Are You Ready to Recruit Volunteers?By Lori Tsuruda
With a chance to involve new volunteers, nonprofits should take steps to prepare to take full advantage of this unprecedented opportunity #147; and avoid disillusioning potential volunteers. (To learn more about United We Serve, click here.)
Volunteers are positive contributors, primarily the means by which our charities connect personally with our communities beyond our paid staff and client bases. Volunteers provide leadership, skills, connections, and fund raising expertise on our boards and beyond, as well as carry out important, hands-on work that furthers our missions. They are the unpaid proponents of our causes, as well as our donors.
Recruiting volunteers is just like recruiting paid staff, except there is no financial compensation or tangible benefits as incentives. Getting ready to recruit requires:
A positive organizational culture motivates and retains staff and volunteers, reflects values, and addresses basic, motivational needs such as:
If youre unsure where to start, consider your ideal volunteers, where you would find clusters of them, and what would attract them. Test, adjust, and retest your marketing messages and position descriptions on people who are potential volunteers but dont yet know your organization.
The process of matching the best volunteer to each position can be staff intensive, and yet delays can significantly diminish volunteer interest and enthusiasm. When the number of potential volunteers increases, inefficient processes quickly shut down.
How do we identify promising prospects rapidly? I encourage local charities to develop short, get to know us” opportunities like open houses and one-time volunteer projects. Potential volunteers show up, learn about a charity firsthand from staff and exemplary volunteers, take a tour, and ask questions to learn more about a cause, organization, and volunteer needs. Later they may work on a mailing or basic task like bussing tables to demonstrate stronger interest and reliability. Then invite these pre-qualified candidates” to apply for volunteer positions using a structured application that forces them to select specific positions based on availability, skills needed, etc.
Follow up good, initial paper matches with standard interviewing and reference checking geared toward unearthing wrong” answers that are red flags for exploitive or other potentially unproductive views. Dont be afraid to reject a candidate (graciously and kindly!) when qualifications are not a good match for your agencys needs, and dont compromise the responsibilities of your positions unless youre willing to do so for all volunteers.
Assuming theres a strong match, place and train them. Use a probationary period and check to see how things are going for the new volunteer and his/her supervisor. Find out whether the position is what the volunteer (and supervisor) expected, and whether some responsibilities or marketing messages need to be adjusted. Continue recruiting to address your agencys needs. Reassess periodically and repeat.
Lori Tsuruda, founder and executive director of People Making a Difference and president of the Directors of Volunteer Administration, assists charities and companies in building successful community involvement programs through hands-on projects. Call her at 617-298-0025 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: July 2009