I admit that my possibly offensive title probably sounds like I think volunteers are a nuisance.  Actually, the point of this article is to help you find practical ways to involve school volunteers who are always asking, “how can I help?”

First of all, while volunteers are a blessing, they come with conditions.  It cannot be denied that volunteers on your marketing team operate differently than paid staff or outsourced consultants.  Administrative officials and hired contractors work for results which are often tied to how much money they make or how long they keep their job.  It’s one reason to consider NOT assigning critical, timely marketing tasks to volunteers.  While they may indicate a willingness and eagerness to help, they MAY not operate with the same sense of urgency you have.  Nor may they offer the same level of excellence you would demand of an employee or contractor.  You want to have the freedom to dislike their work without feeling like you are going to offend them and run them off from volunteering ever again (or worse, writing a bad review about your school . . . uh, see #7 below).  You want to be able to “fire” them if they do not perform.  But how do you fire a non-paid volunteer?

So what jobs can you create for your eager beavers?  Here are 7 ideas your school volunteers can do from any computer or mobile device:

  1. BLOG – consider assigning certain volunteers with writing credentials the task of writing periodic articles for your school’s blog (you are creating blog content aren’t you?).  The easy way to do this is to ask for a few blog ideas and offer some vague deadlines.  The good volunteers will prove themselves early on as trustworthy with timely content.  But because you are not counting on the blog post for this week’s article, then you won’t get frustrated if they don’t get it turned in.  You get the best of what they offer, but you are using their work to support and backup what you are doing.  Don’t put all your blog’s content into the task basket of a volunteer.  Under performance will drive you crazy!
  2. BLOG IDEA #2 – there’s another way a volunteer can blog that helps your school, too.  Do some research and find out who the personal parent bloggers are at your school.  Perhaps there’s a mom who loves to blog about adoption, a dad who enjoys writing about gadgets or a pastor who loves blogging about community events.  Grab some of these folks into a meeting and talk to them about blogging about your school.  This may seem like something you should pay for (ad-space?), but it’s really more of an intentional effort to engage writers who love to write to compose some thoughts about their child’s school.  Give them ideas: have them do a review of the one-act spring play, a sports summary for the month, a compelling piece on why they chose Christian education for their famly, or even encouraging a parent to post pictures of Homecoming, first day of school, or Grandparent’s Day onto their blog.  The incoming links to your website will be nice and it gives people a chance to give to their school in a way that they already love to do.
  3. CONTENT CALENDAR CZAR: I think this is a funny title, but such a necessary function on your marketing team. First, they will need to download my free Content Calendar (click here for the link). Then they can start to populate the spreadsheet with content ideas and start developing a publishing calendar mindset. For instance, since we know Veteran’s Day is every November, do not wait until the first week in November to post only a video of a program you did at school with the elementary kids. Instead, have (as one former client did) a staff member write a blog post about the importance of recognizing and remembering our veterans. You might even do an audio interview with a veteran who now serves on your staff, his/her spouse, or a parent who would be willing to talk about their experience. This kind of content draws traffic more than promotional events, but it does take planning.
  4. PINTEREST – while I think schools should take a serious look creating a Pinterest account for themselves  to market their school (this is 2012 when I’m say this), another use of Pinterest is ensuring all your Pinterest-crazed parents are pinning and creating boards about your school onto their site.  There is a visual tradeoff that necessitates your contribution.  Provide places where visual content can reside on your website (this is where a blog is a great tool).  Post pictures of a variety of fine arts’ events, uniform styleshows, crazy science experiments in Mr. Wiggins’ 11th grade chemistry class and of course athletics.  If you provide the pictures, they are easily pinnable to boards on parent sites.  This also ensures when someone clicks through that pinned photo, then that person lands on your school’s website.  That’s important marketing stuff Pinteresting parents need to understand!
  5. INSTAGRAM – in a similar way, Instagram is captivating millions of people with their visually-dominant social network.  Tap into those Instagrammers (sp?) and ask them to document the cheerleaders’ hard work with behind-the-scenes preparation (practice, painting signs, decorating, etc.)  Snapping photos of the 2nd graders’ Thanksgiving drawings are priceless snapshots that parents love to share!  As long as they have permission to be on campus (and they understand your school’s permission policy on photos), there are so many ideas.  Here’s an article that demonstrates how some colleges are using Instagram in their marketing.
  6. FACEBOOK – I strongly discourage turning over your school’s Facebook page to volunteers.  There are probably exceptions, but the daily feed is too important to put in the hands of someone who may have other priorities (assuming volunteering is something they do when they have “free time.”)  But when an eager mom says she wants to volunteer, ask if she is on Facebook.  Assuming she says “yes,” tell her that for one probationary month, her “job” is to LIKE every single Facebook post (text status, image posted or video uploaded).  And she can prove herself even more valuable if she will make a COMMENT on these postings.  Facebook’s ranking preference is increasingly shifted to honoring those pages with high user engagement (not just the number of page likes, but how much interaction there is on your page).
  7. FACEBOOK GROUP AMBASSADOR – you also need strong ambassadors moms and dads who will be a part of your “secret marketing army” in a secret Facbeook group. Inside this group, you can brainstorm ideas about marketing, discuss upcoming promotional events, and be alerted to the latest Instagram/FB/Twitter posts that need engagement (likes, favorites, comments, shares, etc.) This is an elite group – hand-picked people you can trust to help you market the school.
  8. TWITTER – I’ll repeat – don’t turn your Twitter account 100% over to a volunteer (with some exceptions).  Rather, ask a volunteer if he is on Twitter.  If he says “yes,” tell him that his job for the first month is to RT every single thing (perhaps multiple times) that comes out of the various school Twitter accounts.  Now, I caution that it is not necessary to RT every single score from the basketball team.  But certainly retweeting the headmaster’s latest blog post on “why class size matters” can be scheduled to tweet once a week all year long.  Have them get on Google alerts or Twitter search and keep an eye on your school’s name mentioned in the press.  Their job is to monitor what’s being said, and if good, then broadcast it to their followers (mentioning the school’s Twitter handle).  Let’s say the local paper does a feature on the new baseball coach or the senior class’ mission trip to Africa, then they should be one of the first to see that online.  And of course, Twitter is more than just blasting out promotional stuff – but you could easily put together a Twitter army who could circulate some good content about your school.  Even ask them to research some suggestions on people in the community to follow.
  9. ONLINE REVIEWS – if I were you, if someone is really eager to help volunteer, I would insist that their first act of volunteerism would be to write a positive online review for your school (and even say, “that’s our first step of volunteerism, so until you’ve done that, we can’t talk about anything else.”)  Once they get the reality that their word-of-mouth referral is a large part of marketing your school’s online presence, they will likely ask a friend of their’s to do the same.  Challenge that volunteer to create a calendar where he sets a goal of at least 3 new reviews each month on either your school’s Google page, or on GreatSchools.org (you probably need make sure that you are getting a consistent flow of good reviews on both sites).  This is a challenge that some volunteers will love!

There are many ways to engage volunteers.  With social media and the high demand of consistently keeping up your school’s online reputation, having volunteers engaged in any of these seven activities can be fruitful for your marketing efforts!

– Randy

Randy Vaughn - 9 Steps to Marketing Your Christian School