A warm greeting to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer teams.

You are receiving this because we care about you as a partner in development. Please recommend Go Volunteer Africa to anyone who is interested in volunteer management, recruiting and general development of Africa.

Here is a very important message for all volunteer managers who hate recruiting and need help filling those volunteer positions.

“I love children’s ministry—all of the creative parts of developing exciting programs, but I sure don’t like filling positions. I hate that part of the job.”

• “I have a passion for the environment and love restoring wet lands. But when my organization sends me online to recruit a fund raising committee, I begin thinking that this is not what I signed up for. I hate that part of the job.”

• “I always have loved history and working in a museum has been a lifelong goal. But I seem to spend most of my time recruiting volunteers. I hate that part of the job.”

• “I thought working in the zoo would be spending time with animals. Little did I know that I would be recruiting volunteers to run the zoo activities. I hate that part of the job.”

Do you ever feel like a sales person, trying to fill a monthly sales quota of volunteers? Many of the people in the above stories react to the high pressure sales tactics that they feel they have to use to get the prospective volunteer to say, “Yes.” Many volunteer managers have asked me, “Why do I have such a hard time filling our volunteer positions?” Why can’t I just make an announcement, or put up a ‘volunteers wanted’ sign to get people to volunteer?”

I remember asking these questions. When I was having a hard time filling volunteer vacancies, I had a tendency to just say, “I’m not a natural born salesman.” After over 10 years of recruiting volunteers, I have this advice to all of you who hate recruiting.

What Recruiting is Not:

First, recruiting is not marketing – but you need both to survive.

The first step to recruiting is to understand the difference between recruiting and marketing. Marketing our cause and our organization has a whole different purpose than recruiting. It doesn’t matter if we are recruiting for the Girl Scouts, Youth Agenda, Children Focus or our local church youth ministry, it all starts with marketing.

Here is a workable definition of marketing:

Marketing is anything that puts your organization in front of someone who is a possible volunteer.

Understanding the purpose of marketing frees you to be creative, and it recognizes that any contact you have with members of your organization, people in the community, or prospective volunteers is marketing. Announcements are marketing. Volunteer fliers are marketing. Special presentations are marketing. Press releases are marketing. Fancy brochures, ad campaigns and even TV commercials (or public service announcements) are marketing. But all of these marketing tools only act as an adjunct and a support to effective recruiting. Marketing is not recruiting.

Marketing provides the opportunity to get in front of prospective volunteers, but recruiting is the manner in which you determine which of them will become your volunteers. In a sense, marketing is the strategy that will bring you the opportunity to expand your volunteer base, and recruiting is the tactic that—employed properly—will actually grow your volunteer base.

Second, recruiting is not convincing someone to do something.

Recruiting is not like selling a product. We are not selling T.V.’s or used cars. We are not asking people to buy a product. And recruiting is not convincing someone to do something. You cannot convince someone to do something; they have to discover it for themselves. They have to see the value for themselves.

You can drive people crazy by pestering them, making them feel guilty for not caring for the children, the environment, the animals or local history, but they usually will resent you for it and often will back out of their commitment.

Third, recruiting is not a numbers game called “cold-call selling.”

New volunteer managers often make the mistake of trying to approach recruiting like cold-call selling or telemarketing. Recruiting is not a numbers game where you get as many people as you can to volunteer. The “sales approach” of prospecting for potential volunteers are to contact large numbers of cold contacts. I know organizations that sign up hundreds of people knowing that about 80% of them will work for a month and quit. They count on the 20% that stick with the organization. I am not looking for bodies. I am looking for people who want to really want to make a difference by using their gifts and abilities.

If this is what recruiting is not, then what is recruiting?

Recruiting is what you do when you get in front of a prospective volunteer.

Technically, recruiting is what we do once we are in front of a prospective volunteer. Marketing gets us there; recruiting is our behavior once we’re there. Recruiting is a conversation very similar to other conversations you have during the day. The only difference is that instead of chatting about sports or cars or relationships, it is about the possibility of volunteering.

Recruiting is a sorting process.

It’s a sort. You want to sort the yes’s from the no’s as quickly as possible. Some people will fall into the “no” pile and others will fall into the ‘yes” pile. And that’s okay. We really don’t want everyone to volunteer. We are looking for quality, not quantity. You must find prospects that have a propensity and possible motive to be a volunteer.

The sorting process is much like an examination. In your chat with the prospective volunteer, you begin to look at recruiting as more of an examination of someone’s ability to volunteer more than anything else. It took me a long time to realize this, but I finally figured out that of the people who had volunteered with me over the years all had certain qualifications. In each instance, there were certain determining factors that had to exist for me to recruit the volunteer. And I discovered that if these qualifications existed my success rate was over 95%. This discovery made me feel quite good and it removed so many of the feelings of rejection and fear I had suffered in the past when people kept telling me no or I felt that they were volunteering because they felt guilty and just wanted to help me out of my “vacancy” problem.

Each volunteer position has its own qualifications. Your position charter determines those qualifications. Some of the qualifications might be . . .

  • The first and most important qualification is a passion for your cause (the mission of your organization).
  • Other qualifications that you have could be the following:
    • Flexibility in time commitment
    • Expertise in a certain area (i.e. technical skills)
    • Commitment expectations such as attendance at meetings, training, retreats, etc.
    • Philosophical (or theological in the case of religious organizations) agreement

Recruiting is like dating.

Typical volunteer recruiting is like the total stranger who sees a gorgeous woman and asks, “Hey, would you marry me?” Or perhaps like the woman who stands up in church and announces, “I’m looking for a husband. Anyone interested in marrying me tomorrow see me after the service.”

At a recent Volunteer Managers’ Day -Volunteer Power training session a volunteer manager cornered me during a break and questioned the “Permission Recruiting” approach I was presenting. She told me that at their orientation session of interested volunteers they passed around a sign-in sheet, got sign-ups, and then put the volunteers to work. She seemed to want me to approve of her system. I asked her, “Is it working?” She was quiet for a minute and then said, “Well, we do have a lot of turnover. The volunteer job just doesn’t seem to be as exciting as it sounded in the orientation. After all, it’s a lot of work for no pay.”

Isaac Ssamba- is the Head of Operations at Go Volunteer Africa

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