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Fishing for volunteers

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Question:

What are three key tips for recruiting volunteers?

Answer:

* Determine the type of recruitment needed

One of the best volunteer management experts, Steve McCurley, groups recruitment approaches into three categories – warm-body recruitment, targeted recruitment, and word-of-mouth recruitment.

The “warm-body” technique is most useful when you need lots of people with no particular skill set on a short-term basis, like general staffers for a charity golf tournament.

The best way to find these warm bodies is to post printed materials anywhere large groups of people gather, run public-service announcements, and mention the need at any public-speaking engagements.

But when few people exist who can do a particular job, the targeted-recruitment approach is necessary.

First, define carefully within your organization what type of person you’re looking for. Then think about what would motivate this person to get involved.

The best volunteers make the best recruiters, so always make sure you encourage them to get out there and tell their story.

For jobs that are particularly challenging to fill, word of mouth can be the best approach.

For example, at the Alexander Youth Network in Charlotte, N.C., we had a “Mentor One, Recruit One” strategy to replenish our extensive mentoring network.

This sort of strategy will provide a steady stream of volunteers if cultivated religiously. One weakness to this approach is that your volunteer base can easily become a little too homogenous.

* Decide how to communicate volunteer needs

It is important to communicate with different populations in the ways that are most meaningful for them.

With younger crowds, your message needs to be high-tech, flashy and immediate, while with seniors a more traditional approach is warranted.

Also, pay attention to language and jargon. “Volunteer” as a term is unoriginal and overused. Try something creative, like “Experienced Fisherman Needed” to attract men for youth mentoring relationships.

Make sure you use images in your advertisements that help people realize, based on what they see, that there would be a place for them in your organization.

And consider how friendly your organization is to volunteer prospects. Be sure that it is easy to reach volunteer service staff directly by phone, email or walk-in.

It’s important to look for volunteers in a wide variety of places and have several different volunteer referral systems.

Make use of the many great volunteer-matching websites out there. Also use local peer systems, communicate your needs to other nonprofits, and maintain relationships with your local media and press.

Finally, track how volunteers find your organization. This will tell you which recruitment strategies need improvement, as well as where you might want to strengthen ties.

* Develop a recruitment strategy

A well-designed volunteer-recruitment strategy should have three components — using targeted publicity, placing your organization in the public eye, and cultivating the interest of targeted groups and volunteers.

Ideally, your task team should include a mix of volunteers, coordinators, staff who will work with volunteers, and management staff.

Written job descriptions and procedures for orientation, training, supervision, evaluation and recognition are a must. Be very clear about what you want volunteers to do, and if there are parts of the job that can be tricky or stressful, let people know up front.

Also explain the benefits they can expect.

This written document can be a work in progress, but it’s important to have something established from the beginning.

— compiled by Elizabeth Floyd


Beth Jones is a volunteer management consultant based in Charlotte, N.C. She works with nonprofits like Hospice and the Public Library to help them effectively utilize and mobilize volunteer resources.

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