Regular readers of this blog will know that I mainly write thought leadership articles on important and timely issues for volunteer engagement professionals. Every now and again, however, I like to throw in a more practical, how-to, post.

Buried away on my old blog site, I found an article from 2015 exploring five top tips for recruiting volunteers. When I re-read it, I felt it needed editing to improve it (everything can be improved!) and it deserved a new lease of life on the current blog. So, here it is, and I hope you find it helpful.

1. Target

A common mistake people make when recruiting volunteers is implying that anyone could do the role you require filled.

It’s a technique that can work, but is only really appropriate for roles where the only criteria for being a good volunteer is you have a pulse, here why it is often called warm body recruitment!

For any other roles, I always recommend you target, target, target.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do you want the volunteer to do? It’s a question that’s frequently ignored, or very little time gets spent on it. Make sure you give proper attention to the things you want volunteers to do so you can answer the next question.
  • Who would be the ideal volunteer for this role? If you need a driver, then you want people who can drive and who probably have a clean licence. Maybe they also require access to a car. If the driving is to collect furniture for a charity shop, then the person likely needs to be fit and healthy to cope with the lifting. Get as a specific as possible. Avoid saying anyone can do it. That may be the case for some roles, but if you segment that broad audience into categories, you will be better placed to answer the final question.
  • Where are you likely to find them? Avoid the clichés like advertising in doctors’ surgeries and libraries unless you think the ideal volunteer is likely to be found there. To continue our driver example, why would you want a driver who’s at the doctors? What leads you to think you’ll find drivers hanging out at the library? Where might you find fit and healthy drivers? If you need them during the day, where might they be?

2. Ask

Once you’ve got your target group identified, do not forget to actually ask them to volunteer. Sounds stupid, I know, but research consistently shows that people who don’t volunteer feel like they haven’t been asked to give time.

Ask, ask, ask.

Keeping asking.

And when you’re done, ask some more.

Don’t just recruit a couple of times a year. A potential volunteer may see that recruitment ask but not be available when it’s made. Three months later, that person can give you some time, but you’re not asking any more, and they’ve forgotten you ever did.

3. Sell

Please, no adverts for volunteers that say, “Help! We need volunteers”, or “Help! We urgently need volunteers”. That approach stands out (in the wrong way!) from all other forms of advertising by selling what you need, not by explain how a product (in this case, volunteering) will make the buyer fitter, happier, healthier, more attractive etc.

Sell your volunteer opportunities like a business would sell its products. Focus on the benefits of someone volunteering, not the features. When we buy something, we don’t just look at what it can do, but how it will help us. Same with volunteering — show people how volunteering will meet their needs, don’t simply tell them what they will do or how desperate you are for help.

Oh, and please don’t generically say ‘make a difference’ when recruiting. Everyone says that. Why would I make more of a difference with your organisation than another one? If you want to say your volunteers will make a difference, then say what difference they will make, and how it will be of benefit to them.

4. Respond

At this point, nobody has actually become a volunteer. All you’ve done is clarify what requires doing, who would be the ideal person to do that, and then communicated your offer to them. Hopefully, people will respond. Hopefully, the ‘right’ people will respond, saving you countless hours wading through unsuitable applications.

What happens when they do?

Do they get a speedy response (including outside usual working hours) thanking them for their interest in volunteering, explaining the next steps and being clear about timeframes? Or do they hear nothing as their enquiry vanishes into an over-full inbox until someone get rounds to responding, maybe a week or two down the line? Do they get a friendly voice on the phone or a disinterested, over-worked colleague who doesn’t even know about the organisation’s need for volunteers?

Far too many times potential volunteers get the disinterested colleague, or they wait for days for an email reply. Volunteer Managers then claim nobody wants to volunteer, or it’s getting harder to recruit.

Put simply, if you are going to ask for some of people’s precious spare time, make sure you have the capacity to provide great customer service to them when they do get in touch. Make use of simple tools like out-of-office email and voicemail messages, so people instantly know when you’ll reply, and when that might be. Check out volunteer management software that can automatically email people who apply with a welcome message.

5. Scale of engagement

The days of people signing up for regular, long-term volunteering on day one are pretty much gone. That was true before the pandemic and is even more true now. People don’t thrill to that kind of commitment any more. This is often misinterpreted as the days of long-term, committed volunteering being over.

I disagree.

We can get people to make the kind of regular commitments we want, but we have to be patient and plan for it. We need to offer a scale of engagement, with regular, committed, long-term volunteering at one end, and shorter term, flexible, bite-sized, easy to access opportunities at the other. Then we then start them at the easy end and, as we get to know them, we try to encourage them to move up the scale. It may take weeks, months, or even years, but some volunteers will climb the scale to give you the committed service you desire.

By the way, this approach can also be great if your volunteers have to be criminal record checked before they start volunteering. If you have some quick, easy, time-limited opportunities available then they can get stuck into those whilst the result of the check is pending.

So, there you have it, five quick tips on recruiting volunteers. 

If you’d like to get better at volunteer recruitment, then Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd can help. Get in touch today for more information.

Now it’s over to you. What are your top tips? Please share them below.


Find out more about Rob and Rob Jackson Consulting Ltd on the website.

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