By Meghan Maloney, L.A. Works AmeriCorps VISTA
Volunteers can prove to be a huge benefit to your organization. Aside from providing extra hands and eyes to your projects, they offer unique perspectives that can help strengthen your organization’s mission. Here are some key components that need to be implemented to ensure successful recruitment for your volunteer program.
Identifying where exactly volunteers can contribute is one of the first steps in recruitment. Having an open dialogue with your team about incorporating a community workforce is key to building a foundation to a successful volunteer program. This conversation could include the roles volunteers can fill in, the frequency of opportunities, and the supervising staff members for the program. There will definitely be a structural change in your organization once a volunteer program is incorporated, and change can be uneasy for some. If your team is on board with recruiting volunteers, great! If some feel uneasy about the switch, then more dialogue about how your organization plans to utilize volunteers will be key. These growing pains are necessary, but will ease as you gain support in recruiting and managing volunteers in the future.
Once you’ve identified the roles and responsibilities for your volunteers take on, you can focus on writing the catchy service opportunity descriptions to find the best match. Traditionally unpopular volunteer opportunities–but still incredibly vital–such as fundraising can sound more appealing if the job descriptions are written in an engaging way. Advertising these positions will be crucial in how your recruitment pans out. Consider this: Is your organization willing to set aside a budget for posting on websites with wide reach such as idealist.org? Are there any volunteer hubs (like LAWorks.com) that offer free submissions of volunteer opportunities? Do you have a strong media presence? Is the local volunteer center at a nearby university open to recruiting volunteers for you? Dedicating a “Volunteer Now!” tab on your website is also a great way to recruit, as this is the first place people will look for these opportunities. Determine where your organization would like to find volunteers, and then use those medium to assist you with recruitment.
Deciding what sort of budget to allocate to volunteers will also be an area of conversation for successful recruitment. Your volunteer budget may include items such as food, T-shirts, and the swag items. Materials needed to complete the volunteer project will also need to be factored into this budget. Other investments to consider when proposing your volunteer budget are background checks and TB tests, especially if they will be working with youth. Your organization may not be able to cover full costs, but can partially cover some of those expenses. Additionally, your organizations may elect to refund that money back to its volunteers when they have volunteered for a specified amount of time. Ultimately, when volunteers see a marked investment in them, they will invest more into your organization.
Now that you’ve started getting some responses from interested volunteers, your organization must devote some thought into orienting the volunteers to the work at hand. Having an engaging on boarding and training curriculum in place is essential for successful recruitment. Having the volunteers understand the magnitude of their impact is key for their buy-in; they must feel that what they are doing has purpose and meaning. This includes clearly outlining the reasons for why they are volunteering, and how the opportunity will make a tangible impact. Hosting a formal orientation, followed by a detailed training of their task, is an effective way of having the volunteers understand your organization from a broad perspective as well develop personal relationships with people on staff or other volunteers. Including an organizational chart of staff members and what they oversee will acquaint volunteers to different aspects of the organization. A handbook/manual with contact information, the mission statement, and other essential volunteer information can help the volunteer take pride in their service.
Leadership is an indispensable aspect of volunteer recruitment and retention for both skilled and general volunteers. Skill-based volunteers require more check-ins from leadership to ensure that their skills are not being manipulated as free labor. Having them feel like they are part of the larger staff is a great way for them to feel valued and appreciated for their skill-based volunteering. With general volunteers, having a staff member as their point person–even better if it’s a volunteer coordinator–shows that the organization has a more sophisticated volunteer program. General volunteers also like the comfort of knowing that they have someone to report to; that person becomes the face of the organization for them.
The final key is retention. Recruitment is only as successful as how well an organization can retain their volunteers. Volunteer appreciations every couple of months will help them feel connected to the organization and feel like their contributions are recognized by the team. Having a database of volunteers will be the cornerstone for retention; this will be the organization’s starting point in reaching out to past volunteers. Engaging them is imperative, and can be accomplished through social media shout-outs, newsletters for upcoming events, or even mailing out personalized thank-yous. The culture surrounding volunteers will be a determining factor for recurrent volunteerism. Reflect and consider how your organization incorporates and integrates volunteers into the mission and organization.
Volunteer recruitment is normally a challenging feat. With patience, persistence, and a solid action plan, your volunteer program will soon reflect the efforts put into recruiting awesome volunteers!
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