There are a seemingly infinite number of ways to get the word out about our work and attempt to recruit volunteers (online, in-person, print media, etc.) It is tempting to think one should use every single tool at their disposal to raise awareness and generate interest, but the fact is, that is simply not realistic! With so many conflicting priorities and demands on our time, a strategic marketing plan can do wonders to promote efficiency and peace of mind.
Before making strategic decisions about what marketing tactics are most appropriate for the situation, it helps to make a strategic plan for the organization as a whole. Organization staff, the board of directors, and/or a group of core supporters work together to clarify the vision and long-term goals of the organization and identify what needs to happen to achieve those goals, including what audiences need to be engaged via marketing. Dreaming big about desired outcomes is encouraged, but pragmatism is necessary to work backwards in time to identify the path needed to get there, what resources are needed, and who will be responsible for the work. Backwards planning continues until the group arrives at this moment in time — who needs to be engaged in order to move forward with the plan?
Once the group has identified the target audience(s), they can brainstorm possible ways to reach them. Based on the knowledge of the group, how do people in this population hear about things? Are there groups or outreach outlets specific to this population that could be leveraged? Are there people who might know better that could be consulted?
Once the group has identified some options for reaching out, they can consider the return on investment for each. Say the organization must reach people who live in the vicinity of a particular community orchard to invite them to an upcoming work party. How much time and energy will it take to write an article for the neighborhood association newsletter? To attend their monthly meeting? To put up flyers or canvass door to door? How many people would be reached through each of these methods? Is a personal connection/conversation critical for the level of engagement being sought? Could a volunteer help to make this connection? Given all the other outreach and other work that needs doing at this time, what feels like the best fit? This process is repeated for all of the current outreach priorities.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the ways an organization can or “should” be raising awareness. People will regularly ask, “Have you thought of using this website?” or say, “You should really be attending these meetings.” These suggestions should be considered, but only undertaken if they fit into the strategic plan AND the capacity to do so truly exists. The outreach plan should be revisited periodically and revisions made, and observations documented for future staff/volunteers.
Urban Abundance, a program of Slow Food Southwest Washington (501c3), has been helping to harvest and tend Clark County’s backyard and community orchards since 2010. Recognizing the abundance of fruit trees in Clark County going unharvested, early leadership formed a volunteer group to help collect and donate fruit that would otherwise go to waste. Produce is donated to the Clark County Food Bank, which distributes to a county-wide network of over 40 partner food pantries and meal programs. The program has been historically facilitated by Slow Food leadership, funded by a recurring charitable donation. Urban Abundance shared a part-time Americorps VISTA with the Clark County Food Bank in 2011, and in 2018, Slow Food Southwest Washington was awarded an Americorps VISTA to coordinate Urban Abundance full-time.
In the winter/spring of 2018, Urban Abundance held a series of Fruit Tree Steward workshops and work parties in community orchards, covering topics such as fruit tree pruning, sheet mulching, fruit thinning, and pollinator promotion. Each workshop was followed by a work party during which participants helped with seasonal orchard maintenance activities aligned with workshop topics. The Americorps VISTA has been responsible for performing consistent outreach via Facebook and a MailChimp newsletter to inform supporters and recruit volunteers. The VISTA has increased program visibility by participating in highly attended community outreach events such as Earth Day, EcoFest, National Get Outdoors Day, Recycled Arts Fair, and regional farmers markets throughout the summer. The VISTA helped launch and promote the first annual Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, a combination volunteer and per-pound pledge drive. Over 100 volunteers participated in the pear harvest and Urban Abundance earned over $1000 in small donations. During the 2018 harvest season, the VISTA organized weekly harvest parties at community orchards and residential harvest sites. Harvest party volunteers gleaned apples, pears, Asian pears, and grapes for donation to the Clark County Food Bank and were invited to keep some for themselves.