District Diplomats Program

Having volunteers is a necessary part of downtown revitalization. Even if you are a staff-led program (which most of us aren’t), you need volunteers for festivals and other projects throughout the year. Having enough volunteers can be a challenge – having the right volunteers can be a difference maker.

A program that was very successful for our organization when I was an Executive Director was the District Diplomats program. Modeled after a Chamber Ambassador program, this was a group of people who were recruited to serve in this specific role, essentially becoming brand champions for the organization.

The concept, and our implementation of it, is not new. It is, however, extremely impactful. To start, we limited the program to 25 Diplomats, and specifically recruited people who were:

  • Not on the board of directors
  • Connected to the organization but not wearing multiple hats already
  • Ideally business owners or VP-level employees

This ensured we were getting people who were capable, and ideally influencers not only in their business but in the community.

Our Diplomats became an extension of our staff, helping us stay up to date on businesses in the district, communicating our message, and even recruiting sponsors. While we met monthly, we tried hard to not let the monthly meetings become a one-way update, but rather a two-way conversation. It was an opportunity for them to weigh-in on things, or sometimes just get a sneak peek of things to come. They could then go back to their businesses, or their blocks, and help get people excited about what was to come or let them know what opportunities exist with The District.

To make it a little more fun, we added a point system which some of the diplomats really got into. This became a friendly competition and they would work to out-do each other, all while benefiting the organization. It was truly a win-win.

Rather than just telling you about this successful program, we wanted to give you some tools that you can use to start or update a program of your own. The first tool is our registration form. It’s a standard form – one that you may already have – no need to spend time discussing that.

The second is our invitation letter. This spelled out what they were signing up for and set the tone for the program to come. It was a good introduction to becoming a District Diplomat and let them know what our expectations of them were and what they were really committing to.

Lastly is our points system. We started the points as a way to add some friendly competition and “gamify” the program. We had a number of Diplomats who had no interest in the points. They wanted to work to support the organization and the points didn’t matter to them. There were others who made it a contest with their friends so they wanted to get as many as possible. Either way can work, it’s figuring out what will benefit your organization the most.

In hindsight, there are a few key takeaways of the Diplomat program that I think led to our success:

  • Getting the right people – not your current do-everything volunteers, but those who could grow into them.
  • Build camaraderie – this program worked when they felt like a team, and they shared a common goal of growing the organization
  • Don’t have them do menial tasks – You’ve recruited important people, give them important tasks.
  • Don’t overwork them – it’s very easy when you build a force like this to use them for everything. However, they aren’t meant to supplant your organization’s board of directors, committees, or other volunteers; they are there to supplement those groups and to help you grow the organization.

The results for us were fantastic. Volunteer hours obviously skyrocketed, but we saw more engagement from businesses throughout The District, not just those represented by Diplomats. We even saw new sponsorships come in as a direct result of the diplomats. They became a powerful tool for our organization, and they continue to be today.

If you would our materials, fill out the form to the right and the files will be emailed to you!