For anyone working in volunteer recruitment and coordination the challenge of finding people who are willing to give up their time is one they will be familiar with. Equally challenging can be keeping volunteers engaged and motivated with ready-to-go tasks and events. In this piece we take a look at some strategies for volunteer recruitment and why it is so important.
The best way to recruit enthusiastic and committed volunteers of all ages is to have a simple, clear, and worthy mission that everyone knows. ~Judy M. Judd, Plowshares Peace and Justice Center
Why volunteer recruitment strategy is so important
In any volunteer organization you are going to have high rates of attrition and drop off. Sometimes this is a natural attrition, but sometimes it is as a result of the volunteers just not being engaged by the mission. Either way the outcome is the same with a need for constant recruitment to make up the numbers. Volunteer drives should be year round and part of all volunteers mindsets when they are engaged in the community.
For many nonprofits and community groups there is a huge focus on fundraising but equally important is the idea of ‘skills-raising’. It can be more efficient and create a better team spirit if volunteers are recruited for their skills as opposed to just shaking a donation box on street corners. Every volunteer will come with life experience and the ability to run social media, build a website, manage finances, plan, strategize, etc. In other words you should think about volunteering as far more than just warm bodies on the frontline.
Every new volunteer into your organization brings new energy and commitment. It is important to harness that energy and welcome it as an addition to the overall motivation and morale in the group. Find a way to let new volunteers voice their enthusiasm for everyone else, whether that is a group meeting or a zoom call or a social media channel. Existing team members and volunteers will feed off that excitement and get new ideas for campaigns and engagement in the community.
Knowing exactly what you are looking for in a volunteer and wording your opportunity accordingly is important. Be specific and know what skills are required for a volunteer role and you will help make sure the task is accomplished and the volunteer feels successful in their effort to help your organization achieve its mission. ~The Sunshine Foundation of Canada
Top 5 tips for volunteer recruitment
1. Volunteer personas
Firstly, build a picture of a typical volunteer profile or persona. You might want to outline what a volunteer persona gender, age, occupation and outlook is like. Maybe where they live online and offline and how they are motivated. Having a volunteer persona means you have considered how to engage this person, where you might find them, how to recognise them quickly. Volunteer personas can also be helpful for thinking about how to onboard and active them when they do commit to your organization.
Make current volunteers the face of the organization. That allows the potential volunteer to think to themselves, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” “ ~Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange Country, NY
2. Relational recruitment
Your most important assets in volunteer recruitment are your existing volunteers. Go offline with your recruitment and build on the relationships that your team members already have in the community. They know who else might be interested in volunteering and they will be far more convincing in bringing new volunteers in. This method of recruitment called ‘relational’ builds on personal connections but is made possible by tech. Make sure your volunteers have an app for inputting new volunteer information so the organization can simply onboard anyone who has agreed to volunteer at, say, an event, or just having met one of your team members socially. The huge advantage here is that it is word of mouth recruitment and it is always-on. New volunteers will have then additional advantage of being able to buddy up with the person who recruited them when they join. Using an app like Ecanvasser Go [pictured below] you can easily recruit new people when they express an interest at events or in the community.
I frequently let my current volunteers know when we need additional help and ask them to spread the word among their friends. Good people generally hang around together, so this usually works pretty well. I also have a 24-hour turn-around rule. If someone contacts me about volunteering, I get back to them no later than 24 hours after they contact our organization. This doesn’t allow time for their enthusiasm to cool off. ~Joan Malley, Harbor House
3. Amplify on social
Get the message out there regularly on social media that you are looking for volunteers. This can best be done through your own follower networks and making sure that followers reshare to their personal networks. In this way you will reach far more people and it will come with an implied endorsement from the person who is resharing. Alternatives to this social media outreach are to either push the request out using promoted posts or a simple social media ad. This will get you the reach and can be very targeted based on geographic area, interests and even job roles. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin all have affordable options here. Finally, you might ask partner organization to put the call out on their social channels, especially if they have a wider social network. Remember to be clear in your messaging what it is you are looking for and why. You need to present your organization mission, why it is important, and what you are looking for from volunteers in terms of time commitment, tasks and skills needed.
Asking followers to repost or retweet opportunities gets the word out to hundreds or thousands of potential volunteers in an instant. Not sure how to get started? Recruit a volunteer to set up your accounts and send messages for you! ~Elizabeth Meyers, Alexandra House, Inc.
4. Onboarding plan
The worst possible situation is that you recruit new volunteers and then you don’t have any plan for them. The energy is sucked out of the new arrivals and they drift away dissatisfied. Having a plan for what happens after recruitment is essential. Your onboarding plan for all volunteers should be uniform and include an orientation, outline of expectation and a mentoring system. Typically, volunteers can be viewed on a ‘ladder of engagement’ where they move through certain tasks and work their way up to leadership positions in the organization taking on greater responsibility and mentoring others through the process. There are many templates for volunteer onboarding but it is important to get a record of volunteers’ skill sets and what they are willing to contribute in terms of time and abilities. It is also important to have a schedule of tasks and assignments if possible that the volunteer will commit to and be tracked on a software or scheduling system. With this mentoring and scheduling system in place volunteers will feel they are contributing and can see ahead of time what is required of them.
5. Autonomy for volunteers
Finally, there is always a lot of talk about showing gratitude to volunteers for their commitment but it is perhaps more important to empower them. Volunteers are the bedrock of your organization, not just people to do things for you. Giving ownership of tasks and the strategy and tactics employed is something that can be managed by the mentor system. Buddying new volunteers up with team members means you can direct them to take initiative [many of them will want to] without them going off on tangents or working against the organizational mission. The mentor system can monitor initiative but check it if it is moving in the wrong direction. Similar to the snowflake model outlined below volunteer programs need to balance autonomy and control with mentors/local managers.
Bonus tip: Using tech
As with all organizations the best ones build a movement from the ground up rather than a top-down prescriptive approach. Volunteers and volunteer recruitment is essential to that movement building. We hope that this guide provides you with some ideas for recruitment and we are happy to talk to you about using Ecanvasser to manage this process. Our volunteer management software helps you to onboard and map out where your volunteers are. Simple mobile apps in the hands of your existing team are great for general community outreach but are fantastic for recruiting new people at that moment when they express an interest. This capturing of interested party’s emails or phone numbers then puts them in an onboarding workflow that brings them into the organization quickly.You can build unique chapters of your organization with local autonomy, thereby empowering local activists to run things in their own area. And you can see where volunteers are clustered so you can identify where your strong areas are and what areas you want to target with recruitment drives next. Digital organizing is built on real-world foundations with Ecanvasser and our mission is to help you build connected communities no matter how big or small your organization is.