Give them a reason to spend their time
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You have decided to make a difference in your community or society in general. You start out as either an “army of one” or a group, but as you progress, you realize you need help. You have two options: winging it or going about finding them in a more strategic way. At its most basic level, volunteer recruitment, just like its for-profit equivalent, is about finding the right person for the right job.
This means you
- should know what that job is/what you need
- should know who the best person for that job ideally is
- make sure you vet people wanting to fill that position
If this sounds like recruiting for a “real” job, this is pretty much what it is. The only difference is that you can’t pay anybody, and that more often than not have to be proactive (as in, don’t be shy) in getting the right people for the task.
Be proactive. People liked being asked to volunteer. Announce why and when your group needs volunteer help, but invite your best leads personally. That doesn’t mean you personally have to do all of the recruiting. What it does mean is that you will find the best people first through your personal network, and then through people connected to somebody you have already asked to help you.
Don’t know anybody? Well, then it’s time to start investing time yourself some place. No person is an island, and networks aren’t built over night.
Work with your group, friends or family or board to create a list of individuals you feel would work best for you. Be sure you can tell them about yourself and what you are trying to accomplish (in other words, have at least an elevator statement version of your mission), and then ask them to volunteer.
Once they respond, ask them what they enjoy doing, but also tell them what you need, and try to match both of these up.
Volunteers for Life
We are going to talk about volunteer retention at length in that chapter. However, keep in mind that retention needs to be built into your relationship from the get-go. In other words, create a relationship with new and old volunteers that will make them want to come back. Treat them as if they are an employee of your group or organization. Manage them with respect, provide feedback and empower them to have a rewarding experience.
Remember, the only thing that distinguishes a volunteer from an employee is that the volunteer is not being paid. They truly choose to be there.
Start recruiting volunteers as early as possible. If you ask an individual to volunteer and they say no, don’t take that as a permanent, finite rejection. Their schedule may not permit helping out just now, or they may feel that it is not a position they’ll enjoy. Ask their permission to keep them on your mailing/contact list, and ask them when they would prefer to be contacted again.
Find the Right Person for the Job
You may feel like you can’t turn anybody down who wants to help you. That is wrong. As mentioned above, volunteers are in essence employees who are not paid, so it is important to screen them to make sure that they are the “right fit” – for you, and for the job. You want that person who is as passionate about what your group does as you are. Sometimes a volunteer spot is better left empty, rather than filled with a person who is just there to fill the spot.
People will look at the title of the position as if it were an employment opportunity. Provide as much detail as possible so your potential volunteer knows what they are signing up for. Even “retirees” like to be recognized with a named role as they often bring substantial career experience through their work for you.
Make it Easy to Sign Up
How easy (or hard) are you making it for your potential volunteers to reach you, sign up or get updates? Always make it fun and easy for people, even if you keep in mind that certain tasks or events may demand more scrutiny or have liability issues to be dealt with. If you make potential volunteers jump through too many hoops or don’t take the time to make them part of your team, they will simply move on.
Some (potential) volunteers want lots of hours and/or have lots of energy. Others may have little time to spare, but they still want to do something. If you only provide a short list of volunteer opportunities requiring one type of engagement, you are losing out on a lot of people who might have been interested in working with you.
Always Follow Up
Even if you don’t have something available for a potential volunteer, at the very least send them a message thanking them for their interest and letting them know you will put them “on the list” and that you will be in touch as soon as you have an opening/project/task which may be of interest. And then do precisely that, or at least at some point reach out and let them know they are still on your radar.