10 strategies for recruiting active volunteers

Group of people sitting and talking.While you know volunteers can benefit your program, the task of recruiting them can seem challenging. No doubt, people view their time as a well-guarded, precious resource. Volunteers need to see that their making a positive impact not only in their community, but also in their own quality of life.

When seeking volunteers have a conversation with your team about what skills you need and the time commitment volunteers should expect to make.  Eliminate the “no one asked me to help” excuse.  People want to feel wanted, appreciated and constructive.  Here are some things to consider when recruiting volunteers:

1. Start with a plan

Outline the direction you’re looking to go in. Craft a plan and assign people to specific areas that will make the plan run smoothly. Share this plan with volunteers to let them know you’re organized in your initiative and how their tasks fit into the bigger picture.


2. Be clear about the time commitment

Volunteers have a universal fear that they’ll get roped into an unreasonable time commitment, so be clear about the amount of time you’re expecting them to commit to. 


3. Ask for a small commitment first

People are more likely to agree to do a more involved task if they're asked to do a smaller task first. For example, before you ask someone to join a coalition, ask for suggestions for a venue for the kick-off event or help with spreading the word about the program.


4. Match their skills with assignments

Volunteers tend to leave, according to the 2003 Volunteer Management Capacity Study, because their skills aren’t being matched with assignments, their contributions weren’t recognized, or they weren’t trained and invested in properly.

For example, if you recruit a graphic designer to be a part of the team, but assign the task of developing a flyer to someone without design experience, they may feel underutilized. People feel good when they can take ownership for their work. They want to know that they’re making a difference. Give them goals and let them play a role in achieving the project’s mission.


5. Remove potential barriers to participation

Acknowledging common concerns such as lack of confidence in their ability to contribute, fear of safety, transportation issues, or any myths or misconceptions, may make people feel more at ease about committing. Think about what might prevent someone from becoming involved, and implement strategies to remove those barriers.

For example, if you’re recruiting younger volunteers, they may feel more comfortable working in a group of people their same age. Make sure you have some tasks they could work on as a group. Also, if someone may need childcare, identify ways they could help when childcare is available, or projects they could work on from home.


6. Make them feel appreciated

Once you find volunteers make them feel welcome and appreciated.  They want to know their time has helped make a difference. 

For example, invite everyone to form a friendly environment and encourage employees to interact and connect. Show volunteers they’re appreciated by hosting a potluck lunch celebrating their accomplishments, or by acknowledging their efforts at events.


7. Offer an orientation

Consider offering a brief orientation to explain your mission and ease all concerns.  An orientation is useful if you have a large group of people that will be doing a similar task, such as facilitating the conversations or setting up the room for an action forum. That way you only have to explain instructions and answer questions once. If you have volunteers that are assigned different kinds of tasks, an orientation can be a good opportunity for them to meet each other, feel a part of a team, and learn big picture goals. 


8. Share stories of other volunteers

Sharing stories of peers who have volunteered can increase the chance of potential volunteers committing. Tap into the compelling nature of “social norms” by letting interested people know their peers are volunteering. This could be as simple as letting them know other people their age or from their neighborhood have already signed up to volunteer. Show them they share common ground with other people to enhance comfort.


9. Highlight the positive

Remember to focus and reiterate what it will take to be successful as a group. Turn negative statements into positive ones.

For example, rather than saying “In the past we’ve lacked committed community involvement,” you can say, “Let’s get our community involvement to an all time high!”    


10. Communicate what's in it for them

Keep in mind that you’re not the only one benefiting from having volunteers – the volunteers also gain valuable skills and relationships from working with you. When you’re recruiting new people, be sure to communicate those benefits. It’s important to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Here are some potential benefits to volunteers:

  • Increased skill set: According to the 2000 National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 79 percent of volunteers said that their volunteer experience enhanced their skill sets.  Those skill sets include interpersonal skills, motivating others, handling difficult situations and understanding people.  On top of that, 68 percent of volunteers felt more confident in their communication skills. 
  • Gaining employment: Such skills can be a tool in gaining employment.  A number of volunteers have reported that their experience helped them obtain employment.  One can essentially take a “test run” on a career without making commitments. If you know someone is interested in exploring a new career or wants to add some experience to their resume, tap into that desire when you’re recruiting them.
  • Building relationships: An inevitable degree of relationship building and networking opportunities occurs while volunteering. 
  • Try something new: We all learn and grow from tackling new challenges, and volunteering offers a break from our routine.
  • Make an Impact: Volunteering can be a way to get involved with something they’re passionate about.  Let potential volunteers know they’ll make an impact in a way they’ve always wanted to but never knew how.

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