7 Steps Every Nonprofit Should Take to Recruit More Volunteers
Almost every nonprofit wants to recruit more volunteers. This blog post will walk you through the 7 steps you must take to build a compelling recruiting plan.
Last week was National Volunteer Week in the United States, celebrating the 62.6 million residents of the United States who volunteered an average of 52 hours per person per year.[i] That’s over 3 billion labor hours, or the equivalent of 1.6 million full-time employees.
It is definitely cause for celebration. After all, that’s a huge donation to the nonprofit sector.
It’s also cause for reflection.
There are 1.57 million nonprofits in the United States.[ii] When those statistics are viewed side by side, the competition for volunteer hours looks fierce. If your organization wants more than the equivalent of one full-time employee, you need to do better than other organizations at recruiting and retaining them.
This blog post will give you the framework for a plan to help you recruit more volunteers to your organization. Next week’s post will focus on how to keep volunteers once they you have them on board.
Why You Need a Plan to Recruit More Volunteers
For-profit companies that compete in industries where talent is scarce carefully construct plans to recruit the skills required. When money is tight, they look creatively at the benefits they can offer. Nonprofits often use similar creativity to recruit the talent they need.
However, when it comes to recruiting volunteers, fewer nonprofits put the same level of thought into the process. The results can be catastrophic. For small, all-volunteer organizations, churning through volunteers can mean the core group never gets the help they need. This results in burn-out, and can cause an organization to fail. For larger organizations, volunteer turnover causes inefficiency. It can also leave a bad impression on a volunteer, which may impact the organization’s ability to recruit new volunteers or raise money.
To expand an organization’s volunteer pool and prevent recruiting-related turnover, organizations should have a volunteer recruiting plan in place.
7 Elements of a Successful Plan to Recruit More Volunteers
Recruiting plans for volunteers are similar to recruiting plans for employees. Each should include the following seven elements.
1. Skills Assessment.
Periodically, the board and staff should assess the types of opportunities the organization has for volunteers, and the skills and other attributes needed to be successful. Some assessments will happen annually, as is the case with many boards and key committees. However, assessments may also happen in conjunction with an event, when a new committee or task force is formed, or when the organization takes on a new initiative.
Once you have identified the tasks and skills for which you need volunteer help, group them together into “jobs.” Remember that some volunteers will be ready for a more substantial role, while others will be happiest with a one-time or short-term obligation. Having a variety of volunteer jobs gives new volunteers the opportunity to get to know the organization before taking on a more substantial commitment.
2. Write job descriptions.
Job descriptions allow volunteers to understand the commitment before saying yes. Clear, honest and thorough job descriptions minimize confusion and frustration.
A good job description describes the role and the skills required, and provides a realistic estimate of the time required. It should also provide the name of the person (or position) to whom the volunteer will report. This gives them assurance that they have someone to whom they can turn if they have questions.
3. Understand what you can offer.
Before you start promoting the volunteer opportunities you have, consider what the organization has to offer its volunteers. Yes, they will share in the satisfaction of moving your organization and its mission forward. However, talented volunteers have their choice of organizations, many of whom may have similar or equally appealing missions.
People volunteer for organizations for different reasons. Many want to be a part of a community of like-minded people. Others want to develop professional skills. Some may be looking for recognition for their contributions, or the opportunity to build relationships with influential people or prospective clients.
As you review the job descriptions you have created, consider the reasons people might volunteer and discuss what you can do to help them reach their goals. If you anticipate how you can help them benefit from their volunteer involvement, you will be more successful selling them into the opportunities, and more likely to retain them once they join your volunteer team.
4. Make personal asks.
About 40% of all volunteers stepped up because someone asked for their help. Most often, it was an employee of the nonprofit. If not an employee, it was likely to be a friend, relative or colleague.
Encourage employees and committed volunteers to recruit new volunteers. Make sure they understand the job descriptions and the skills required for success. Consider providing an incentive for the employee or volunteer who brings in the most volunteer hours. This could be a volunteer recruiter of the year award, or something more substantial, such as a gift card or other prize.
5. Get the word out.
While the personal ask will deliver the highest return, more than 40% of all volunteers sign up without being ask. Make sure that the range of volunteer opportunities you offer is clear and publicly posted. Your website should include a volunteer page that outlines opportunities and specifies how to get involved.
However, posting opportunities on your website alone may not be sufficient. Develop a focused marketing promotions plan to reach your target audience. Depending on your audience, your needs, and your budget, you might consider listings through organizations that post volunteer opportunities (such as United Way), civic organizations with a service-based mission (such as Rotary), youth organizations (such as the Girl Scouts), churches and/or clubs who might share your passion.
Social media is a critical component of any volunteer recruiting promotions plan. If your organization has a substantial Facebook following, you may simply be able to post your needs in updates. However, in some cases boosting a post might give you needed visibility. Depending on your audience, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites may also give you access to the talent you need.
6. Screen your volunteers.
Some organizations routinely screen volunteers for criminal convictions. However, the screening should not stop there. Just because a person has volunteered for a position does not mean that they are a good fit.
Have you ever volunteered with someone who only signed up to help because she or he thought it would help pad a resume? I have. In this case, and in many others, it is better to leave a position empty than to fill it with someone who is not a match for the opportunity.
7. Appoint a “hiring” manager.
People connect most effectively with other people, not organizations. When you interview for a paid position, you invariably speak with your hiring manager. This gives you an opportunity to determine whether your work styles are compatible, just as it gives the manager the chance to decide whether you are a fit. It is a mutual decision based in large part on connection.
While some volunteering opportunities generally do involve the “hiring” manager, such as board and committee recruiting, many volunteer opportunities do not. Without a manager, the prospective volunteer feels less connected to the nonprofit and its community, less accountable to the manager to follow through and join the effort, and may even be confused about the opportunity and the potential benefits of volunteerism. Assigning a manager to each volunteer position increases the likelihood a prospective volunteer who has expressed interest will follow through and become a volunteer.
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[ii] Source: National Center for Charitable Statistics: http://nccs.urban.org/data-statistics/quick-facts-about-nonprofits