses and on the world.

Consumer empathy involves not only understanding the desires and struggles of the consumer, but also sharing those feelings with them. A great example of consumer empathy is a commercial for Cardstore by American Greetings in 2014. In order to promote their website, American Greetings sparked a common, shared feeling—the love we have for our mothers—and used it to help the audience create an emotional attachment with the brand. With this commercial, American Greetings was marketing a feeling, not a product.

Another great example is TOMS, a shoe company that built its brand on the concept that for every pair of shoes sold, there was also a pair given to a child with no shoes. Growing up, I remember seeing so many TOMS flags hanging up in bedrooms. Why were people so inclined to hang a shoe brand up on their wall?

The flag represented a feeling, an emotional attachment to the product, and a sense of pride for doing something good. TOMS recognized the power of making every person who purchased their shoes feel like they made a significant impact, and were part of a solution to a big problem. Today, TOMS continues to use consumer empathy to discuss other important social issues, like gun violence.

Now, it might seem like empathy is an obvious tool for marketing products. Of course thinking like the consumer is necessary for creating something that is valuable and relevant to them. Unfortunately, many companies still lack this skill.

Pepsi, for example, aired a commercial in 2017 amidst the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The commercial involved Kendall Jenner joining an ambiguous protest and sharing a Pepsi with a police officer, sparking unity and excitement among everyone. Pepsi received severe backlash, taking down the ad several days later, and responses to the commercial gave a clear understanding as to why. A former organizer for BLM said, “No one is finding joy from Pepsi at a protest.” Bernice King, daughter of MLK Jr., tweeted, “If only daddy knew the power of #Pepsi.” To make things worse, the face of the ad was a rich, white supermodel who has no history of being an advocate for BLM, or any other social issue for that matter. Pepsi failed to understand their consumers and how they feel about the issue, which is what made the ad unsuccessful.

So, what did Pepsi do wrong? Pepsi’s commercial was trying to ignore the problem. Its message does not fall far from, “Why can’t we all just get along?” It provides a “solution” without actually acknowledging the existing problem of police brutality that some black people face everyday in America.

Empathy goes beyond just understanding someone's feelings; it requires learning to share them, too. Pepsi attempted to use a current, popular trend in social justice to promote their brand and make more money. Their mistake was leaving out empathy, and it was a mistake they could have avoided had they taken more time to know their consumer.

Using empathy in marketing involves understanding how your consumer feels, but it also involves understanding how your consumer will react. How do they want to feel, and can you make them feel that?

Using empathy to create social change

How feelings can change the world

The beauty of empathy is that it affects all of us.

Whether we are selling or buying the idea, it makes us all feel something. Empathy reminds us that we are all human and that we share experiences and feelings. It has been a tool used around the world to make individual problems feel universal.

Empathy allows consumers to feel like they are being heard and understood, that they are not alone, and that there are people out there trying to solve their problems. It sparks inspiration and motivation for people to work towards the things they care about.

As entrepreneurs and innovators, it is essential that we practice empathy in all aspects and phases of our projects—from idea to design to marketing. So, ask questions and open your ears. Understand who you’re working with and what they’re feeling.

Remember that empathy involves shared experiences, so remind yourself of your feelings and why you got involved with your cause to begin with. Keep in mind that the product or the profit isn’t special, but the feeling it invokes and how those feelings might eventually change the world is.


Rima Patel

I’m Rima Patel, an upcoming senior at North Carolina State University, majoring in Sociology with minors in Business Administration and Nonprofit Studies. My ultimate goal in life is to do good and help people, and right now I’m doing that through marketing for nonprofits.

I hope to make significant impacts on social issues through innovation and social entrepreneurship.

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Empathy can push you to create solutions that help others, but it can also push others to help you and your cause.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

One of the reasons I love inviting guests to post on this blog is so that they can talk about topics that I probably wouldn’t address myself. And right at the top of that list is budgets! Numbers are something I always struggled with in school (while I excelled in English), so it’s better for both of us that I stick to what I’m good at.

Enter Steve Fredlund. He and I met several months ago in a Facebook Group, and when I saw that one of his areas of focus was budgeting and money management for nonprofits and small businesses, I jumped at the chance to feature his expertise.

I really loved the way Steve talks about “transformational” budgeting in this post, and think it will not only shed some light, but challenge your social impact organization to value money differently in the process.

Your Budget: Go From Cursing to Championing

BUDGET. A 6-letter swear word to many nonprofit leaders and small business owners. It’s about penny-pinching and the restricting of ability to get things done. It’s the mechanism by which a number-crunching, introverted analytic hinders team creativity. Right? 

Yes. Because most of us see it this way, this is precisely what it becomes. Consider how budget discussions and approval are communicated in your organization. For many, it sounds something like, “Well, it’s that exciting time to set the budget again,” or “Sorry, guys and gals, we have to work on the budget,” or “Let’s get the budget stuff done so we can get on to the real stuff we need to talk about.” 

Why You Need to Rethink Budgets

Budget communication both reflects AND creates culture. It gives insight into leadership perspectives on budget, which gives insight into how leaders think about budgeting as a potential tool to move the organization forward. And usually, budget communication is extremely negative or, at minimum, apathetic. But your cash flow is an asset and it is your responsibility to leverage that asset as effectively as possible in support of the overall mission and strategic priorities of your organization. Anything short of that is a suboptimal use of one of your biggest assets, and is a gap in your overall leadership. 

Your finances carry vast amounts of potential energy, just waiting to get released. Your job as a leader is to recognize the full potential energy and release it to maximize achievement of the vision and strategic priorities. I want to encourage you to shift your paradigm about finances—to recognize that great organizations are able to fully release their power and leverage it for success.


3 Budgeting Exercises for Social Impact Organizations

Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise:

  1. Strategy-based budget.  List out all of your major strategies, goals, or initiatives. Then assign each a percentage (totaling 100%) indicating how you WISH all of your available funds were allocated. Do this without regard to your knowledge of the current budget and only consider non-fixed costs. Basically, you are saying, “This is how I wish all of our discretionary spending was allocated.” Then, take this to your finance team and ask them to complete this exercise with the actual spending; have them include a bucket somewhere for the “fixed costs,” and with all remaining expenses, have them allocate out to the same categories you defined. Compare what you find. Eventually, I encourage organizations to create budgets starting first with developing a desired allocation of resources and then building the budget; but for now, this exercise will provide insight into any major disjoints in spending. It will also help you realize how many of your expenses are fixed, to see if there is any way to move spending into discretionary.

  2. Gain outsider perspectives.  An interesting exercise is to give your current budget (or actual spending) to several people unfamiliar with your organization and ask them what they think your vision and priorities based on your budget. You can get tremendous insight from this exercise. This is similar to having new people to come into your building or office and ask what they think your priorities are based on your environment; it creates fascinating discussions.

  3. External research. It’s amazing to me that very few nonprofits and social enterprises have an understanding of how similar organizations are allocating their budgets. I ask, “How does this compare to your competitors?” or “How does this compare to similar nonprofits?” and rarely do they know. Comparing to others can provide great insights, not only for competitive advantage, but to start the conversations about how you could become more effective in your spending.

 There are many more considerations in maximizing your financial investments, and improving the perception of the role of budgeting, but these three are a good start. How you spend your money is more than just a necessary evil. It is as important as the staff you hire, connections you make, and products or services you provide. Every dollar of your revenue is an asset; are you investing it in a way that maximizes your impact or helps you best reach your goals?

Avoid the 5% Rule

When the next budget cycle comes up, consider avoiding the typical process that simply adds 5% to every budget item from last year. This is the central mistake in budgeting for impact; to start with what has been done in the past and making minor tweaks. Using the prior budget to determine the next budget is akin to starting with current policies and procedures to set next year’s strategies.

If you want a transformational budget, then realize that the budget is an “output” and not an “input.”  The budget process starts with what you are ultimately trying to do (your vision, mission, or purpose). From there, you determine your key focus areas for the next one to three years, which leads to your key strategies and, ultimately, to the execution of those strategies. It is from these decisions that the transformational budget emerges. 

Imagine running a nonprofit helping to alleviate the issue of clean water in which 20% of last year’s budget supported efforts in Rwanda and 10% supported Nepal. There are some significant political and world relief changes resulting in far less need for the organization to continue working in Rwanda. Strategically, the organization decides it needs to move staff and facilities to Nepal, but the budget setting is based on last year and the funding to both Rwanda and Nepal is increased slightly, creating a huge disjoint in strategy and funding.

This may be a ridiculous example that would not actually happen in practice, but it’s only ridiculous because of the dramatic nature of the shift. How many smaller shifts are happening every year without the budget reallocation to support it? Many cause-focused organizations know the areas they need to move focus toward, but most use a “last year plus” method for budgeting. The end result will always be a disjoint between impact and financial support.

As a social impact organization, take time to celebrate every dollar coming in. These funds are more than just “money;” they represent the opportunity to have impact. But the ball is now in your court. What are you going to do with that opportunity? The more impact you can have, the more opportunity you will attract; and conversely, the poorer you manage your opportunity, the less opportunity you will have. 


Get Excited About Budgeting

Get excited about strategizing how those funds can be used to maximize impact or profitability. Have leadership discussions that start first with your vision, mission, priorities, and strategies, considering how to optimize movement toward their achievement using your finances. Think less about budget constraints and think more about budget opportunities.

When you have a budget that is lined up with your overall strategies, it generates creativity among each budget manager to truly optimize those funds to carry out their strategies. Further, having a budget aligned with strategies creates peace of mind for leadership (and all stakeholders), knowing that all assets are working together to carry out the desired impact of the organization.

Start seeing budget and finances differently, and you will be on your way to leveraging it most effectively—to maximizing your impact; to achieving your vision.

If I can be of any assistance, feel free to give me a shout at steve@stevefredlund.com or 651.587.5435. You can find out more about me at stevefredlund.com. 


Steve Fredlund

Steve Fredlund, FSA, MBA, SWP has 30 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies in primarily financial and analytical roles, with another 10 years in nonprofit roles including staff, board, founder, executive, and volunteer. He currently does independent consulting, coaching, and speaking focusing on small businesses and nonprofits. Steve helps individuals and organizations clearly define what success means to them, and then figure out how to get there. More information is available at stevefredlund.com.

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Here are three exercises to increase the value of your budgeting process, while also changing your perspective about the role of finances in your nonprofit or social enterprise.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Today’s inspiration comes from one of our newest interns here at Signify, Kirsten King. When she approached me about writing a blog post on this topic, I thought it was a terrific idea. I’m a big fan of not only setting goals, but regularly evaluating them.

And one of the biggest hurdles in goal-setting isn’t identifying them, but prioritizing them. After all, you only have so much time, energy, and resources at your disposal. So, you definitely want to ensure that your nonprofit or social enterprise is focused on the right targets.

The exercise Kirsten outlines below is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s also relatively simple. But the beauty is that it will give you a big picture look at your organization, and help you decide which direction to run in. Give it a try, and see your goals come to life.

The Most Useful Tool for Prioritizing Your Goals

Happy (belated) New Year!

So, you’ve established some business goals for this year, and you’re all set to tackle them. You will complete your 2019 To Do List, but it may seem a bit overwhelming right now. Often, you may be wondering where to start, how to prioritize, or where you fit in amongst your competitors and even your donors or customers. If this sounds familiar, then you may need to create or restructure your SWOT analysis.

Creating a current SWOT analysis can help pinpoint what your organization lacks, as well as what it offers. Without this assessment, you may quickly fall behind or feel left out. This could happen if you don’t know what trends are up-and-coming, what other organizations in your field are doing, the growth opportunities that are available, or you may be unable to predict what challenges are yet to come. However, knowing each of these items can give you a distinctive edge, and guide you toward both short- and long-term success.

SWOT Analysis… What’s that?

Now, if you’re wondering, “What’s a SWOT analysis?!”, don’t worry, we’ll jump right into that.  

First, SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. This is a genius marketing strategy—even if you’re new to marketing—because it identifies a nonprofit or social enterprises’s internal strengths and weaknesses, while also looking into the opportunities and threats that are occurring outside of the organization. (These factors you have no control over, but you may be able to use them to your advantage 😉. )

Why is a SWOT Analysis Important?

Performing a SWOT analysis can help you determine what new strategies should be implemented and what problems need to be resolved. You don’t want to waste time developing and planning a new strategy, if it doesn’t fit with the current or upcoming trends.

Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you. Here’s a great video, using Starbucks as an example, if you would like to see a SWOT analysis in action.

Since business, trends, marketing, technology, and even the way you interact with your donors or customers are constantly changing, a SWOT analysis should be performed at least once or twice a year to ensure you are on the right track, or outline any changes that should be made. These can be performed solo, or with a team, board members, or key stakeholders.


Completing Your SWOT Analysis

Okay, let’s build your SWOT analysis! We’ve even created a free template to help you out.

One thing you’ll notice immediately is the simplicity of the layout. Once you dig into the items below, you may be tempted to include a lot of details and notes. But, at its heart, a SWOT analysis is just meant to give you a quick overview. Think of it as your organization at a glance, and use it to help guide you in the right direction.

Strengths are determined by the positive assets that your social impact organization owns. They may be tangible or intangible resources. Since you have control over these assets, strengths can help your organization stand out.

Strengths include:

  • Unique mission or model

  • Land

  • Location

  • Equipment

  • Copyrights/trademarks

  • Employees/volunteers

  • Funding

  • Marketing

  • Customer service

  • Relationships

Weaknesses can be defined as the characteristics of your organization that are unfavorable or may hurt you in some way. These downfalls could potentially hinder your success in both the short- and long-term. Weaknesses may be easily improved with a little more time, effort, and sometimes money.

Weaknesses include:

  • Outdated technology

  • Slow or poor communication (internal and/or external)

  • Poor signage

  • Little to no online presence

  • Unreliable cash flow

  • Lack of systems and processes

  • Cost

  • Low reputation

  • Small team with big workload

  • Low innovation

Opportunities are the external factors that can help your nonprofit or social enterprise thrive. Options here may be one-time or ongoing opportunities, so it’s especially important to note anything with fixed deadlines or limited availability that need to stay top of mind.

Opportunities include:

  • Partnerships and sponsorships

  • Participating in a current or upcoming trend (or event)

  • Government programs

  • Niche target market

  • Increased interest in your cause

  • New technologies

  • Growing population

  • Few competitors

  • New systems or processes

  • High demand

Threats are external factors that you cannot control. These negatives require quick thinking to develop new strategies.

Threats include:

  • Changes in government policies or funding

  • Uncertain economic factors

  • Aggressive competition

  • Unexpected weather

  • Rising costs

  • Increase in competition

  • Change in population

  • Negative media coverage

  • Loss of large donor, partner, or sponsor

  • Taxation

Time to Strategize!

You can start your SWOT analysis by focusing on internal strengths and weaknesses. This should be easier since you know the ins and outs of your organization.

Afterward, you can focus on external factors like your opportunities and threats. This may call for a bit of research and contemplation. But once your SWOT analysis is complete, you should have a better idea on what strategies to prioritize, implement, or refresh.

If done correctly, you’ll be able to use this analysis to create fresh, new ideas for your nonprofit or social enterprise. And remember, the assessment can always be adjusted to meet the current trends and challenges you may face.

Now, with all of this new information, how will you structure your business goals for the year ahead? Have you determined your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats yet? If not, it’s time to brainstorm new strategies that will help you develop or maintain that sustainable advantage!


Kirsten M King Marketing

Hi! I’m Kirsten M. King, and I absolutely love anything dealing with marketing, from advertising to data and everything in-between. I also love to learn and expand my knowledge on current trends and issues.

I’m currently a senior Marketing Major at Georgia State University. And I hope to take my skills and use them towards a career in project management.

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Having this information gives you a better understanding of what needs to be prioritized and where you stand when compared to others like you.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


Help Shape Signify's 2019 Content

Can I ask you a question?

What would YOU like to see me dishing out advice about in 2019? At any given time, I have at least 150 ideas for blog posts and other content. And that’s not some big number I just made up. It’s an actual list I keep in Evernote. (<— list nerd)

So, while there may be some topics I’m personally more interested or invested in than others, I’d rather talk about what you want to hear. Signify is here to support you and your nonprofit or social enterprise on your marketing and communications journey, so I’d love to know what’s on your mind.

What marketing and communications issues are you struggling with? What do you find puzzling? What are your goals for this year? What’s new that you need to promote? What are you working on that you could use some help with? What can I teach you?

Think of this as my online suggestion box.

Help Shape Signify’s 2019 Content

Blog Topics On My Mind for 2019

Here are just a few of the topics I’m planning to tackle this year. Let me know which one(s) resonate with you so I can move them up or down the list.

  • Your marketing person and development person aren’t one in the same

  • Cause marketing: More case stories on nonprofits teaming up with small businesses. Do you have a story to share? If so, I'd love to hear about it! (Here's an example.)

  • Fundraising campaign tips

  • Mistakes made that you can learn from

  • Advice and tips for creating your keynote talk as a speaker

  • Building a nonprofit or social enterprise while working a full-time job

  • Creative ways to save money for your organization

  • Ethical sourcing for physical products

  • Event planning tips

  • Time management

  • Overcoming compassion fatigue

  • Crowdfunding

  • Donor retention strategies

  • Utilizing holidays in your marketing and communications

  • Getting started with video

  • Finding your organization’s voice and brand story

  • How for-profits should talk about their charity work

  • And, of course, lots more about launches and websites because those are my favs!

Did I miss something that’s important or interesting to you? Let me know in the comments or email me at kristi@signify.solutions!

Just like the past two years, you’ll also see guest posts from time-to-time. The vast majority of my guest posts are from people I know, but occasionally, I let others into the mix as well. If you feel like your voice would be a great one to add to this blog, reach out and we’ll talk.

Oh, and I’ll be expanding my online store this year as well! You’re also welcome to suggest a product or resource that will help you succeed.

My goal is to provide small, cause-focused organizations with the marketing and communications tools they need to grow their tribe, increase their sales or donations, and do more good. So, help me make that happen by letting me know what you need!



Help Shape Signify’s 2019 Content! Suggest blog topics or become a guest writer!

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I’m Kristi Porter, and I help cause-focused organizations understand and execute effective marketing campaigns so they can move from stressed to strategic. Your resources may be limited, but your potential isn’t. Whether you’re a nonprofit, social enterprise, or small business who wants to give back, I’ll show you how to have a bigger impact.


How to Build a Team of Dedicated Volunteers

Volunteers are an essential part of any cause-focused organization. They’re often the extra hands and feet that nonprofits and social enterprises need to make their mission succeed, especially in the early stages.

But building a team of dedicated volunteers isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and a steady flow of communication to ensure that you’re getting what you need, while giving what they need in return.

This week’s post comes to us from Faitth Brooks, who manages social media for one of my clients, Be the Bridge, as well as serves as the Director of Women’s Empowerment for Legacy Collective. Both organizations have not only relied on volunteers to make their work happen, but entrusted volunteers with being ambassadors for their brand with great success.

Faitth knows a lot about organizing, engaging, and empowering volunteers, and I hope her wisdom will help you build your team as well.

How to Build a Team of Dedicated Volunteers

In the nonprofit world there are numerous tasks that often cause employees to wear several “hats.” And if you’ve worked in the nonprofit sector, you know all about the hustle to save money and raise money in order to fulfill the mission and vision of your organization.

I've worked for nonprofits most of my career and I've learned that volunteers are invaluable to any organization. They give of their time and energy to work alongside staff members and help make everyone's job easier. It’s also common for nonprofits not to have the funds to hire a robust staff, especially small ones, so volunteers help fill in the gaps.

Many of you may be thinking, “Faitth, that’s nice, but how do I build a dedicated team of volunteers for my organization?” Well, I’m glad you asked because I’m going to tell you all about how I’ve done it over the years.

In order to maximize your time and energy, it’s essential that you build a committed team of volunteers. There are three important steps I’ve implemented in organizing volunteer teams, and I am going to share them with you today.

Step 1: Share The Vision

First, know the vision for your organization and articulate it to your volunteers. It’s important that the volunteers begin to embody the organizational culture and values in the same way the staff does. Your volunteers should be able to share the mission and vision of the organization to anyone who asks.

Hosting a training for the volunteers is essential, as well as developing a volunteer manual that states the mission and vision, expectations, and assigned tasks. The volunteer manual offers people a clear road map for how they will be utilized by your organization. When volunteers do not have direction, it’s easy to chart their own path away from the mission and vision of your organization.

Once training is complete, volunteers should shadow a staff member. It is important for the staff to model how to serve clients, respond to correspondence, and answer the phones. If your staff works remotely, the volunteer can be cc’d on correspondence, shadow you during video conference calls, and join collaborative projects to watch how the team operates together.

Step 2: Assign Specific Tasks

Second, assign your volunteers specific tasks. Have a list of the particular areas you need help with and instructions on how to accomplish those tasks. Volunteers need direction and they need to feel like they are making a valuable contribution to your organization. It's important to know what your volunteers have experience in so you can assign them to areas where they will thrive. You want your volunteers to feel empowered and excited to work with your organization!

Avoid making something up for them to do simply because you do not want to lose their help. If nothing is immediately available that is suited for them, honor their time and let them know that you will reach out again when you need help with another project.

Step 3: Communicate Regularly

Third, maintain open lines of communication and remain available to answer questions. Your availability as a leader will develop trust between you and the volunteer.

Also, establish regular meetings with your volunteers. They want to stay in the loop and feel included. Make sure you ask about their experience volunteering for your organization and what you could do better. Feedback from your volunteers is priceless because they have nothing to lose, and are more likely to tell you the truth about their experience working with your organization. This can go a long way in building and scaling your organization in the future.

Now, it's your turn to go and build a team of volunteers! Write your vision, create the manual, mobilize the people.


Faitth Brooks

Faitth Brooks is the Director of Women’s Empowerment for Legacy Collective. She engages in community organizing and activism. Her passion makes her a relentless spokesperson for racial reconciliation.

Faitth is also a social media strategist for Be The Bridge, and a blogger who writes at Faitthbrooks.com. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @FaitthB.



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Building a team of dedicated volunteers isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work and a steady flow of communication to ensure that you’re getting what you need, while giving what they need in return.

Kristi Porter, founder of Signify

I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing and consulting services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing, and business communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate philanthropy and giving strategies. I believe that cause-focused organizations are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.