"The notion of using volunteers or, more generally, natural helper networks, is a popular method in advocacy and social cause campaigns but seems woefully neglected by many social marketers.
The idea of using informal helping networks in public health programs traces its roots to studies of South African primary health care centers in the 1940s and 1950s. These studies focused on the ways in which engaging natural helping networks in health care delivery led to a variety of positive changes in health among patients as well as positive changes in health center staff ’s ability to understand and empathize with the daily lives and challenges of their patient population. This work was later transplanted to rural communities in North Carolina and spawned a number of church-based interventions in the 1980s aimed at serving black populations (Eng, Rhodes & Parker, 2009). By the 1990s, the idea of natural helpers was being adopted by public health researchers as a way of working effectively with Hispanic populations and other specific population groups and segments.
Natural helpers include family and friends; neighbors; people whom others naturally turn to for advice, support, and tangible aid; role-related helpers (including ministers, hairstylists, and shopkeepers who come into contact with people in the course of their work); people with similar problems; and volunteers. Lay health advisors is a term used to describe a more formal role these natural helpers might play in an intervention. One review of the literature found that lay health advisors have been used to address specific health needs of priority populations in HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease prevention programs, mammography screening programs for women, other cancer detection efforts, cardiovascular risk reduction projects (smoking, weight loss, nutrition, blood pressure management, and physical activity programs), and perinatal education efforts (Fleury, Keller, Perez & Lee, 2009). More recently, in the context of a community-based social marketing effort, Hill, Hill, and Moore (2009) recruited and trained volunteer peer activist facilitators to deliver parenting programs to parents and caregivers of children up to four years old.
As we consider social marketing programs operating in community settings where resources are constrained and where innovating sustainable and equitable solutions to puzzles is a priority, we see that these natural helper networks are not only delivery agents of behavior change programs but also proactive agents for social change as well. This means that the people whom we think of as potential or actual volunteers need to become part of our marketing program and assume the status of an important priority group: people critical to success. These are people that we need to understand in terms of their perceived benefits for participating and also the value they receive from that experience; to track in terms of their involvement, contributions, and satisfaction with our programs; and to give serious consideration to in terms of offering them appropriate ways to serve our program and their communities.
Roncarati et al. (1989) presented a detailed marketing approach to volunteer development that included identifying program needs; developing relevant recruitment strategies; providing screening and training procedures; and establishing ongoing communication and evaluation processes between volunteers and staff, including recognition and reinforcement, participation tracking, and bidirectional evaluation of both the volunteers and their experience of program support. These authors also note the various reasons, or motivations, people have for volunteering for specific roles in a program, including affiliation, power, and achievement. These reasons need to be considered in recruitment and retention efforts. Boehm (2009) described a social marketing perspective to volunteer efforts operated by a nonprofit organization in Israel. He points out that conceiving of volunteering as a social product is important because it can lead to segmentation strategies for the potential pool of volunteers, the positioning of volunteer activities to each segment, a reduction in the costs of volunteering, an emphasis on the unique incentives for different groups of potential volunteers, the creation of available and appropriate volunteer opportunities, and diversity in promotional activities."
From: Lefebvre, R.C (in press). Social marketing and social change: Strategies and tools for improving health, well-being and the environment (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, expected 2013).
Boehm, A. (2009). Applying social marketing in the development of a volunteer program. Social Marketing Quarterly; 15:67–84.
Eng, E., Rhodes, S. D., & Parker, E. (2009). Natural helper models to enhance a community’s health and competence. In R. J. DiClemente, R. A. Crosbyb& M. C. Kegler (Eds.), Emerging theories in health promotion practice and research (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 303–330.
Fleury, J., Keller, C., Perez, A., & Lee, S. M. (2009). The role of lay health advisors in cardiovascular risk reduction: A review. American Journal of Community Psychology; 44:28–42.
Hill, A., Hill, R., & Moore, S. (2009). Product evaluation in a social marketing and community
development context: A case study and initial report. Social Marketing Quarterly; 15:92–104.
Roncarati, D. D., Lefebvre, R. C., & Carleton, R. A. (1989). Voluntary involvement in community
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