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How to Recruit Volunteers from Start to Finish

Author: Tatiana Morand
September 9, 2019
🕑 13 min read

Carrie, a volunteer coordinator at a youth services organization, was having trouble finding enough volunteers.

She had an open call on her organization’s website, and kept running a blurb about volunteering in the newsletter.

A few times a year she’d have a booth at a volunteer fair.

And that was her entire volunteer recruitment process.

Seems like a problem, right?

The issue was that creating a recruitment process kept getting knocked down further on her to-do list.

“I’m so busy staffing our tutoring centre, and helping the volunteers I do have solve problems, that I can’t find the time to actively recruit more. I know I need to do it, but I don’t have any established process,” she said.

And from what I’ve seen, a lot of would-be volunteer recruiters are in the same boat: they know they need more volunteers, but don’t know how to go about getting them.

That’s why I’ve created this post: so that other organizations who are in the same boat as Carrie can have a volunteer recruitment plan to follow. Once you reach the end of the post, be sure to check out the volunteer recruitment checklist for a quick summary of the key steps we outline here.

Here are the steps that go into preparing a strategy:

Planning For Recruitment

If you’re new to volunteer recruitment, or if your organization doesn’t have a formal process in place, you’ll need to do a little planning before you launch that first volunteer job posting.

This includes answering questions like:

1. Who Will Recruit Volunteers?

If you don’t know the answer, it’s very possible it’s, “Nobody!”

Without deciding who should do it, volunteers go un-recruited — just like at Carrie’s organization.

If your organization has a staff volunteer manager, that person should be leading the charge.

Likewise, if you have a volunteer who coordinates volunteering opportunities, that person is a likely recruitment leader.

But if no one person is responsible for volunteer recruitment, consider gathering your existing Event Committee Chairs or your Board of Directors to establish a volunteer recruitment team to help identify, screen, orient and manage event volunteers.

In addition, depending on the number of volunteers you need and the roles they will fill, you might want to consider dividing up the recruitment tasks among a number of people.

For example, if there are several committees for an event, perhaps each Committee Chair can take responsibility for recruiting their own team (e.g., Publicity; Registration; Logistics/
Venue; Silent Auction; etc).

2. What Are Our Volunteer Needs?

To help promote an optimal experience for the volunteer, as well as for your organization, it’s important to define specific volunteer assignments or roles.

If your organization has been around for a while, you’ve probably got this covered. If not, though, here are a few questions for you to consider.

3. Where Do We Need Volunteers?

For day-to-day operations? Special programs? A specific event? For example, for an event, you might need volunteers for program development, registration/ticket sales, publicity, and logistics. For day-to-day operations, you might need a combination of office and field volunteers.

And don’t forget to keep an open mind. Even if a volunteer doesn’t immediately seem to suit your organization due to their schedule, you might be able to find a task that’s previously been neglected that they can take on.

“There is a job for everyone,” said Nancy Byars Trofemuk Kistler, the volunteer coordinator at the Academy for Classical Education. “Weekends, nights, take home jobs… you can find something for everyone!”

4. How Many Volunteers Do We Actually Need?

If you’re building a house, you may need a whole crew.

But if you’re supplementing the staff at your local library, you may only need 4 to 5.

The number of people you need will influence how you go about recruiting them.

5. What Skills Are We Looking For?

Public speaking?

Office skills?

Tech pros?

Do you need volunteers who can lead teams, speak on behalf of your organization, or work independently?

It’s important to be clear about what you need, so that you’re not wasting your time or potential volunteers’ by talking to people who aren’t the right fit.

One important factor to consider is also the amount of time they have available.

“Most organizations find short-term volunteers frustrating, but I think that we have to meet people where they are to fulfill the needs of the organization we serve,” said David Fulton Fondren, Volunteer Coordinator at Southern Pines Animal Shelter.

“Knowing that I work with a high volume of these volunteers, I try to make impactful volunteer opportunities that are accessible for “joiners.” This means they require little training or oversight and that there are accompanying signs or materials that are specific in what we want from the volunteer.”

6. What is Our Recruitment Strategy?

There are several approaches to recruiting volunteers, each suited to different types of volunteer opportunities.

  • Mass appeals work when you need a large number of volunteers, but don’t need them to have any special skills. Sometimes called “warm body recruitment,” the goal is to attract as many people as possible. Tactics include publicizing your call for volunteers in the media, posting your message on all your communications channels, sending mass emails, and putting a sign out in front of your building.
  • Targeted recruitment seeks to make contact with people who have specific skills you need.  Tactics include reaching out to groups like professional associations, university programs, or clubs to find individuals who want to share their expertise.
  • Networking uses the relationships of your existing volunteers to find more, using tactics like informal referrals and more formalized mixers or networking events. This works best if you’re just looking for a few volunteers, or know that the people who already work with you have the skills you need.

However, before setting out to recruit anyone, think about your organization’s goals.

What positions do you really need to fill right now?

For example, when Carrie really thought about it, she needed seven more volunteers for the tutoring centre, and someone to help with maintaining student records. Eight people seemed like an achievable goal.

Then, she chose to target her recruitment to students in their third year of university and retirees — the volunteers that she currently worked with in those demographics were the ones most likely to stick around and have the skills she needed.

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How You Can Actually Start Recruiting Volunteers

Recruiting volunteers doesn’t usually require creating a lot of new material. With a section on your website and a good volunteer job description, you can go a long way.

Adding Positions to Your Website

For many potential volunteers, your website will be the first place they look for information. Make it easy for them to find out about volunteering, which roles are available, and how to get involved. Simplify your application process so they can complete it online, without waiting for someone to call them back, or send them more information.

Creating a Volunteer Job Description

People like to know what they’re getting into. Volunteer job descriptions make the expectations clear, and help organizations ask for the help they really need. They also make it easier for volunteers to connect with the roles that will be most meaningful to them.

Your volunteer job description should include:

  • A title. Give the role a name, like “Tour Guide” or “Office Support,” or “Tutor”. That will make it easier for volunteers to list it on their CV later, and provides a good overview of the role for anyone scrolling through quickly.
  • Necessary qualifications or experience. Does the person need a driver’s license? A/V experience? Experience working with kids? That way, people can eliminate themselves right off the bat if they don’t have the requisite skills.
  • Specific responsibilities and typical tasks. What are the major features of the role? Again, this can people decide if the role is suited for them before you go through the interview process.
  • Time commitment. When do you need them? For how long? Is this a long-term assignment, or a one-day commitment?
  • Supervision. Who oversees the role? Who is their contact person within your organization?
  • Benefits. What does the volunteer get out of this?

For example, for Carrie’s after-school tutors, the volunteer job description might look like this:

Afterschool Tutor

If you like kids and have completed two years of university, why not become an afterschool tutor?

Afterschool tutors help students with homework and teach them study skills and other academic success strategies twice a week at our tutoring centre. Must be available from 3PM-5PM, Monday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, and willing to commit to a semester.

This position reports to our School Services Coordinator and is a great opportunity for someone who wants to be a positive role model to a small group of students. Current university students and retired educators encouraged to apply!

How to Target Potential Volunteers

What’s scarier: asking a total stranger for some of their time, or chatting to a friend of a friend about open opportunities at your organization?

Most people would say the latter.

The good news is that many of your future volunteers are probably already marginally connected to you.

They know someone you know, are in the neighbourhood, or frequent the same events or places that your organization does.

They’re former donors, friends of your club members, and people who care about your cause.

When you think about recruitment more as connecting with these people, instead of as convincing complete strangers to give a chunk of their time to your organization, it seems a lot more possible, doesn’t it?

So, before you launch a full-scale publicity campaign, reach for the lower-hanging fruit: the people you know.

Did Someone Already Volunteer?

Sometimes organizations without a recruitment process still get offers from people interested in volunteering. If you’ve collected names and contact information, now is the time to get in touch. Reach out to past volunteers, too. They may be ready to come back.

However, if there is no pre-existing list or database of volunteers, you’ll need to develop one going forward by creating a process for gathering and storing this information. This could involve creating a volunteer application form, a volunteer database or at the very least, a spreadsheet.

Look Within Your Immediate Circle of Influence

Have each recruitment team member create a list of potential contacts, from among their:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Co-workers
  • Neighbors
  • Community members (religious organizations, clubs, sporting teams)

Publicize Within Your Network

If you’re having trouble identifying enough volunteers within your immediate circle, consider:

  • Writing a newsletter article or a post on your organization’s blog or forum
  • Posting a request on your social media platforms
  • Posting a compelling video or photos of last year’s event on your FB page and ask for new recruits (follow up with anyone that “Likes” your post)

To reach out to suitable people within her organization’s network, Carrie switched up her newsletter piece.

Instead of her usual blurb about volunteering, Carrie proposed that the communications director at her organization interview a few of her existing volunteers about what volunteering meant to them.

The communications director was thrilled to have the content, and the volunteers felt honoured to be asked.

Even better?

After the newsletter was published, Carrie received several emails from people interested in volunteering!

Broadening Your Circle

If you’ve surveyed family and friends and still come up short, you might need to widen your search to include:

  • Putting an ad in your community newspaper
  • Posting a request through your municipal or state/province volunteer centre
  • Posting a request at a local high school, college or a student volunteer centre
  • Signing up with a volunteer-matching site like VolunteerMatch

Targeting Specific Skills or Needs

If you need to find volunteers with specific skills or experience, you may need to look beyond your close circle. For example:

  • If you need volunteers with, for example, skills at website development, PR or social media skills, you could target local businesses by offering them a sponsorship opportunity.
  • If you’re hosting a silent auction or other fundraising event for the first time, you might want to find out who has been involved in other similar events in your community (such as an auctioneer or a member of a service club).
  • You can also consider whether a local company might be willing to organize its employees to assist with your event as a corporate initiative.

Once you’ve started working with other organizations, they might also be able to recruit their connections.

David said, “Connecting with Greek Life organizations can provide a stream of volunteers as well as support for larger events. For example, I asked one of my Phi Mu volunteers to help me recruit mile attendants for my shelter’s sponsored mile on a marathon.”

The Next Step: Applications and Screening

So, you’ve started recruiting and gotten a few responses.

What’s next?

Before you proceed, it’s wise to get a little more information.

An informal interview or a formal application will help both the organization and volunteer get the relevant details about each other and set appropriate expectations.

You’ll want to:

  • Introduce the organization and outline the event or program that needs volunteers
  • Describe specific volunteer roles, including time commitment and tasks
  • Discuss the person’s past volunteer and/or professional experience
  • Determine what role might suit this individual, based on their interests and qualifications
  • Explain the next steps toward volunteering
  • Answer questions or provide a contact person for questions

At several organizations I’ve worked for, there have been more formal volunteer interview processes, some of which even asked for references. However, I’ve noticed that this process is usually for more specialized volunteer jobs, or ones that deal with vulnerable populations.

Others, that have been hiring for roles like manning a booth at the state fair, have had a much simpler process. It really just depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for, and on the type of person you need.

Following Up With Potential Volunteers

If you applied for a job and hadn’t heard back in a month, you’d probably assume you hadn’t gotten it — and keep looking elsewhere.

This is true for volunteer positions as well. If you wait too long to get back to potential volunteers, they’ll take their time and talents elsewhere.

That’s why it’s so important to clearly communicate your timeline for making decisions about volunteer assignments.  It shows volunteers that you value their time and contributions — meaning they’re likely to start off on a much better foot and speak more highly of your organization.

With that in mind, here are a few things all potential volunteers should learn.

Tell Them Your Decision

Once you’ve made the decision about who you are bringing on board as volunteers and which roles they’ll play, you’ll need to inform them. Email or call to welcome them and confirm their role.

And what about the people who aren’t quite right?

It’s not as much fun, but you must also contact these people to explain you will not be moving forward — it’s not fair for them to have to wait and wait without getting a response from you. Thank them for their interest, and if they take it well, you can offer other ways to get involved with your cause. If the timing just wasn’t right, you can also offer to contact them again in the future, or ask them to reach out in a few months to see if there are opportunities more suited to their skills.

Confirm What They’ve Signed On For

In addition to notifying volunteers that you want to work with them, you should confirm the volunteer commitment through an email or letter that reiterates the job description, time commitment, relevant dates and times, and contact person at your organization. Again, this sets clear expectations for everyone.

Outline the next steps they’ll need to take to start volunteering. Introduce them to your volunteer orientation process, and any other training they’ll need to complete before they take on their role.

That way, there won’t be any misunderstandings about timing and they’ll know what’s required at every step of the way.

Get Them All Set Up

Think about your first day on the job.

Were you thrown into the deep end right away? Or did you have a little time to learn the ins and outs of your new job?

For your sake, I’m hoping it was the latter – and if it wasn’t, then just think of how much easier those first few days would have been if you’d had some time to settle in.

The same is true for new volunteers, and that’s where a volunteer orientation comes in.

Volunteer orientations give new volunteers an overview of your organization and an understanding of how their help fits in.

It can also help them feel included in your community, and get excited about their role.

While orientation sessions will differ depending on the volunteer job tasks, here is an overview of the type of information you might want to include in your orientations:

  • An overview of the organization – its mission, vision and values
  • Description of the program or event and its objectives (show a video, photos, etc.)
  • Outline of the specific volunteer job and tasks
  • Details on planning – schedule of meetings, activities, list of responsibilities, etc.
  • Information on resources that pertain to their role, necessary record or document keeping, and support systems.
  • Confirm their contact information.
  • Complete any necessary paperwork like waivers or media releases.

Something I’ve also seen other organizations do — and quite successfully — is integrate a mentorship program into their orientation.

“We have a Mentor Program where we recognize the more committed volunteers and ask them to interact with other volunteers, teach and share,” said Jeff Blazewicz, volunteer coordinator at the Monmouth County SPCA.

Even better, this can also help with volunteer engagement down the line.

“I also go through my list each year (sometimes twice) and reach out to those who have not logged any hours in the past 9 – 12 months. I get many people who have faded away and just need a jump start to get back into the program,” he added.

For a complete guide on how to get new volunteers set up with your organization, check out this article, as well as this checklist of everything you need to do to welcome your new volunteers.

Volunteer Recruitment Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Once she got started, Carrie found that creating a recruitment process wasn’t as much work as she’d anticipated.

By defining the specific opportunities, refining her tools to emphasize them, and targeting her recruitment efforts, she was able to recruit new volunteers fairly easily.

With effective planning and volunteer management tools in place, the volunteer recruitment and retention process should be streamlined and less stressful. Soon, you’ll be bringing in a steady supply of new people who are excited to get involved with your organization!

Read More: Why You Might Need a Volunteer Newsletter + 3 Templates

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