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Creating a Cultural Brand

Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit (the company credited with QuickBooks and TurboTax), once remarked, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” This has become true in our social media-driven environment where one positive or negative post can go viral in a matter of moments, and the fate of a multi-million dollar organization hangs in the balance. Public relations have moved to the hands of the consumers, and its power has gone on to include the volunteer experience. Word-of-mouth has taken on an entirely new meaning in the 21st century, with people now having their very own platform to share their opinions and experiences. Power has shifted to the consumer, and their findings are not always accurate facts, but more often, perceptions from their unique tunnel visioned encounter.

It doesn’t matter if they only see one portion of an organization, once they’ve interacted with some section, their opinion has been made for better or worse and they are armed with their conclusions to share with friends, family, and followers. If this sounds depressing, don’t worry. Just as one bad experience can go viral the same goes for a good encounter! One good interaction with a guest can have the same viral effect, spreading as they share their experience on social media and through word-of-mouth.

Volunteers are often on the front lines of guest relations, so it’s up to them to create customer service experiences that lead to positive buzz. A good experience will slowly begin to build the brand up positively in customer’s minds; a negative interaction will have the opposite effect. Marketers tell us that one way to develop brand loyalty is by encouraging customers to create an emotional attachment. Researchers have found that an emotional brand attachment may be formed when a particular brand becomes a part of an individual’s self-concept. In other words, people get emotionally attached to organizations who embody characteristics that they either desire or believe they already have. When people identify emotionally with a brand, they cultivate deeper loyalty ties. As volunteers, we have the opportunity to create positive, emotional experiences. We are in unique positions to interact with guests face-to-face, and that personal interaction is where emotional connections take place. The more memorable encounters we provide to people, the stronger the bond becomes to the organization.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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Getting Attention in a Noisy World

It’s pretty noisy out there.

Marketing experts say that most Americans are exposed to at least 4,000 ads every day. Organizations are continually competing for our attention. Brands are everywhere we look, shouting messages to our subconscious without us even noticing.

To adjust to the constant barrage of images and ads, most of us have become desensitized to them. We glaze over when commercials pop up on our screens, ignore banners tailored to us online, and hardly notice the t-shirts and caps promoting x-brand or y-organization streaming passed us on our commute.

In such a loud environment, how do you make your organization stand out as a fun and fulfilling place to volunteer?

1. Be true to your values. People are drawn to organizations who share their passions. If you are out there doing what you love, trust me…people will find you. Don’t get distracted by fads or gimmicks, when you focus on who you are and what you believe in, and the right people will naturally catch the vision and join. The added benefit is that you won’t attract people who aren’t interested. You’ll have an army of individuals who are just as excited about your mission as you are. 

2. Focus on your uniqueness. There’s a reason you’re in business. You’re good at what you do. Even if there are others similar to you in your community, you have a particular way of doing things. Focus on the areas that make you stand out from the crowd and highlight those strengths to your audience.

3. Be interactive. Social media gives us a direct channel to potential volunteers. It takes some time, but having a strong presence online will keep you at the front of people’s mind, which is precisely where we want to be. They might not be ready to serve now, but when they are ready, we want our organization to be the first place they think of serving. Interacting online is more than just posting pictures and inspiring messages. It’s important to build relationships. Liking follower’s posts, commenting, and even sending direct messages will help you authentically connect with your audience.

4. Show what you do. It’s not enough to tell people what your organization does. We’ve become desensitized to words, and it’s easy to drown out someone talking about a good cause. Visuals stimulate people. Videos, GIFs, and images are taking their place in modern communication. Research shows that video will represent more than 81% of all consumer Web traffic by 2021. There’s no better way to express your brand than by showing people exactly what it is you do.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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Clash of Culture

We had a leader in our church named Joe. Joe was really great at systems. He could look down a pew and know exactly how many seats were left and could position it so twelve people could fit in a space meant for ten. Joe had a wonderful talent for organizing and led our usher team with great efficiency, but he had a major issue. He wasn’t connecting to the rest of the volunteers. Try as he might, the other ushers who served with him would not respond to his efforts. From all appearances, Joe was a skilled leader, but he was unable to rally volunteers to his cause (despite their shared vision and goals).

Where was the disconnect?

Joe’s leadership style wasn’t compatible with the culture of the church.

One of the main reasons people serve is for the chance to connect and interact with others. Volunteering at church is a social experience, where people take the time to encourage and share with each other, and serving teams almost function like a small group where people are invested in team member’s lives. The no-nonsense leadership style of Joe was clashing with the very purpose of our volunteer team.

Time and again, I see this happen not only in churches but in organizations. Someone is given a position of authority but their leadership style does not mesh with the culture of the company, and EVERYONE feels it.

So, what was the solution?

You can’t exactly fire a volunteer. It’s one thing to reprimand a staff member, but when it comes to replacing someone who is working for free everything gets more complicated. This tension between the leader’s behavior and the culture of the organization will eventually cause your system to break. Either the culture will slowly shift toward the leader’s behavior, or the leader must conform to the culture of the organization. Church leaders have to be proactive, or the culture will change without them. How do you change the leadership style and behaviors of your leaders to match the culture of the church?

Evaluate your Environment

Before trying to change a leader’s behaviors or leadership style, we first need to understand the culture of our church so we can direct their actions to line up with our desired environment. What is your culture? Friendly, inviting,

Shift Expectations

Leadership development is context sensitive, so there is no one perfect style that works for all churches. What works for one church may not translate to the next. This is why understanding YOUR culture and YOUR leaders are so important. Find out what works for your church and focus on a leadership program that meets their unique needs. Don’t give in to the temptation to mimic what a successful church is doing. They may have a great system, but remember that their culture is a mixture of environment, people, beliefs, background and a ton of other contributing factors that work with their leadership style. Your situation is unique to your people and copying a style that doesn’t match your situation is not only harder for your leaders, but can be unhealthy for your church.

Create a Coaching Culture

As the leadership in the church, you set the thermostat of the rest of the organization. Believe it or not, your leaders are taking their cues from you. Who you are as a leader influences the culture of the church and trickles down to the rest of your team. How can your leaders mimic your style if they are not spending time with you? Whether you have a volunteer team of 2, 200, or 2,000, your top leadership needs to be actively engaged and spending quality time with key leaders in the ministry.


Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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The Reason I Volunteer – Alex

This is Alex.

Alex volunteers as a photographer for a local college ministry called The Voice and for various events around town. Her favorite event so far? Make ‘Em Smile: an annual party for kids with special needs hosted by Nathaniel’s Hope. As the founder of Bedside Educators Network, a tutoring company for hospitalized and homebound students, Alex knows the value of giving back.

“Through photography, I can share my perspective of the world with others. I can tell a story, promote a cause, or memorialize a moment with a single shot. Getting to do what I love is great. Getting to do it for a cause that is bigger than myself is even better. That’s why I volunteer.”

People like Alex are what inspires us here at Volunteer U! She gives back to multiple organizations and has found a way to combine what she loves with helping organizations that are making the world a better place.

To learn more about the Bedside Educators Network and the incredible work they are doing visit Alex’s website You can also learn more about the event she volunteers for: Make ‘Em Smile at

If you’re enjoying the #TheReasonIVolunteer series, be sure to comment below and let us know. Follow along with our campaign with #IAmVolunteerU #Volunteeru on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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The Reason I Volunteer – Silvia from Dorcas Ministry

On our social media, we’ve recently begun a campaign called #TheReasonIVolunteer turning the spotlight on some terrific volunteers serving in their communities. (By the way, if you haven’t connected with us online be sure to click on the links below!). It’s been a fun way to hear stories of real-life heroes who donate their time and skills to make our world a better place!

Our very first post features a dear friend of mine, Silvia.

I wish I had time to go into detail about Silvia’s life exploits and her past as an entrepreneur selling commercial cleaning supplies, renting bicycles in Mexico, and being an extra in a movie, but alas, with our limited time I’m focusing only on her most recent endeavor as a volunteer for Dorcas Ministry.

Dorcas Ministry is an incredible group that repurposes pillowcases into dresses for little girls in developing countries. These beautiful dresses have been sent to children in El Salvador, Ecuador, Nepal, Poland, Mexico, and Togo.

Silvia explains, “I like to use my gifts (sewing) to help others. We have a responsibility to use our skills for more than just ourselves. I like knowing that doing something as simple as sewing is going to make a difference to a girl and her family. Plus it’s fun!”

Here is one of the precious little girls in Nepal who received one of Dorcas Ministry’s dresses! This sweet girl and her mother were so happy the photographer Alex, couldn’t help but capture the moment.

Just one example of the far-reaching impact a volunteer can have!

Keep an eye out for more of our #TheReasonIVolunteer posts in the upcoming weeks! And follow along with our campaign with #IAmVolunteerU #Volunteeru on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


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70, Twenty, & 10. How to Train Volunteers Informally.

You may have already heard of the 70:20:10 Model. Originally created by Lombardo, and Eichinger at the Center for Creative Leadership, this 1980s leadership development theory suggests that individuals get 70% of their knowledge from challenging assignments (experience), 20% from developmental relationships, and 10% from formal training/education.

If this is true, 90% of our volunteer’s education is informal. Their knowledge of your organization, how to perform their tasks, and how to develop as leaders is mostly learned through observation and in-the-moment performances. They are learning as they go, taking both the good and bad experiences and turning those into informative memories to use in the future.

It makes you think…are we intentionally developing our volunteers during the hustle of services? If most of their knowledge is coming from job-related experiences, are we doing our best to make those experiences hand-tailored lessons that drive home the culture of our organization?

Since people are learning “on the floor” we have the incredible opportunity to train volunteers in an informal setting. One of the best ways to do this is through a mentoring program. The term mentoring program probably implies more formality than it should.

Basically, we want to pair a more experienced volunteer with a new one. The newbie will get the chance to connect with and learn from their experienced counterpart, and the more seasoned volunteer will have an opportunity to stretch as a leader and pass on specific lessons that the organization wants to press on their team.

This covers the 70% learned from experience and 20% learned from interactions with others. We can’t ignore that 10% of formal training though. Don’t underestimate the power of a volunteer orientation class. The formal class setting at the beginning of a volunteer’s journey sets the tone for the rest of their time with the organization and it’s the perfect opportunity to really drive home your organizational culture, verbiage, history, values, and “the way you do things.” Being intentional in the development of your volunteers will pay off big-time when you realize you have a volunteer staff who are firmly focused on your vision and continually growing into better leaders.


[1] Lombardo, M.M. & Eichinger, R.W. (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner. Minneapolis: Lominger.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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Reducing Volunteer Turnover

Turnover is a natural part of any organization. We all know how difficult it can be to recruit and train good people. And any nonprofit leader will tell you losing valuable team members can be a terrible blow.

I can't admit to having done extensive research on this topic, but I have had my share of conversations with volunteers over the last several years and here are the top 10 reasons I have heard:

  1. Relocation
  2. Burnout
  3. New opportunities
  4. Family Issues
  5. Hurt by other volunteers / the organization
  6. Not enough time
  7. Not using their gifts
  8. Don't feel needed
  9. Lost their interest
  10. Not what they expected

There are some reasons that a volunteer leaves that we have no control over such as relocation and family issues. But most of the others on this list are things that can be prevented.

Here are a couple of practical ways you can stop unnecessary volunteer turnover.

Regular team check-ups - Are you taking the time to check-in with your team on a regular basis? This may feel like an overwhelming task, but it doesn't need to be. Set a calendar reminder to walk by x-amount of volunteers and have a quick conversation. It doesn't need to be a long or an in-depth counseling session. Just start with a simple question or two, "How are you doing? Is everything going okay? Do you like what you are doing? Are there any issues? Can I help with anything?"

Reassess current volunteer roles - Are the right people in the right positions? In smaller organizations we usually just need bodies...forget about finding the 'right person' for the role! But research shows that (especially among Millenials), people get the most value out of serving when they are using their gifts, skills, and interests.

Focus on team health - Sometimes people need to take a break. At our church, we have the rule, "attend one, serve one" where volunteers attend a service for their spiritual growth and then serve at the next one. We also encourage volunteers to take a couple weeks (or months) off when they need it. Family issues, health, even just a well-deserved break. I hate the thought of anyone on my team feeling burned-out. Volunteers who are growing spiritually and practicing good self-care are healthy volunteers! They are the ones who serve with excellence and make the organization look good.

Say "Thank You" - It's incredible how often this simple practice gets overlooked. I think as leaders we sometimes get so busy that we forget how powerful a simple expression of our gratitude can be to our team. People need to know that the work they are doing counts - no matter how small the role they play.



Christina Angelakos has a doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. She loves working with teams in both the corporate and nonprofit marketplace. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaAngel

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The Potential of Uniqueness

“Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, ‘Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!’ she doesn’t get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.”

– Dr. Suess

It is easier to place people in the same neat little box than to personalize our interactions with them. How much simpler to call everyone “Dave” than take the time to handcraft a unique title?

Growing up, my grandparents had several dogs. Each new dog, my cousins and I were allowed to name it, but invariably, my Grandfather would call them all the same thing. “King” if the dog was male and “Girl” if it was female. He didn’t have to worry about forgetting the new name because they were all the same.

It was easy.

When we work with volunteers, we might find ourselves falling into the temptation to treat everyone as the same “type.” It saves us mental exertion if everyone we work with gets the same end result. The same kind of reward, the same sort of encouragement, the same training, the same correction, the same…whatever.

Granted, working with large groups of volunteers forces us to standardize some aspects of the serving experience: orientation, training, annual rewards or appreciation gifts. But we start to get into trouble when we attempt to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to our relationship with volunteers (or anyone else for that matter!).

Without knowing it, we are forcing members of the team to fit the mold. Be like everyone else. Join the status quo.

What we’re saying through these behaviors is, “Because this is how the majority operates, this is how YOU must operate.” And when we communicate this to our team, they start to believe it. It squashes the creativity, freedom of expression, and the personal touch that comes with people performing in all their unique glory.

Treating people like the individuals they are instead of like an identical cog in the machine takes a little bit of effort. It requires a certain amount of attention. It forces us to get to know people on a personal level. People have complicated, imperfect lives. Things may even get a tiny bit messy.

It’s a challenge for leaders. But one well worth the effort.

What would our organization look like if we began to remember details about our team? If we showed people appreciation in a way that meant the most to them? If we used standardization as a helpful tool instead of a mind-numbing crutch?

I dare say we would begin to see volunteers who thrive in their position. We would see team members who feel valued and come to volunteer excited about their work. We might even start to see increased productivity and more effective staff.

The possibilities are infinite, it just takes a little bit of work. And a lot a bit of remembering names.

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