9 Ways to Improve Volunteer Recruitment

How to Recruit VolunteersStanding behind the success of just about every nonprofit is a group of volunteers who are passionate and committed to the organization with which they spend their time. In fact, if you develop an amazing volunteer program, you’ll have a waiting list of individuals wanting to work with your acclaimed organization. What is the secret to improving your volunteer recruitment efforts?

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Guided by the words of Gandhi, I too felt my mark was best left while in service to others. It is the most gracious work one can do.

Volunteers are attracted to their work for the value it provides. To create a desired experience for volunteers, there must be a number of positive elements in play. Here are nine tips to improve your recruiting and help you retain volunteers.

  1. Prepare your Program with a Clear Vision and Extensive Plans

Volunteers are the best ambassadors for your brand. Give them the tools to promote you well. Your organization needs to clearly define the program and expectations. Volunteers are giving their time, talent and energy to your institution, and they need to know the purpose. You need your volunteer program to be an experience, and a coveted one at that. If they don’t feel productive, they won’t come back.

Have a long-term vision for the program, then develop a mission to define the purpose. Most importantly, have well executed policies and procedures. Take advantage of various times of the year when it is more common for volunteers to come aboard. When people come in to help around the holidays, offer incentives for them to stay on year-round.

  1. Develop an Experience, and Make It Unique

The modern philosophy is experiences over things, and volunteers know this. Create an experience for them that is special. Curate the experience with pleasant work surroundings, competent managers, reasonable schedules, and meaningful work. Clearly outline volunteers’ responsibilities, and keep it consistent and interesting. Recognize their work and remind them of the positive outcome from their help.

  1. Diversify your Roster

Did you know that 80% of nonprofits are staffed by volunteers? Everyone can bring something unique to the table. For the sake of you, the employees, and other volunteers, diversify your volunteers. There are many types of people who want to help an organization, and it is best to get a little bit of everything to create the best environment for growth. This is for practical purposes as well.

Some younger volunteers may be more willing to work later shifts or lift heavy things. Older volunteers may be more dependable and have more connections for the organization. Depending on your cause, you will attract varying skillsets and individuals. Get a mix of young and old. The younger audiences are great to harness for their social connections. They can help spread the word and involve their friends.

  1. Show Appreciation for the Volunteers

Volunteers are not paid in money, but they are paid in experience and connections. They deserve widespread appreciation for their work. Make sure you have at least one person in charge of volunteer experience and appreciation. It needs to be a priority if you want to retain and recruit volunteers. Allow the volunteers to participate in plans for their own events. This shows you trust them, and will increase morale within the volunteer experience.

Develop a strategic plan for rewarding volunteers to show recognition. The most common method is the annual volunteer thank you luncheon. Another more frequent option is a volunteer of the month. As volunteers become more comfortable, grant them more responsibility. Acknowledge the increase in responsibility as earned, and thank them for it.

  1. Define Role Responsibilities Clearly

Clearly communicate your expectations of volunteers. It is vital to articulate job descriptions for your volunteer positions. There needs to be someone in charge of coordinating volunteers because they have different rights from employees. This person can facilitate questions from volunteers and act as a liaison to others in the organization on the volunteer’s behalf. Make sure the coordinator constantly refines the roster for volunteers, in order to attract the right ambassadors for the brand.

  1. Give Volunteers Value in Their Work

Always reiterate the impact of the volunteer’s hard work. Do not just give the volunteers menial tasks. The busy work is okay occasionally, and some individuals prefer this work. The more you invest in them, the more they will invest in the organization. Make their experience a rich one, and give them the space to be creative with the job they do. People value a position more if they feel they authentically contribute in a meaningful way.

  1. Create an Enjoyable Work Environment

When you can capture the heart of a volunteer it is invaluable.  When you lose the heart of a volunteer you will never recapture it. Support the volunteers to make their experience a social one. Encourage them to bring friends, and get others involved. This is particularly useful for the younger volunteers. They want to help, and if they can enjoy the company of friends, they will be more likely to consider it a social experience.

They will sell the message of your organization to their friends if it resonates with them. This is where the investment of educated brand ambassadors is critical because you are recruiting other potential volunteers, too. It is a win-win.

  1. Leave Opportunities for Growth

Some individuals want to volunteer for the sake of volunteering, while others look to it as an opportunity for growth within the organization. As you see volunteers gaining confidence in their roles, check in with them. See where they are at, and if they want to take on more responsibility. If so, a good method is to enlist them to train new volunteers.

You can also schedule outreach events where volunteers can spread the word about your program and organization. Colleges, classes, schools and activist events are great methods for your brand ambassadors, aka volunteers, to share your organization’s message.

Give them opportunities to develop special skills so boredom does not occur. Keep in mind, some individuals might have begun as a volunteer with hopes to become an employee. If they do not want a paid position, they just might want more of a leadership role as a volunteer. Communicate with them about their expectations.

  1. Partner with Other Organizations

Partner with other organizations to get the word out. Pair your events with affiliate programs to educate individuals on your mission and recruit future volunteers. Reach out to people when they first move to a community. Welcome them to let them know your organization exists. Make them aware without being pushy.

It is best to plant the seed in people’s mind about your organization, then wait for them to come to you. It must be from their own volition; otherwise they will not be as invested. If you have dispersed an in-need message and have a good reputation for volunteers, people will be drawn to you. Long-term volunteers have a huge investment in the organization’s mission. After a great experience as a volunteer, word will spread. Do good and good will come help you.

Employing a Social Media Strategy to Supplement Volunteer Recruitment

Nonprofit Social Media StrategyWith the expectation of immediacy in the digital age, it’s no surprise over 75% of American adults use social media.  As millions connect daily, social media has become cross-generational and a part of everyday life; those same millions using it to gather daily news and connect with social causes.  If harnessed correctly, social media can be the perfect medium for any non-profit organizations volunteer recruitment arsenal.  Like most things though, having a well laid plan is necessary, otherwise much of what social media has to offer will be squandered.  Considering the amount of technoliteracy required, simply charging the Millennial to post content on social media isn’t a strategy.  Adversely, being of an elder generation isn’t an excuse for not having a strategy either.

Volunteer administrators are tasked with recruiting, training, staffing, and acknowledging volunteers.  At many non-profit organizations, the function of recruitment is reactionary, with volunteer administrators responding to emails, answering phone calls and arranging meetings.  Employing social media allows those recruiting, to be proactive by opening new doors, enlarging the organization’s social network, and increasing the likelihood of onboarding new volunteers.  Keep in mind though, every detail from the content, channels you post on, when and how often you post needs to be intentional with a designed purpose.

Understanding the purpose is first determined by knowing the ‘why’ of the social media strategy.  Whether the goal of the strategy is to generate support for an event or to create a virtual community among volunteers, knowing this goal will shape ‘how’ it’s accomplished.  The ‘why’ in this particular case is converting virtual followers into volunteers.  For those just starting out, focus on one goal at a time to maximize results before implementing more advanced practices.  Focusing on more than one campaign can diminish your social return on investment (ROI), conversion rate of followers to volunteers and your message consistency.  Because this process needs to be Inclusive to other programs within the organization you’ll want to avoid creating a strategy on your own.

Start by conducting an audit to set a benchmark:

Using publicly available data, measure your current social media metrics and set a standard.  But don’t stop there, compare your metrics against likeminded organizations.  Include your information technology (IT), webmaster, and communications staff in the conversation.  Social media engagement needs to be cross-functional to successfully engage the many social circles that exist. As a collaborative group, create guidelines to measure ROI.  Be sure to consider the following;

  • Measure website traffic.  Work with your webmaster and determine current traffic rate before implementing the strategy.  Continually measure the change in traffic as time progresses.  Websites with a social media presence experience nearly 55% more traffic than those without.  
  • Followership and social reach.  Determine current rate of new followers per month.  This only works by having authentic followers (not bought and paid for) on social media.  Over time, monitor this to see if there’s an uptick in followers.  Building a network of authentic followers will create a community around your organization’s brand.  Followers connected to your organization will advocate, share, repost and comment on your content.
  • Frequency of posts.  Each social media channel has an optimum posting frequency rate.  Measure your efforts against current industry standards, using that as a starting point.  Identify what works best, readjusting frequency as needed based on audience feedback.  Finding the optimum post rate will allow for increased visibility of content, while mitigating risk of ‘content shock,’ or audience fatigue from over posting.  
  • Social media is about interaction.  Go beyond ‘numbers’ and dissect the feedback you receive.  Be cognizant of language used by the audience when engaging and compare this over time to quantify effectiveness.  What you say about your organization may (or may not) be what others are sharing through their social networks.  Keeping interaction conversational with followers will humanize your organization’s virtual presence, creating authenticity and trust.  It will also allow you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s being shared about the organization.

After the audit, plan the deliberate outreach to the targeted audience:

When focusing on volunteers (current and potential) you’ll want to research and understand the population you’re trying to convert.  Pay attention to their demographics and where they reside on the social web.  Different populations have a tendency to use certain social media channels.  Conduct research and seek out the populations you desire.

  • Collect demographics.  Send surveys and conduct deep dive of publicly available information about current and potential volunteers.  Gather age, gender, location, education, profession, and their sources for news.  Collecting data will allow you to segment your outreach and better understand your audience, resulting in stronger virtual connections.
  • Use analytic tools.   Monitor click rates and capitalize on how people engage.  Consider using Google analytics (similar applications) or paid ads that allow you to track and analyze data.  Adopting analytic applications will let you quantify and assess the degree in which your audience engages.  This allows you to see what resonates with your audience and hone in on what works.  

Creating content with consistent branding:

While consistent messaging is important, also consider the way it’s reinterpreted by the audience.  Social media is largely ‘social,’ so focus on making the virtual connection.  Be sure the recruitment strategy is on message with the overall strategic plan of the organization.  Content and logo use should be within the branding and style guidelines that exist, but may need to be modified, allowing engagement to be conversational.  Consider color schemes, images, videos and nomenclature.  Add keywords for search engine optimization (SEO).  Tone and voice should be such that it reaches the broadest audience while being relevant and engaging.  Using images and videos will keep your message brief, concise, and visually stimulating, keeping your audience captivated.

Employ an editorial calendar and a dashboard:

Use an editorial calendar to plan content that’ll be used on social media and traditional marketing channels.  Plan the types of posts, who’s assigned to content creation, due dates and when to publish.  Coordinating content, will ensure material is regularly posted for your audience.  Be sure content creation and editing are congruent with current organizational branding and style guidelines.  Here’s a great editorial calendar template by CoSchedule.com that can be used as a starting point.

After you set up an editorial calendar, save yourself a tremendous amount of time and schedule your posts in advance using a dashboard.  The employment of a dashboard will allow you to schedule posts on multiple channels simultaneously, collaborate with other team members, analyze results (usually a paid feature), and simultaneously track several campaigns.  Research the use of dashboards carefully, as some allow integration between Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook, but some do not.

Social media should be used to augment (not replace) traditional means of marketing and outreach.  Don’t forget incorporating social media into existing marketing tools.  Integrating social media into your website, publications, email newsletters, events and promotional booths will bring your social media presence outside the social web.

Adopt staffing roles and shared responsibilities:

Because social media takes place 24/7, managing interaction will present challenges.  Unless there’s full-time staff whose job is to manage social media, you’ll need the support from others who can commit time to monitoring engagement.  Achieve this by assembling a team that can dedicate time to posting and interacting with followers.  Ensure team members have visibility of what the others are doing.  Create an environment that encourages information sharing to prevent duplication of effort, while facilitating true collaboration.  Until your organization can determine significant ROI of your social media strategy, responsibilities of social media management will be a team effort.  In the meantime, the team can work on attaining buy-in through shared management.  Sum the hours of shared responsibilities, painting a picture of how much dedicated time is necessary to do this successfully.  Only after there’s buy-in from leadership will a dedicated staff member be considered to manage social media.

Initiating engagement and listening to feedback:

Be social.  Interact with followers who post and share your content.  Like the act of volunteering, the virtual connection should focus on the experience through virtual engagement.  Be deliberate with your message while being conversational.  Assign a real person (not an auto responder) who can reply promptly while using discretion.  Below are some tips to do to this effectively.

  • Transcend formal discussion.  Conversational engagement will humanize the organization’s web presence.  Go the extra mile and nurture back and forth dialogue that’s honest, authentic and transparent.  This will create an intimate and positive conversation, keeping your followers engaged and enthusiastic.
  • Capitalize on the engagement.  Create chat sessions, Facebook groups and hashtags that allow followers to provide feedback, advice and commentary.  Both successes and failures exhibited by the organization will be noticeable based on what people share through their social media.  By creating and owning these outlets, you can post content to drive conversation in a direction advantageous to your goals.
  • Post in real-time.  Take advantage of social media and post updates in real time while at events where volunteers are serving.  Like a conversation between two people, volunteers will document and record their good (and bad) experiences, sharing them through virtual conversations.  If those you’re engaging have a good experience, the conversation that follows will take care of itself.
  • Properly tagging others.  ‘Tagged’ followers often times receive an alert notifying them of engagement and will in turn respond, creating conversation.  By tagging others, you allow the conversation to be tracked.  If it’s not tracked, you lose an ability to analyze the data using third party applications.
  • Listen and continue cycle:  Follow the conversation and analyze engagement through the entire lifecycle of the strategy.  Use the data to periodically audit the process, making adjustments as needed.  Feedback from engagement will contribute back into the process of auditing, setting new benchmarks, targeting and segmenting the audience, generating future content, staying in tune with supporters and strengthening the virtual relationships.

For many including myself, it’s hard to remember a life without instant access to the digital world.  But in the grand scheme of things, social media is relatively young in age when compared to other marketing tools.  There’s a reason traditional marketing tools have stood the test of time.  While social media isn’t a ‘fix’ or something to be solely relied on, it’s one of the fastest growing social circles for collaboration with an estimated 20 million new users projected over the next five years.  For non-profit organizations that have a limited advertising budget, little visibility and few staff, social media can offer an outlet that levels the playing field against the 1.5 million other organizations competing for the same attention from volunteers.  Like starting anything from the bottom, it takes dedicated time (give it an hour a day), deliberate action, fine tuning and most importantly, patience.  As your audience grows, so will your conversion rate of authentic followers to volunteers.


Effective Volunteer Training Focuses On Behavior

Great Tips on Setting Up a Volunteering Program & Training“You don’t solve other people’s problems for them, it is hard enough to handle your own.  You don’t save another person’s life, you help him or her get through a moment, this moment, now.”

This is the opening statement used in the training program for new volunteers applying to become hotline staff for the Samaritans Suicide Prevention Center in New York City, a role that, should they satisfactorily complete the  program, will result in their taking some of the 85,000 calls Samaritans responds to each year from people in crisis.

Besides setting the tone that will be utilized in the 32-hour intensive training to follow, the statement presents the potential volunteers with Samaritans’ philosophy and approach and, most importantly, the behaviors the organization requires from those who will, ultimately, be on the front lines providing our emotional support and crisis response services to people who are depressed, experiencing trauma, self-harming and suicidal behavior.

This focus on behavior is at the heart of Samaritans training—in both our hotline volunteer programs as well as the professional development training we have done for over 40,000 lay and professional health providers in New York City and environs over the past 25 years.

It is based on our own experience—as part of an international suicide prevention network with over 400 centers operating in 42 countries that have responded to tens of millions of people in crisis over the past 60 years in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa—as well as communications theory, research studies on rapport-building, stigma, at-risk individual’s resistance to seeking care and, dare I say (though in this evidence-based world this is an unpopular comment),  common sense.

Basically, we have learned that if people who are in distress are not comfortable with you, if they do not trust you, if you cannot communicate clearly with them; it does not matter how smart or caring or well-intentioned you are.  You are not going to be in a position to help.

Added to this is the fact that working on a confidential 24-hour hotline is akin to an extremely challenging professional job, just in this case the work is performed by people who do not get paid (think nurses who volunteer at hospice centers, volunteer fire and rescue team members, emergency service and disaster responders).  So the need for the individuals who are to staff the 24-hour hotline to be punctual, attentive, focused, accountable and able to follow directions, whether they understand them or not, is paramount.

Therefore Samaritans training does not wait to see how volunteers will perform once they have the position, we simulate and replicate that environment in training class.

The need for a behavioral-focused approach to training is by no means unique to Samaritans though we are, admittedly, very demanding of our volunteer staff due to the nature of our work.  But the fact is that many executive directors and volunteer coordinators of charities and nonprofits will admit in quieter moments, off the record, that though the enthusiasm and motivation of volunteers is extraordinary (frequently better than their paid counterparts), it is a tremendous challenge to separate the individuals who are sincere and devoted and are able to help within the confines of the organization from those who (whether they realize it or not) are more focused on helping themselves.

Most volunteer applicants when being interviewed will say that they are responsible, punctual, team players, open-minded, etc., but determining which candidates can actually behave that way is a necessity throughout both the recruitment and job training process.  I have met countless executive directors and volunteer program managers over the years that have expressed their envy of Samaritans’ ability to provide 24-hour hotline coverage 365 days a week, all with un-paid volunteer staff.  “How do you do it?” they ask.

The answer?  “We remove people who come late to training class.”  It’s that simple.

“I couldn’t do that,” they reply.  My response, coming from a business-focused cost-benefits perspective (for at the end of the day, no matter how wonderful the cause we represent, we are only going to be able to help people if we run an effective business): “So, what is it costing you in time, paid staff, organizational resources if you cannot count on volunteers to do their job?”

Our belief, and 30 years of training over 3,000 hotline volunteers confirm this: If you cannot get to training on time for a job you say you want; if you cannot be responsible and follow directions; then it would be a mistake to “hire you” to do the job when it counts.  And that is not to be cynical or negative, for volunteers are the lifeblood of Samaritans and have been since its inception in the early 1950’s, a period of time that we have collectively answered tens of millions of calls from people in crisis.  In fact, I began as a hotline volunteer over 30 years ago, which led me to change careers and become associated with some of the finest people I have ever known.

But not every person who wants to work in a certain environment is a good match for that organization and its needs.  This is true in the volunteer sector, as it is in the academic and corporate world.  Otherwise, I would be a world-renown jazz guitarist and no one would be reading this piece.  People have different strengths and weaknesses, different capabilities and it is up to the training program and the staff who implement it to do the best they can to match motivated candidates with the organization’s mission, focus, image and services.

So, again, at Samaritans, we find that it always comes back to behavior; and that is a thread that runs through our volunteer recruitment, training and, ultimately, individual performance evaluations.  We find that people who are able to satisfactorily practice certain behaviors tend to be successful in our environment and those who can’t, no matter how nice, well-intentioned, educated or sincere, do not.  You are either part of the problem or part of the solution, said a famous social activist.

The ability to communicate effectively, a behavior that plays a significant role in the functioning of every nonprofit volunteer organization, as well as the services they deliver, is a prime example.  Over the past 25 years, I can tell you that, almost without exception, every person who has applied to be a hotline volunteer has started out considering themselves to be open-minded, non-judgmental and a good listener.  I can also tell you that, after the first day of training, almost every one of them was in utter shock to learn how self-directed their communications were, how many assumptions they made and how much they tended to talk instead of listen.

The same is true with the behaviors of being collaborative, a team player, having a good attitude.  We have learned over the years to utilize exercises, roleplays and interactive discussions into the program (some of them using natural work teams; others, actor-trainers; still others, tools used in survival training, corporate communications, Zen practice) to see how people respond to simulated job environments.  These are easy behaviors to confirm in good candidates and even easier to identify in those who do not exhibit them or present the opposite—the monopolizers, the proselytizers, people who get sullen when they don’t understand something, the constant hand-raisers who interfere in a program’s progress, etc.

Every organization knows from experience what behaviors and attitudes work in their environment and which undermine and compromise.  Identifying them, creating environments where they can be played out and tested, where people can be viewed interacting individually, on a small team level, as part of a larger group; these exercises reinforce the behaviors and attitude an organization wants people to practice as well as uncovering those individuals who struggle with them (and may need additional help) as well as those who just don’t fit in.

Parallel to the behavioral aspect that is a thread throughout the training program, there is a step-by-step process that takes the candidates through the information and skills they will need to utilize to do the job.  On that front, as we begin, we make sure to tell every participant that they are all starting at the same level and it does not matter what their individual background, education or experience is.

Practicing the positive and accepting behavior we preach, we say: “If you just approach training with a positive attitude, participate in the exercises and follow directions you will get through this program fine.  Don’t worry about it, we are here to help.  But you must do the work.”

Then we start with the basics.  For the communications module, we define listening.  We draw diagrams showing that our focus is always on the receiver of the message, not the sender.  We outline what a declarative sentence looks like (because, whether you like it or not, the average American college graduate has an 8th grade reading level).  We use practice pairs (like exercise partners), we do drills (like music teachers having students practice scales), we utilize team exercises where they do group problem-solving (reminding them that everybody plays).

We work cooperatively and collaboratively and have assistant trainers observe who works well together and who does not.  After every exercise we debrief as a group, providing an outlet for their feedback and for them to express the challenges they are dealing with (and we observe these behaviors as well).  We explore together how things went, what was effective and what was not and what we need to work on.  We joke about how it felt going to the gym for the first time believing we needed to get in better shape, only to learn after the first workouts what really bad shape we were in.

We balance being serious with being light-hearted, constantly reminding people this is a process and not to look over their own shoulder, that we are nowhere close to evaluating anyone.  We are just working together, doing our best to practice the behaviors we know are the key to doing hotline work effectively and remind them that everyone has gone through this process and they need to go through it, too, but we are going to help them every step of the way.


Volunteer Management – Firing a Volunteer

Volunteer Management Firing a VolunteerMy last article “Tips to Having an Excellent Volunteer Program” assumed that volunteers were competent and cooperative. In my experience, most volunteers are.

But in the real world, an occasional volunteer is neither competent nor cooperative.

What are your options?

Begin by taking steps to improve performance. In nearly every case, it is more productive to improve performance that to take steps to fire a volunteer.

Every volunteer (and paid worker as well) should have a supervisor. It makes no difference whether the supervisor is paid or not. Each special event, for example, should have a chairperson, and the individuals undertaking the various tasks to make the event successful should report to the chair.

The first way to improve performance is for the supervisor to recognize the unacceptable performance and tell the volunteer how to improve it. For example, the volunteer may have had an important task e.g., driving an individual to a doctor’s appointment, and the volunteer did not show up. The supervisor quietly should tell the volunteer that in the future, if the volunteer has an assignment they can not make, they must notify the supervisor at least one day in advance.

If the inappropriate behavior continues, the supervisor should document the behavior in at least three instances. Then the supervisor asks for a private meeting with the volunteer.

The supervisor begins the discussion by specifically noting the three instances of unsatisfactory performance. The supervisor does not use negative words but just describes the behavior. “Last Tuesday afternoon, you screamed at a client” or “You were late for your Monday assignments at the day care center the last three Mondays.”

The supervisor then tells the volunteer what acceptable behavior would look like. In many cases, the volunteer will state that the behavior will improve. The supervisor then thanks the volunteer and ends the meeting.

In other instances, however, the volunteer refuses to change behavior.

One option would be to give the volunteer a different assignment. “You can not drive the children to the day care program any more but we would be pleased if you
would assist the teacher in reading to the children on Tuesday mornings.”

As a last resort, the supervisor must “fire” the volunteer. Before doing this, the volunteer must again be given an opportunity to improve performance. However, if the volunteer refuses to change, the supervisor must tell the volunteer and confirm in writing that “You can no longer volunteer to assist in the day care program.”

Remember the general rule. The volunteer represents the agency the same way the paid worker does. Unacceptable behavior should not be tolerated.


Helping Hands: Volunteer Management Deconstructed

Volunteer Management  - Nonprofit TipsVolunteers aren’t paid; not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless. As funding streams tighten and more non-profits rely on volunteers, it’s crucial that organizations are able to find the volunteers they need, keep them coming back and track their contributions appropriately.

Whether you’re looking for a receptionist, marketing extraordinaire or friendly face for the seniors’ program, how you recruit your volunteers has a significant impact on whether you’ll find the volunteers you’re looking for.

1. Be clear and realistic
In your position description, have you clearly defined what you’re looking for, not just in terms of skills and experience, but time commitment too? 67% of Canadians don’t volunteer because they feel they don’t have the time to do so. Be sure to articulate honestly how much time, how often and over how many months, you expect the person to volunteer. Whilst evaluating this, it’s essential to be realistic and flexible in your expectations. Attempting to recruit a communications guru with 10+ years’ experience to volunteer three days a week at your office for the next year may not be likely as someone with such experience will likely be working during office hours and with a busy schedule, hesitant to commit for such a long period. Additionally how well explained is the position? Does the potential volunteer know what they’ll get out of it? That by volunteering as a Raffle Ticket Seller they’ll be taking part in your biggest fundraiser of the year and helping to raise $30,000 for a reading program that’ll give Adult Learners crucial literacy skills? Try asking a friend or colleague to read over the position and honestly say whether they’d be interested in doing it. If they wouldn’t, it’s unlikely the average person will want to either. Their feedback will help you improve it and better articulate the position. Avoid being misleading though!

2. Tap into local networks and events
Your local volunteer center is a great place to start as typically when people are looking to volunteer, if they haven’t already got a certain organization in mind, it’ll be their local volunteer center that they go to to be pointed in the right direction. Also volunteer fairs are a perfect way of getting in front of people who are already thinking about helping out. It doesn’t have to stop there though. Social media, your organization’s website, your newsletter, speaking at local schools, reaching out to different organizations are just a few ways of encouraging people to volunteer at your organization.

And don’t forget word of mouth is still one of the most effective ways of advertising. Do your current volunteers and colleagues know about your most urgent volunteer needs? Ask them to help you spread the word.

3. Finding not your Average Joe
If you’re looking for someone with a specific skill that the average person doesn’t have – e.g. fluency in Dutch, Martial Arts teaching skills, ability to knit, extensive computer programming experience – be prepared to do some targeted outreach in specific communities and networks. Try local community groups, schools that teach that skill, professional associations, retail stores that the people may tend to frequent, to reach the types of people you are looking for.

Retaining volunteers
The search is over. You’ve now interviewed and recruited the perfect person for the role. Now, you just have to hope they stay…

Firstly, low volunteer retention isn’t always a bad thing. Do you know why your volunteers are leaving? If not, ask! If the most common reason is that they were originally job seeking and have been offered a job, such situations can’t be avoided and your volunteer opportunity may well have contributed to their recent job success. However, in a situation where they have chosen to leave for reasons other than change of circumstances, it may be worth looking into your retention activities.

A good place to start is knowing why each person has chosen to volunteer with your organization and what they hope to get out of it. A volunteer who wants to add to their resume to help them move up the career ladder and a volunteer who is simply looking to make friends and social connections will expect different things. Determining their motivation should be built into the recruitment process and revisiting it during periodic evaluations between the volunteer and their supervisor can be useful in ensuring they are getting what they want from their volunteering experience.

Additionally creating an atmosphere where the volunteer feels included is essential. Knowing how their tasks help the organization achieve its mission is important, especially when the volunteer is not working directly with the organization’s clients and cannot see the immediate benefit of their time and efforts. Finally, whilst volunteer recognition should be an ongoing part of your volunteer program, specific times like National Volunteer Week are a great time to do something special for your volunteers and re-emphasize your appreciation.

Keeping track of your volunteers
As the number of volunteers your organization works with grows, using Excel spreadsheets to capture information from volunteers’ contact details to their assigned shifts will become increasingly tedious and inefficient. Fortunately there are a range of volunteer management websites and software packages available to help you with the scary beast that is tracking volunteers information and hours electronically. Deciding on which system is for you will depend on various factors including how many volunteers you’ll need to track and your organization’s budget, but here are a few free websites to get you started: Volunteer Spot (http://www.volunteerspot.com/), Your Volunteers (www.yourvolunteers.com), Big Tent (www.bigtent.com) and My Charity Manager (www.mycharitymanager.com).  And if you’re able to spend money on a system, it’s worth taking a look at TechSoup Global and Idealware’s detailed report on Volunteer Management Systems which compares six of the most popular systems available http://idealware.org/volunteer_management.

Once you’ve decided on the software that’d right for you, keeping on top on things like scheduling volunteer shifts, sending volunteers reminders and tracking hours for those all important reports will be a piece of cake.

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