Getting the best ROI on your Volunteer Contributions

  Hort Snacks - November 2018
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 I’m a dedicated volunteer. Sometimes, the amount of volunteering I do has me referring to it as my non-paid part-time job. I volunteer for many reasons. I was taught that you should serve others, as much as you can. I believe that I have been given talents and abilities that I should share with others and use to make the world a better place. I enjoy meeting people when I’m out volunteering. I don’t do it for recognition, although I appreciate it when I know that people recognize that life and the world that they live in are better for that effort.

Horticultural operations (farming or other) are businesses, pure and simple. Their primary function is to generate revenue and income, in the hope that the operation will continue to function, pay the bills and theoretically grow (or at least maintain a consistent profit). There are few, if any, that deliberately operate at a loss. That being said, there are few industries that are more generous or community-minded than farmers/horticultural operators. The ones that I know give generously of their time, their expertise and the product of their labours. They mentor, support and contribute.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

There is nothing wrong with such charitable tendencies; in fact, it is something that should be encouraged. I’m a BIG fan. However, at the same time, it is important to balance revenue-generating activities with volunteer contributions. And, if it is possible to do so, it would be ideal to be able to give freely, but gain some sort of financial benefit, or a benefit that will have financial potential. It may go against your humble nature, and seem a bit self-serving, but you aren’t a non-profit organization. And so, it begs the question, “How can your operation benefit from your volunteer or charitable investments?”

An operation’s volunteer contributions can vary quite a bit, depending on its structure, inclinations, offerings, etc. So, let’s focus on some of the ways that operations GIVE and consider some ways that they might benefit from that generous activity.

Products (Donations)
This is one of the most commonly thought of examples of “contributing”, and is one that people often ask for. You can take it as a compliment that people want your product. But it can eat into the profit margins if you give and give and give. Consider the following ways of profiting from your generous nature.

  • Make sure anything that you donate is recognizable as yours and is clearly BRANDED. Include a logo, some signage, or some other way for people to make the connection between your farm and the product that they are seeing. You want them thinking of you (especially good thoughts).
  • Depending on the situation, make sure that the product is a good, REPRESENTATIVE example of what you do and what you produce. For example, if you donate product towards something like a silent auction, use it as a showcase. Highlight a seasonal event, a special/specific service you offer, or value-added products your make.
  • It is preferable to encourage people to come back to your operation (or to you) at a later time (preferably over and over). You want REPEAT contact, not one-and-done. Consider donating discounts (coupons or certificates) that will bring people to you. You want them to meet you, see what you do and become a customer/friend.
  • In some cases, donations may represent an outlet for product that can’t be sold through traditional channels, for example culls or B Grade material. It is quality stuff, but may not look all that pretty. Make sure that you get the credit for being resourceful, generous AND not wasteful. And then make sure that the branding is still evident. And, if nothing else, you know that your product is going somewhere other than the compost pile.
Time (Leadership / Volunteer)
Your time is valuable, and you have limited amounts of it (especially at certain times of year), so make sure that it used wisely. If you are there, be there. Put in your whole heart, for the time that you are there. Don’t squander it. You might not gain financially (in fact, it would probably be difficult to do so), but make sure that people remember that your work ethic, since they’ll make the connection to your business practices. You decide how you want this question completed. “So-and-so works like ####, so the product/service they provide must also be ####”.

At the same time, when you put in your best effort, I’m of the opinion that you gain great satisfaction, which is beneficial to your mental health and well-being.

Expertise (Skills)
Similar to donating product, donating expertise (in-kind) should be a way to highlight, showcase and promote your prowess and abilities, so that people make the connection between you and your business. Plus, volunteer mentorship can also build the next generation, which is win-win, in the long run.

Whatever the reason that you volunteer or donate or whatever you want to call it, make sure that there isn’t a negative impact on your bottom line. Even if it is only a tax receipt, or increased energy from doing good, make sure you get some return for that investment.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on October 30, 2018.