Preparing Your Nonprofit to Recruit Volunteers

Assessing volunteer needs and developing position descriptions are a necessity, not a luxury. In my workshops on volunteer recruitment, I often hear nonprofit leaders say, It was nice to dedicate time to think about our volunteer needs strategically. Although I am sympathetic to the intense work that nonprofit managers and staff perform for their organizations and clients, assessment and prioritization are the first and most important steps for building a volunteer program that effectively engages the community in the mission of a nonprofit organization.

Assessing volunteer needs and developing position descriptions are a necessity, not a luxury. In my workshops on volunteer recruitment, I often hear nonprofit leaders say, It was nice to dedicate time to think about our volunteer needs strategically. Although I am sympathetic to the intense work that nonprofit managers and staff perform for their organizations and clients, assessment and prioritization are the first and most important steps for building a volunteer program that effectively engages the community in the mission of a nonprofit organization.

Nonprofits must also identify the benefits and skills required by a volunteer that will help the organization target recruitment to include people with those special skills, attributes and motivations needed and corresponding to each position. Note that you may recruit volunteers that lack some of the skills you need if they are willing and able to be trained with proficiency demonstrated.

Prepare Your Organization for Recruiting Volunteers

  1. Assess and prioritize needs for volunteers.
  2. Articulate benefits to volunteers.
  3. Identify skills/proficiencies required (or to be trained to demonstrate).
  4. Develop volunteer position descriptions.

Engage your organization in a process that yields consensus on essential roles for volunteers, including those which will serve to build community support, not just complete specific tasks.

Assess the Need

Determining what is most needed enables organizations to focus efforts on clear goals rather than be distracted or spread too thin by changing and moving targets. It is counterproductive for a nonprofit to advertise that it needs help without having determined what exactly it needs volunteers to do.

Generic advertising for volunteers can result in frustrated potential volunteers who cannot determine whether there is a good “fit” and can feel unappreciated. At the same time, generic recruitment results in staff trying to place volunteers in lower priority or custom-developed (i.e., time consuming) positions while the organizations highest priority needs remain unfulfilled.

Developing clear volunteer position descriptions not only empowers staff who supervise volunteer, but it directs the marketing efforts promoting the benefits of volunteering with your organization. Staff consensus on highest priority needs and related requirements for volunteers also allows us to develop clear expectations that drive subsequent screening, management, performance assessment and promotion of volunteers.

Promote Your Unique Benefits

Volunteer positions – and the marketing of them – should specify the unique benefits of working with your organization, particularly benefits that correspond to people’s key motivators. This includes the need for:

  • Experience
  • Connections
  • Achievement
  • Personal rewards
  • Social approval
  • Expression of personal values, etc.

Having considered the unique benefits a position offers, we can target these benefits and our recruitment tactics to specific communities and groups of people who share the attributes that we seek. These benefits may include  mission, a supportive community, positive culture, inspiring clients, casual clothing, flexible scheduling, etc.

Identify Desired Skills

Charities should identify physical and online communities most likely to have members with desired skills and motivations, and then select marketing tactics targeting specific communities for corresponding positions.

Engaging your existing exemplary volunteers can help you reach communities that may be most fruitful.

For example, if your organization desires volunteers with pets who can provide therapeutic visits with your clients, then perhaps some of your current volunteers belong to or frequent species-specific physical clubs or Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo or Google social and professional groups. These groups present an opportunity where your volunteers can share their experiences, and mention that your organization needs more volunteers and how people can learn more.

Develop a Clear Description

Marketing messages should lead with potential benefits to volunteers, such as opportunities to leave a legacy to Baby Boomers, to gain experiences and connections to Millennials, or to contribute to the greater good to veterans.

now offer periodic “open houses” as opportunities to meet potential volunteers and introduce their missions via stories from exemplary volunteers they seek more of, highlight their highest priority needs, and explain their requirements and the application and screening process.

While position descriptions are not for direct recruitment, they do enable potential volunteers to self-evaluate whether they can make the needed level of commitment and to thereby self-select. This saves staff the time they would otherwise use to screen out obvious bad matches between what they seek and what volunteers offer. Position descriptions also drive the screening process, and later enable supervisors to manage volunteers with clear expectations to which performances can be compared.

So the bottom line for nonprofit organizations seeking volunteers is that they need to think strategically about their need for support, have a clear plan for recruitment and take the time needed to make the volunteer experience beneficial for all involved.

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