People love to help a great cause. Really, they do. At Regpack we work with more than 1,000 volunteer organizations and allow them to register, schedule and manage their volunteers.
We have learned a lot from them about volunteer recruitment and engagement. In this post we have put together the 6 ways to get more volunteers and to keep them coming back!
Many of these ideas I’ve heard from speaking to clients who use our volunteer management software, like The Super Bowl 50 (this year in the bay area just next to home!) and Habitat for Humanity.
Even these great organizations struggle to grow their volunteer base at times, and have shared with me how they connect with their volunteers and keep them returning. Feel free to share your own tips in the comments!
#1 Just ask (but the right way)!
Sometimes sending out an email to your volunteer list and saying “Hey we have this great opportunity, click here to register and help out!” isn’t going to get you the people you need. People like to feel special and needed, and your volunteers are no different.
Try to reach out personally to your members, especially the ones you know would be well suited for the project you have in mind, and ask them personally! First, people have a harder time saying no when they are asked personally. Also, people like to feel valued and respected for their contributions, so asking personally can help sway them to participate.
I’ve heard from volunteers who skim an email asking for help or signups and disregard it, or maybe mentally tab it but don’t actually commit who shared that if they were asked personally, they’d totally say yes or at least, be more inclined to commit. This tactic might be hard if you have a huge volunteer base, but start somewhere.
Filter out volunteers based on certain criteria to try to personalize the email as much as you can.
Here planning ahead and having the right tools really goes a long way. When you are looking for the volunteers that might best be suited for the opportunity you have you need to have a way to find them. In order to do that make sure that you are asking questions that will help you do that when they register for any other volunteer option you have.
An online registration system that has conditional logic and a good way to filter will really help you out here. After you have the information just find the volunteers that are best suited and send out an email that does not look like a bulk email (you can learn about how to do this here and here).
#2 Don’t always assume that no means no, it might just mean ‘not right now’.
If you have a project that you have a specific volunteer you’d like to head up, but when you ask them they say ‘no’, don’t feel the sting of rejection and never approach them again. Sometimes no can mean, “not right now”. They might not be in a position to accept the responsibility now, but don’t write them off as someone who isn’t interested in at all in giving their time.
Check in with them from time to time, or ask if there is an ideal position they would like to fill so you can keep them in mind for future opportunities.
#3 Publicize effectively!
Be smart about the way you publicize your position openings to your volunteers. By making sure the information you put out is thorough – time commitment, position title, specific requirements, etc. – you will find more people responding and engaging since they’ll know exactly what the volunteer position entails and if they are up for it.
You’ll also find a better match if you optimize your publicity.
#4 Get creative with engagement!
If you have a newsletter or are just communicating in person or via email with a potential volunteer, start by telling them all the things they can do in just 1 hour of volunteering time! Sometimes people feel overwhelmed with where to begin their service or what would be the best fit for them. Some volunteers also aren’t sure they are ready to commit to a
Some volunteers also aren’t sure they are ready to commit to a long term commitment or a position they aren’t sure will be a good fit for them. Have some jobs available (and share them!) that are just an hour here or there, or are available just 1 hour a week or even 1 hour a month.
On your end, any help you receive is awesome and for volunteers, sometimes this is easier to commit to. Plus this helps get more volunteers in the door and gives you more opportunities to recruit them for future projects. Remember, a small donation might be ‘small’, but combined with all other small acts make a huge impact!
#5 Show your volunteers that you care!
Don’t underestimate the value in showing appreciation and gratitude towards your volunteers. Yes, they are doing a service for you that should in and of itself make them feel all gooey and mushy inside, but they are still lending time and their skills to your organization and deserve to be recognized.
Here is a few things you can do to show appreciation:
- Just say it! Say thank you often. Thanks for coming by! Thanks for your work! Thanks for coming in today. A small thanks is a big thing!
- Have events to show volunteers you appreciate them. Give them a cookie! Have a fun movie night for them and their families, whatever you think your pool of volunteers would enjoy and appreciate.
- Give prizes. If you have some sort of volunteer appreciation event call out specific volunteers who go above and beyond, or have prizes every once in a while that volunteers are put into a raffle and can win fun things – gift certificates to local businesses, etc.
#6 Remind everyone why they are here.
It seems silly because if your volunteers are showing up it’s because they are committed to your mission and want to help you. But the day to day workings of any organization and some tasks volunteers take on can sometimes seem mundane or not very exciting, even though they are in the service of the greater whole and good of your organization. Remind people why they are here!
Remind them of your mission, of what their work is contributing to and that every small contribution is part of the greater good and important to making sure you’re able to continue the amazing work you do.
You can remind them in several ways…
- Events showcasing progress on a certain project, etc.
- Creating a team atmosphere so everyone feels honored, included and heard goes a long way as well.
- Check in with volunteers and see where they are and feel out if they need some extra motivations and reminders of why they are doing what they are doing.
- Compliment them! Let them know you notice their hard work or something special that they are giving to your organization. (Kind of like #5 above, thank them!)
Don’t underestimate the power of simple communication with your volunteers to keep them coming back! Appreciate them and don’t forget to say it more than you might think you need to! Come up with a variety of volunteer options to suit a variety of people. Some might want a more intense position and some might have a small amount of time to give. Make sure they have something that will suit what they are looking for.
Connect with your volunteers personally and check in with them. Are they happy? Are they looking for something else? Getting to know them will help you maximize their potential when they are giving to your organization.
I think the biggest theme here is just connection. Connect with your volunteers. Get to know them, know how they are doing always, thank them and make sure they are happy, being utilized optimally on your end and ensure that they feel like they are getting what they want out of their experience!