Baby Lion

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I was shopping at my neighborhood co-op yesterday when I noticed a flyer pinned to the bulletin board. I don’t usually stop to read the apartment listings, tutor wanted signs, and ads for used kitchen items, but this flyer was different. It was bright yellow and it featured a picture of the cutest lion cub the world has ever seen being fed from a baby bottle. I was so taken with the cub’s expression (he was almost smiling!) it took me a minute to notice what the flyer was advertising. When I did (it was a flyer for Amanzi Travel, a wildlife and community improvement-based voluntour company) I had something of an epiphany. Why aren’t more volunteer companies using local community meeting places to advertise their programs?

This was the first time I’d ever seen an ad for volunteer travel at the co-op. This is a place where the most socially conscious and concerned people in the city gather on a daily basis. These are people who care about eating organic food, supporting local farms, and preventing pollution and waste. This is a place where groups meet before they head out to work on community service projects. The co-op even holds night classes to learn about things like becoming an activist, the history of civil unrest, and international conflict. This is the ideal international volunteer population! Sure, commercial companies can’t just travel the country plastering community meeting places with their advertisements, but surely there are some legitimate ways they can go about tapping in to this prime volunteer demographic.

Davis Food Co-op

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Then it hit me: sponsorships. Co-ops are community owned and operated enterprises. As such, they are always in need of sponsorships from businesses that support their philosophy. Many of them publish newsletters in which they prominently feature their sponsors. Many of them also function as community organizing centers (like I mentioned above) where people expect to find information about how to make the world a better place.

Natural Foods Co-Op

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There are so many volunteer organizations that focus on community building. Why not help build community locally in order to inspire motivated people to help build community on a global scale? In the case of non-profits (many of which don’t have the capital for monetary sponsorships) partnerships can accomplish the same goals. Partnering with a co-op means offering lower prices to co-op members. In exchange, non-profits find strong, dynamic volunteers. These are hard workers—farmers, builders, and educators—people who could bring so much experience to a volunteer project overseas. I’m no marketing expert, but from where I’m standing, this seems like a match made in heaven.

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