Volaby Voice:

5 Tips for finding and keeping great volunteers

{read time: ~6 mins}

This topic seems to be one that has been addressed many, many times in the volunteering eco-sphere – each time bringing with it a different perspective from a different set of experiences. And like all much discussed topics, there is a reason why they are so popular – mainly because the topic is a complex or comprehensive challenge, and thus there may never be a straight forward answer to it! So in our opinion, it pays to soak up the experiences of as many others as possible around a topic like this, so we are best equipped and informed to make the right decisions in our day to day lives.

So, we decided to add our take to this golden topic by providing the following 5 best tips in finding and keeping great volunteers!

1) Define (and simplify!) What you Need

Whether you need an extra set of hands to sell 50 tickets to a community event or someone who is willing to commit 5 hours per week towards meeting your charitable goals, define what you’re looking for in an individual – specifically. It’s easier than it sounds—just ask yourself, What do I want out of my volunteers? What kind of skills do they need? From there, it becomes much easier to draft your description. Many times we see great organisations posting “we need amazing volunteers to join our team!” – this is a lovely thought, however it’s hard for someone to connect with a statement like that and understand exactly, “what does that mean?”. It is much easy for a volunteer to evaluate and validate something specific like “5 hours of answering phones to talk to those who are isolated” – as they can picture the task, see themselves doing it (or not), and if it is something they see themselves doing on a weekly basis. When people are asked to do something, they instinctively picture the task in their head and wait to receive the corresponding feeling from that. If the feeling is good and they see the tasks as clear and do-able, there is a higher chance they will take action on it – and thus opt in to volunteer. On the flip-side, not all volunteer roles can be summed up so easily and an organisation may not actually know the exact tasks they need done just yet. As mentioned in the intro, this is not an exact science and there might be many solutions to one problem – so it always pays to test and experiment with your process to see what might fit best and where it makes sense to define and simplify what you need from your volunteers.

2) What is your “WHY”?

Before you can even think about attracting new volunteers, you have to spend some time thinking about WHY they would want to join your team. You may be passionate about your cause or organization, but is it clear that your passion also drives their own dreams? Sometimes we notice amazing organisations who are incredibly passionate about their work can tend to just expect others to be equally as passionate – which isn’t a bad thing! Enthusiasm is contagious, and the best way to make someone excited about something is to first be excited about it yourself! However when people are so close to the action and in ‘in the thick of it’, they can sometimes forgot it’s not as clear to others as it is to you. From our experience, it can take time to figure out the best way to communicate your ‘why’ to the world – in other words, what is your story or ‘sale-pitch’ that communicates how great your think your organisation is, and will leave them leaping to an applicating form! Again, there is no perfect science to this, however when communicating the ‘why’ – EMPATHY IS EVERYTHING! Put yourselves in their shoes and pretend you know nothing about your organisation – what would you need/want to hear that would excite you to sign up and become part of the cause? A tip form us, try going back to some of your most passionate volunteers and ask them “why did you decide to sign up and stay?”. Better yet, ask if they might feel comfortable to record a quick 2 minute video explaining why they love the work they do and why they would encourage others like them to join!

3) “Cast your nets in the right ponds”

If you want to get volunteers, think about where to find them. Where are the people who most interested in what you do, directing their attention? For example, we previously spoke with an organisation who said the best type of volunteers for their organisation of mentors where retirees and those with an abundance of wisdom to guide others. However, when they went to advertise this position on some paid Facebook ads, they were shocked to see little to no traction. It turned out that this demographic of volunteers did not spend much of their time on social media and preferred to engage with others on a more face to face medium. So instead, they opted to engage with potential volunteers using paper flyers and speaking spots at places like RSLs and Surf lifesaving events – to which they received a far great response.

Depending on your organization’s cause or industry, consider placing ads or awareness pieces in places or platforms that fit your target audience. Having an idea of where potential volunteers might be is important because you’ll want to make sure they are presented with something that aligns to their interests and personalities to have the greatest effect.

Keep in mind though that even if you advertise at all these places, some people might still not respond — and that’s OK! It doesn’t mean they’re not interested; it means that they didn’t see it or aren’t ready yet. Some groups of people might need to become more familiar with your cause and see it a couple of times before they are willing to take action.

4) Keep them connected to the cause!

The number 1 thing we hear from volunteers when we ask them “why do you continue to volunteer”, is (and I’m sure you’ve heard it before) because “it makes me feel good to know that I’m making a difference”.

So it pays to identify why your volunteers are giving their time to your organization, then do everything you can to keep them informed about how what they’re doing is making a difference. This could be through a weekly/monthly newsletter, Facebook page/group, etc. Thanking some one for taking the time to cook some food on a BBQ for those in need is wonderful, but letting them know their efforts allowed 100 people have dinner that night that they may not have had otherwise. Your volunteers should feel like it’s not just something nice they’re doing, but that they are actually making a difference in other people’s lives. That helps fuel motivation. At first, volunteerism is altruistic, but over time you begin to take on more responsibility and become more invested in success—and if you don’t see success it’s hard to stay motivated. So help them see how their efforts are changing lives (as simply and consistently as you can!).

5) Culture, Culture, Culture – leading by example!

A great way to attract great volunteers is to be a great volunteer yourself. The more you can demonstrate your dedication to making things happen, the more likely volunteers will be inspired to follow in your footsteps. If you want enthusiastic, reliable help, set an example by volunteering yourself. It’s much easier to encourage others into service if they see that you live your life as a servant first and a leader second. One powerful phrase comes to mind when we think about this point – “Culture is the personality of leadership” – and we couldn’t agree more. When you consistently lead by example to your volunteers consistently, over time it will develop an organic culture within the team and you might be pleasantly surprised when you see your team(s) radiate this type of leadership and begin to lead by example themselves – thus creating a compounding effect across all your current and future volunteers!

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