Last week, Outlier joined several other downtown Portland businesses for an evening of volunteering. We enjoyed Hawaiian BBQ and a few brief introductions from event organizers before getting down to the task at hand for the evening: assembling cold weather kits for Street Roots vendors. 

Business for a Better Portland spearheaded several of these events across Portland this holiday season. This particular evening was hosted by Noah Oken-Berg and his team at Above the Fray Design.

Street Roots creates income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty. The paper is sold by members of the local homeless community, who receive 75 cents for every $1 paper they sell. 

It was a fun event, and we left feeling pretty good about both the interaction with other businesses and the fact that we’d contributed to putting a little bit of good back into our community. But when it came time to decide whether or not to include the event in our agency’s marketing, it raised some questions. Would it be distasteful to include the event in our marketing? Was it bragging? By including this in our company’s marketing, would that take away from the spirit of giving that embodied the evening? All of these questions eventually led to the singular question of this article.

Should your company’s volunteer efforts be used as Marketing and PR?

It’s 2018, so you know no article on marketing would be complete without at least a passing mention of our good friends the Millennials, that demographic group that manages to be at once both darling and destroyer, depending on who you’re talking to.

Millennials, who comprise the largest living generation in the U.S., care about causes. They are more likely than members of other generations to do business with companies associated with a cause and they like to work for companies that give back. They also account for more than one in three workers in this country and will make up nearly 50% of the workforce in a few years.

–Jeff From, Forbes Magazine

Ok, so there’s Point 1 in favor of marketing your volunteer efforts. It seems at least one in three workers may care very much about how your company spends its time and money. In a highly competitive job market where attracting and retaining talent are significant challenges, it makes a lot of sense to put yourself out there when it comes to publicly disclosing your causes. 

It’s also worth noting that including volunteerism in your PR or marketing strategy has a double benefit – yes, it provides some feel-good mojo for your company, but it also shines a light on some of the many groups out there doing their part to make the world a better place. And that’s truly some love worth spreading. Providing a larger platform and audience for these groups helps everyone.

A State of Mind

Ok so we’re 2-0 with all signs are pointing to “Yes! Include your company’s volunteerism as part of your PR and marketing strategies.” But if you’re like me, maybe you’re still feeling just a wee bit uncomfortable? So what can we do to ease these worries?

One suggested approach is, quite simply, to adjust your mindset. This means taking a “community first, business in the rear” view of volunteerism. 

“Too often, organizations focus on community involvement only to get something back in return – more profits, marketing, etc. Take a “community in the front, business in the rear” approach. Do the community work personally and you will benefit by seeing the difference. Build a playground or help students understand how to network in business. Genuinely help people and the benefits will come.” –Ben Martinez, also Forbes Magazine

In this case, the important thing is the actual doing, with the understanding that any benefit to your company’s marketing is secondary to the benefits your volunteer work provides for the community. One client of ours calls this the “business of prosperity”, in which we all work towards the good of our community because when our community succeeds, it raises all of us up.

Digging Deep

Here’s another good way to approach these activities. If you’re uncomfortable telling the world about a volunteer experience, dig a little deeper. Find the “so what” in the activity, because that’s where the real story exists. It will also help you gain some perspective about just why your business is involved with volunteerism in the first place.

Finally, don’t underestimate your volunteer activities and their power to enlighten, encourage, and inspire others. Our host for the evening, Noah Oaken Berg, perhaps summed it up best when he said that showing you volunteer not only spreads the act of volunteering culturally among your employees, but it also challenges other businesses to do the same. In other words, positive breeds more positive!

And let’s face it. The world already has plenty of bad news. Why not add some positivity back into the mix? 


  • Kathleen Mingus, Head of Marketing

    Kathleen drives Outlier's marketing communications strategy. She covers topics related to content strategy and content marketing and is only a little embarrassed to admit how many show tune lyrics she knows by heart.

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