Volunteer Recruitment: Connect, Inspire, Engage!

photo of Dan Davis

by Dan Davis, DANA Engagement Manager

Does this sound like your organization? The same small group of volunteers do all of the work, and no one new has joined the group this year.  We were supposed to set up a table at a community event this weekend, but no one is available to work the table.   Dave has been fundraising chair for three years and is ready for a different challenge, but there’s no one to replace him.  Developing a passionate, diverse, and engaged group of volunteers can be a Herculean task for many volunteer-based organizations, even though they’re necessary for the organization to survive and thrive.  Consider how your organization can better connect, inspire, and engage with volunteers to drive your organization’s mission forward.

Connect

  • Avoid the “shotgun approach” when asking current volunteers for prospective new volunteers. Many of us have stood in front of a room and asked “Do we know anyone who can…” only to be met with shrugs.  Have meaningful one-on-one conversations with your current volunteers, then ask them to tap into their network to find the help you need.  Ask your current volunteer to set up an opportunity to meet with the prospective volunteer. This takes more time but is more rewarding.
  • Put yourself out in the community. It’s the only way to meet new people!  When you have a great conversation with a potential volunteer at a community event, be sure to ask for their contact information so that you can follow up.  Don’t wait too long to reconnect; prospects with the time, talent, and willingness to volunteer often have multiple organizations who would love to engage them.  Make sure that you engage them first!

Inspire

  • Connect with your prospective volunteer on a heart-to-heart level. What are they passionate about?  Are there challenges/problems in the community that the volunteer wants to help solve? Many people volunteer because they want to be part of the solution to a challenge the community faces, so be prepared to help the volunteer understand how participating with your organization makes them part of the solution.
  • Heart-to-heart means that you’re sharing your heart too! Share what inspired you to become a part of your organization- if you can sincerely share why you are passionate, that will inspire passion in others.
  • Are there memorable stories or moments that have occurred during your time with the organization? Collect photos and testimonials to help the prospect visualize the change they can help make if they devote their time and talent to your organization.

Engage

  • Your ideal role for a prospect might not always be the role they end up taking. You might have a conversation with an accountant because you know you need a finance chair, but it turns out that they look at numbers all day as a professional and don’t want to look at numbers as a volunteer too.  Perhaps your accountant wants to spend their volunteer time feeding and playing with the shelter dogs, offering mentorship to young people, or organizing a community event.  Be sure to enter conversations with an understanding of your organization’s various needs, so that you’re more likely to be able to connect your needs with the volunteer’s passions.
  • Sometimes recruiting with tasks can be more effective than recruiting with titles. It might be easier to recruit a volunteer to help with a specific event or short-term task than to leap straight to asking them to serve a two-year term on a board.  Through your conversation with the prospect, try to understand their comfort level and the kind of commitment they will agree to.  Remember that if a new volunteer has a wonderful experience helping to organize a community event, their relationship with the organization can deepen.
  • Don’t bring new volunteers into dysfunctional situations. At this point, you’ve worked hard to engage that new volunteer; don’t let a negative or frustrating experience disengage them!  For example, if your board meetings are supposed to last an hour, but currently last two hours with a conversation that frequently veers off the agenda, that might not be the best place to bring your new volunteer.  Ask your volunteers to spend their precious time engaged in activities that will actually be beneficial to your organization and personally satisfying to them.