Are Your Volunteer Roles Like Betty Crocker Cake Mix?

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People Processes: Clarity & Consistency

Did you know… the first instant cake mix Betty Crocker developed did not sell very well? Initial product surveys indicated customers felt “just adding water” was too easy, and therefore the cake must not be worth eating. So Betty Crocker went back to the drawing board and added one more step – an egg. After 59 years I think it’s obvious how successful this change made Betty Crocker.

What does Betty Crocker cake mix have to do with your organization’s volunteer roles? Well – is it possible volunteers want a different experience than the one you’re offering?

One of the most common sentiments I hear from not-for-profit leaders is the challenge of recruiting enough volunteers. When organizations post volunteer roles and no one applies (or the right people don’t apply), they lament that nobody volunteers anymore. Can you imagine what would have happened if Betty Crocker said “nobody bakes anymore” after its first cake mix failed?

When a successful company realizes they have a product no one wants, they change course and figure out what will make it desirable to the customer. Or they pull it altogether and develop a completely new product.

In the not-for-profit sector, we are excellent at asking if our programs and services are of value to the people we serve. Let’s start asking the same question about our volunteer roles. Are the roles you’re offering desirable to the people who want to volunteer with you? Have you developed the right roles to attract the talented people you want on your team?

We started this same conversation in 2006 with A People Lens Discussion Paper on the benefit of transforming your volunteer opportunities to attract and engage skilled professionals. Unfortunately, seven years later we still haven’t witnessed a significant shift. Search through the more than 600 volunteer roles currently available on and you’ll see the majority do not engage people’s unique skills or expertise.

Like it or not, you are in a competition for talent. If you want to win, you must begin with an understanding of what people want from their volunteer experience. The most talented people want a high-accountability, mission-critical role where they can contribute their unique skills and expertise.

Try the same tactic as Betty Crocker: don’t make it too easy. Make it feel worth the investment.

About the Author

Annastasia Forst contributed her creative and analytic work ethic (not an oxymoron) to Vantage Point as a past Director of Learning. She is passionate about working with many talented knowledge philanthropists to develop, deliver and evaluate Vantage Point’s board and executive leadership...


Bob McInnis's picture
Bob McInnis (not verified) on

Until you break the egg and let it ooze through the mix it doesn't add richness and cohesion to the batter. The application of some heat and some time creates the miracle of turning goo into oooh.

Until you create a relational space where all the talent can mix, you never know what an egg can bring to the mix. There needs to be open, trusting, accountable space for the ingredients to work together and if in the end you have a bad egg, getting rid of it quickly will maintain quality.

As with most recipes, the best cooks/bakers are adaptable and able to substitute for missing items for a time and on occassion the substitute creates even better batter and the recipe changes.

Annastasia's picture
Annastasia on

Thanks Bob for continuing the analogy with such insight! I agree that you have to create the right conditions for all of the talent to mix together. It’s the culture of the organization that equals the conditions. Is the culture one that values ALL the people - salaried employees, board members and knowledge philanthropists (volunteers) - as equal yet different contributors to the cause? Does the culture value people’s talents by developing the right processes and procedures to best capture that talent and align it to the mission of the organization? Is it a culture that provides a meaningful experience for all?

And I agree one bad egg can ruin the whole thing - that is why accountability is so important in a culture that values people’s talent. When someone is not performing, the organization quickly frees up that person’s future in order for them, and the organization, to find a better fit elsewhere.

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