Building Your Volunteer Brand

Building Your Volunteer Brand

A thoughtful approach to giving back will deliver the most impact.

As the New Radicals aptly sang, “You get what you give.” In the case of how you choose to share your time, talent and treasure, that line has multiple meanings. “How you choose to share the three Ts usually starts with your heart,” says Kris Kewitsch, executive director of the Charities Review Council.

But make sure your brain plays an active role. She advises you stay smart before you say yes to any specific of charitable giving. Kewitsch wants you to make sure you know the purpose and impact of any organization. Her litmus test: “What problem are they trying to solve and how well do they articulate their work toward a solution?”

Just as you have your own personality, you also have a personality of volunteerism. Do you want to be truly grassroots and serve hot meals or do you want to change federal policy? Or are you somewhere in between? Where you land on this continuum will help you determine the best way to share your three Ts.

Pointed questions

Once you identify your volunteer brand, Kewitsch suggests asking pointed questions until you get the answers you need. The line of questioning may vary from nonprofit to nonprofit, but getting straight answers remains crucial. Basic accounting questions covering what percentage of donations go to overhead versus the group’s purpose are key ones. Kewitsch says a worthwhile nonprofit will welcome your interest: “Most organizations would love to have a relationship with those giving time and treasure versus a transactional situation.” When you bother to ask those questions, the subtextual message says you want to go deep rather than just write a check to check off that box for the year.

Values alignment

In some cases, your past will help define your volunteer brand. Reatha Clark King is a chair emerita of the National Association of Corporate Directors and has extensive experience on corporate and nonprofit boards. When she transitioned from a traditional day job to her next phase more than a decade ago, she wanted to make sure her volunteer brand was authentic.

In her business life, she personified excellence. She would add that she is a proponent of inclusion. By no means an idle retiree, King won a one-year fellowship at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School and titled her project Philanthropy and Public Policy: Working Together to Make a Bigger Difference. King says she “wanted to make the area more productive in a unique way.” Professionalizing volunteering as a service made sense to her. That’s why she chose the topic for her fellowship and interviewed more than 50 foundation and other nonprofit executives, and elected and appointed officials at the local, county and state levels. A big headline coming out of her research is that philanthropy at any level is best when there’s a plan and when there’s collaboration between citizens and organizations.

Most agree part of this alignment of values comes from your inner authenticity. The other comes from deciding which organization matches your volunteer brand. Once you make your charitable decision, Kewitsch says a “willingness to say yes and no to each other” is absolutely a sign of a healthy relationship with your organization of choice.

Philanthropy portfolio

Just as you grow your bank accounts, investment interests and real estate dossier, Kewitsch advises you to have a philanthropy portfolio. I love this term because it suggests professionalism and thoughtful intent. Kewitsch says, “It’s OK to go deep with some organizations and be more surface with others.” You know you’ll get asked to write a check at several charitable galas and luncheons this year. It’s OK to make a donation that might not be for one of your portfolio organizations, just as it’s OK to not write that check because it doesn’t match your volunteer brand. The key is to have a plan that stays true to your overall values.

King puts it like this: “How to cash in on your credibility, to advance society.” Minnesotans are role models when it comes to sharing much with many. The state ranked fourth among 50 states and Washington, D.C., for volunteering, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. In fact, more than 1.5 million Minnesotans gave more than 153 million hours in the most recent year tracked, which translates into $3.5 billion of service contributed.

Often, you get far more than you ever imagined in return for sharing with others near and far.

Roshini Rajkumar is a personal brand strategist and presence engineer. She is host of News and Views with Roshini Rajkumar on WCCO Radio and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit Interface with Roshini at