How to Use Permission Marketing to Attract the Right Volunteers — In 4 Easy Steps!


Guest post by Patrick J. Liddy

Attracting the right volunteers to your nonprofit can be a challenge. Are you getting a lot of interest, but people aren’t following through? Are you getting volunteers who are not a great fit for the work you’re doing? Are you in need of help, but when you put out a call for volunteers, you hear nothing but crickets?

Have you experienced any of these frustrations?

There are a lot of different ways to attract volunteers, but I’d like to focus on a method you can use to set up your website to attract the specific people who will love and fight for your cause. Once it’s set up, this method will work to attract potential volunteers almost effortlessly.

Marketers call it ‘permission marketing’. According to Seth Godin (who coined the term), “permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who actually want them.”

What does this have to do with attracting volunteers?

A lot — because you can set up a simple system using permission marketing to attract, inform, and build relationships with the people you’d love to have volunteer with your organization.

Here’s how permission marketing can work for you in 4 easy steps:

1. Create your ideal volunteer persona

First, you need to know who your perfect volunteer is (and who they are not). You’ve probably already had both excellent volunteers and less than ideal volunteers. Start by writing down everything you know about these two groups. This will help you solidify what you’re looking for.

You can also survey the volunteers you already have to learn about their goals, challenges, interests, and why they care about your mission.

Next, create a volunteer persona of your ideal recruit. A persona is a fictional person created to represent your ideal volunteer. It’s a way to turn all the information you know about a group of people into something more tangible — something you can understand and relate to when you’re crafting anything meant to target them.

2. Create a resource that speaks to potential volunteers

In step 2 you’ll use your volunteer persona to create or modify a resource that your target volunteer would be interested in. This is a key step, because this resource will need to be attractive enough for your ideal volunteer to provide their email to get access to get it.

This is the ‘permission’ part of permission marketing. You provide something of value for free — and just require an email address to gain access. From then on, you have permission to send those ‘anticipated, personal, and relevant messages’ that Seth Godin mentions above.

An example of this might be whitepaper or video of case studies where volunteers made a big difference in your organization. This would show exactly what your nonprofit is all about, the role that volunteers play, and it highlights exactly how valuable their contribution really is.

3. Create an opt-in that captures email signups


This step is a bit more on techie side, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward! To make this system work, people need to see the resource you’re offering. While you could just create a link in your website’s menu and/or sidebar that leads to a volunteer signup form, having something more prominent is key to getting more signups.

A pop-up is the best way to do this. Yes, pop-ups are back, and if you visit most modern websites you’ll see how they work. A great example of a nonprofit leveraging popups is Greenpeace, which currently has a pop-up that leads to a donation page when you click the link.

There are a number of different tools that let you create a pop-up on your website. Optinmonster is a popular choice, and it uses technology that tracks a mouse movement so your pop-up is only shown to a person who is about to click away.

4. Follow up with new signups:

Once someone signs up for your resource, you need to make sure they get what they’ve asked for, which can easily be done through via an automatic email from most email providers (like Mailchimp or Constant Contact). VolunteerMatch Premium customers can compose an auto-reply email to prospective volunteers who show interest in their organization, linking to any relevant whitepapers, videos, and/or case studies they might wish to share.

You’ll also want to follow up with them personally to see what drew them to your organization and ask if they’d be interested in participating on some level.

You can also use your email provider to send automatic follow-up emails to your new subscriber. You can use this opportunity to tell stories and provide important information about your nonprofit. Even if they’re not ready to jump into action right now, they may be ready later. With a bit more information and communication, you could have yourself a new star volunteer or benefactor!

Moving Forward With Permission Marketing

Volunteers are truly the lifeblood of the nonprofit industry. They bring passion, new perspectives, and they do essential work. Almost 63 million people volunteer their time, and according to this report, the average value of their volunteer hour is $23.07. Beyond that, volunteers are almost twice as likely to donate to charity as non-volunteers!

This is why it’s so important to get people who are the right fit for your organization. You can do just that with the system I’ve described, and it doesn’t have to stop with attracting volunteers. You can get more donations, build your email list, promote specific campaigns, get people to watch your videos, solicit petition signups, and much more.

Businesses have been using this method for years, and it’s time for nonprofits to utilize this untapped resource, too!

Hopefully you’re able to use this system to attract your ideal volunteers. If you’d like to know more about how to set things up, you can find advice at or contact me directly at

Author Bio: Patrick J. Liddy is a blogger and consultant who helps nonprofits get discovered online by potential donors, volunteers, stakeholders, and service users. He has a Master’s in Public Policy and a background in marketing.