Interview: Dan Sumners

The senior policy and communications manager at Volunteering England talks to Annette Rawstrone about promoting Volunteers' Week on a budget

Dan Sumners
Dan Sumners

Dan Sumners faced the question of how to conduct a marketing campaign successfully on a significantly depleted budget as he began to plan at the start of the year for Volunteers' Week in June.

Sumners, senior policy and communications manager at Volunteering England, says the charity had to adopt a "smart approach" to building interest in the annual week, which seeks to celebrate the contribution of volunteers and inspire others to volunteer. The only resource available was staff time, so he considered how to put it to best use.

"Our aim was to get as much coverage as possible and reach as many people as possible with as little money as possible," he says. The result was that Volunteers' Week 2012 cost the charity about £20,000, all of which was made up of staff time.

Sumners says: "We decided to invest most heavily in the development of Volunteers' Week partners - national organisations that would spread the word about the campaign and supply us with case studies in return for us promoting their work."

Involving these organisations at the heart of the campaign, with their own partners, branches and members, enabled Volunteering England to reach significantly more people than through its own networks.

The team compiled guides on how to run events and secure local coverage during the week. These were sent to the charity's 2,000-strong membership list and non-member list of about 500.

Traditionally the charity provides organisations with resources, such as certificates, logos and posters. Sumners believes one of its best money-saving initiatives was to minimise design and production costs for these by using the skills and software available in-house.

He says: "By downloading Gimp, an open source image manipulation program, we had all the functionality of a program such as Adobe Photoshop without the cost. That, coupled with the skills our staff already had, meant we were able to make necessary changes to the files from last year."

An online events map allowed organisations to submit details of their activities - this required little input from Volunteering England. Sumners says significant staff time was also invested in communications, including details in the member e-newsletter, several Volunteers' Week emails, a press release, conversations with the media and government press offices, and blogs on sites such as Ivo.

Aptly, volunteers were also central to the campaign. "We had great support from a group of Cabinet Office volunteers," Sumners says. "They helped us process case studies, spread the word through government and develop our communications plan."

The volunteers are now helping to review the campaign, but Sumners is already pleased with the "buzz" created. "The extent of local coverage was our biggest success," he says. "Every day there were articles on local newspaper websites. It is important for us that people can read about volunteers in their own communities. This enables them to see tangible benefits at a local level and will inspire others to volunteer."

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