Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Five tips for recruiting volunteers

Regular readers will know I mainly use this blog to look at topical or important issues facing the volunteering field. Every now and again I like to throw in a more practical, how to, post so here are five top tips when it comes to recruiting volunteers.

1. Target

A big mistake people make is to recruit by indicating that anyone could do the role you want volunteers for. This is sometimes called warm-body recruitment because the message put out is that anyone can volunteer, so long as they are alive.

It’s a technique that can work but is only really appropriate for roles where really the only criteria for being a good volunteer is you have a pulse. For any other roles, target, target, target.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • What do you want the volunteer to do? It’s a question that’s often ignored or very little time gets spent on it. Make sure you give proper attention to the work 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 need access to a car. If the driving is to collect furniture for a charity shop then the person probably also 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 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 old staples 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 or 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. 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. I may see that recruitment call but not be available then. Three months later when I can give you some time you’re not asking and I’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 is all too common an approach and it stands out from all others forms of advertising which explain how buying a product will make us fitter, happier, healthier, more attractive etc..

Sell your volunteer opportunity 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 not just tell them what they will do or how desperate your are for help.

Oh and please don’t say “Make A Difference” when recruiting. Everyone says that. Why would I make more of a difference with your volunteer programme than someone else’s? 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 it clarify what needs doing, who would be the ideal person to do that and 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 might a disinterested colleague answer who doesn’t even know about the organisation’s need for volunteers?

Far too many times potential volunteers get the disinterested colleague or the 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 absolutely sure you have the capacity to provide great customer service[1] 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. Check out volunteer management software that can automatically email people who apply with a welcome message - we recommend Better Impact.

5. Scale of engagement

The days of people signing up to regular, long-term volunteering on day one are pretty much gone. People don’t thrill to that kind of commitment anymore. 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 offer a scale of engagement, with regular, committed, long-term volunteering at one end and shorter term, bite-sized, easy to access opportunities at the other. We then start them at the easy end and, as we get to know them, we try and encourage them up the scale. It may take weeks, months or even years but some of the 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 DBS / criminal record checked before they start volunteering. If you have some quick, easy, time limited opportunities available they can get stuck into those whilst the result of the check is awaited.

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.

  1. For more thoughts on customer service and volunteer management take a look at my previous blogs on the topic. You might also want to read more of my writing on recruitment.  ↩