Episode #044: 6 Creative Ways to Recruit Volunteers

Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson. And if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you.   

Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast. I am your host, Tobi Johnson, and today we are going to talk about six creative ways to recruit volunteers.  

Volunteer recruitment was the top challenge mentioned in our Volunteer Management Progress Report survey, both as a challenge, but also as the top goal folks had for the coming year.  

And so we know it is very, very important to most of our listeners to be able to find and attract and engage folks in your community to partner with around your good cause. 

And so I wanted to go a little offroad, so to speak, away from the more general tried and true practices. There are a few alternatives that are also tried and true that most of you are probably not using or maybe are using one or a couple of these. 

But I’ve got six for you today that I don’t see organizations using these, but I have tried them in various ways in marketing and I’ve found them to work, so I’m hoping that you’ll find them helpful as well.  

You know, when I started my nonprofit career, I was an outreach coordinator and a marketing director. When I first started, I started as outreach, and then I was moved up into marketing. 

And I remember when I started, I thought it was all about pushing information out in as many ways as possible over and over again. And you know, basically the person who shouts the most and communicates the most wins.  

And as my skills and wisdom matured through my life in nonprofits and both, you know, working in nonprofits, but also working in my consulting practice, I found that it’s really more about a two-way street. 

It’s about building relationships with your audience so that they are ready when the time comes to take action. And so I think we have to put in a little bit more, I would say work upfront when it comes to our volunteer recruitment, but in ways that we can repeat over and over again.  

So all of the things I’m going to share today, you can build a structure around, a framework around, and then tweak and reuse over and over again. So the initial outlay of time is always a little bit longer, but then you can reuse these, so I will say it’s an investment up front that pays off in the end.  

So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about, you know, a couple of episodes ago, episode 42, I talked about why your volunteer recruitment isn’t working and what to do instead. 

So that’s a great place to start. If you haven’t listened to that episode yet, that’s a great companion with this one. And we will post links to that episode and other things I’m going to be mentioning today in our show notes, as well as a link to the Volunteer Management Progress Report. 

Our 2023 edition has been released, and you’ll want to see some of those data points around volunteer engagement. So in this episode, I’m sharing six creative ways to recruit volunteers.  

Again, yes, this takes work. There are no silver bullets, but once you’ve tried these, you again, you’ll have a repeatable system and a set of assets that you can try over and over again. 

So let’s get started and let’s start with idea number one. So of my six creative ways to recruit volunteers, this is idea number one. Host a monthly or weekly service night or day for a specific audience you want to recruit.  

So this is all about segmentation, really creating something that has special draw or appeal for a specific target audience you’re trying to reach and engage as volunteers. 

You know, people like meeting and gathering with people who are interested in similar things. So why not schedule their volunteering time together too, because volunteering is social.  

You know, give it a fun name. Combine this monthly or weekly service night or daytime, depending on the audience, with some interesting in-service training, or social time to make it even more fun. 

So there’s a way to combine the volunteer part of the event and experience with other things, like briefing people on what’s going on at your organization or providing them some social time or you know, providing snacks or doing some structured networking.  

There’s all kinds of things you can do to offer a value add to the volunteer effort. For example, you could do a once a month or once a week family volunteering day where people bring their kids and they volunteer together.  

So you might have those days. And what parents don’t want to hang out with other parents? Especially in a volunteering environment where they’ll have people they begin to form bonds with. 

And when your volunteers become friends, they’re more likely to come back. You could do Singles Saturdays once a month. So it’s a specific, maybe outreach, maybe it’s to young singles or any age singles or maybe Single Senior Saturday.  

So you can think about, you know, folks who are single in specific groups you’re trying to reach. And you know, it’s sort of a double win for them.  

They get to both serve and provide and contribute time and talent, but also maybe they get to meet somebody else who’s equally interested in giving back to the community.  

So that’s a fun thing to think about. A young professional’s networking night. So you could combine that once a month or once a week with time where young professionals come and they contribute their time, but they’re also networking with one another. 

So think about the value add of people being able to rub elbows with people like them that understand their situation, their context of life, their life stage, et cetera, and think about adding value in other ways as like social time or in-service training.  

So that’s my first idea. I like the idea of really creating theme nights throughout the month and theme dayss depending, you know, if it’s parents of small children that are in elementary school, then family volunteering probably has to be an afterschool situation.  

Young professionals obviously aren’t going to want to hang out during the day because they’re at work. But if it’s senior singles, then it could be a daytime thing. So you think about what you need.  

Why is this one of my creative ways to recruit volunteers? I like this idea because it’s segmenting your audience so you can speak directly to their specific needs and desires, and you can focus your messaging on that day of the week or month so it really resonates with that audience.  

And it’s a way, if you want to diversify your volunteer core, you could create a theme night as well. So that’s my first idea. My second idea is build a list and send a month of love nurture email sequence.  

Now we’re doing this in February. We have a month of love of free nonprofit tools that we have posted in our blog, and throughout the month we’re going to give away eight freebies.  

And so this gives you an idea of how you might do this with volunteers or volunteer prospects. That is, so if you go to volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools and there is a dash between each of those words, free dash, nonprofit dash tools, we’re going to be sending eight items in four weeks. 

So keep checking back to that blog post and you can sign up to get those, or you can see what, if you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get those delivered every week.  

So what we’re doing here, that’s just an example of sending a month of love to potential volunteers. So you can build trust with volunteer prospects over time by sending them cause-related content that educates and entertains them. 

So you need to set up an opt-in form that collects the prospect’s first name and email so that you can both deliver those emails, those separate emails that you pre-schedule in your email service provider, and you can work with your marketing folk, whoever’s responsible for emailing.  

It might be folks in your development department, you might have a marketing department, whoever’s responsible for your organization’s email, sending email sends. 

Then you can personalize these, and whenever anybody pops in, you can send them a month of love and it can be throughout the year. You can set it and forget it and then have people log in on a certain webpage.  

So you want to start with something really juicy when you’re offering something free to your audience, and what you’re offering them isn’t a call to action. You’re not saying like, I’m sending you a tip sheet on how to be a volunteer here.  

You’ve got to start warming up your audience first through content that’s about your cause in general. So you start to educate people and help them understand your needs so then you later you can ask, “Hey, are you interested in volunteering?” 

So there’s some examples here. Again, it’s not a call to action at the beginning. It’s really educating people about what your cause does. So you might do things like 10 things you might not know about your cause area, your topic area. 

How to help a friend or family member overcome whatever your organization helps overcome. Myths or facts about your cause industry. Research roundup about your cause or your primary topic. The ultimate guide to your primary topic.  

You could give people a social media swipe file where they can download and share social media images that are about a current initiative you’re working on. 

An email template for a letter to your elected officials, for those of you who are engaged in advocacy, that might be a great download. A self-care checklist for advocates or volunteers. That’s an interesting thing.  

I like quizzes too. What kind of volunteer are you quiz? And to get the answer, you opt in. So you complete that, your name and your email, and then the quiz will send you. 

It takes a little bit more work to create a quiz, but we are going to be creating a quiz in the next month or two. So I will do a podcast episode on how to create a quiz. We’ll talk about that later. So put a pin in that one. 

Or volunteering with our population, whatever your population is for you, you could do a quiz on that. How to make a difference in your cause area by taking five small steps, your checklist. 

So you start your series of emails of free things. You’re sending content. You start it with things that are really more in general about your cause, and then you end it with a call to action.  

So you might send eight of these emails over the course of a month, and it’s like what we call in marketing a nurture campaign. And then you want to make sure you tag the content when they download the tools, so you can gauge how interested they are.  

So in the marketing software, in the email software, there is a way to tag that tool. Tag that tool. When people click on that link in the email to download the tool, you can set up your system to tag them. 

You want them to be tagged every time. They download a specific tool so they have a tag related to that tool. Now, the reason you want to do this is then you can go back through your list and you can see how many people downloaded more than one tool.  

And the folks that downloaded multiple tools, they are the most interested and those are the folks you might want to reach out individually. You can also include a link to volunteer in your PS of every delivery email.  

Just put in the PS “Hey, are you interested in learning more about volunteering? Go here.” Or “Hit reply and we’ll get in touch with you.” That’s a good thing to do as well.  

Just ask people to hit reply if they want to learn more about volunteering, and then you start a conversation. So why is this one of the creative ways to recruit volunteers that I included on my list?  

I believe that by tracking the data, you can see who’s most interested and it starts to create a super, a warmer list than your regular email list.  

And you are also building an asset that is continually warming your audience up. So you don’t need to make cold calls or be at a loss for where to go when you need your next volunteer, you have this email.  

It can be evergreen, so you have the opt-in on your volunteer page. “Hey, learn more about our organization.” You’re sending out emails, you’re educating, you’re building relationships while you sleep. 

And then when it comes time where you have a big push for your newest volunteer orientation training, or a new project or an event, et cetera, you have a mailing list of people who already know, like, and trust you.  

That’s why I like this. So you also might want to check out Volunteer Nation episode two, where I talk about how to recruit volunteers by building a following first. 

I go into this in much more detail, and so I’ll put the link to that in the show notes as well. All right. Let’s talk about idea number three, creative idea for recruiting volunteers.  

Idea number three is conduct individual outreach via social media. So this is what we call, the person who’s coined this is Chris Ducker at YouPreneur. We are a member of his community, and his training for entrepreneurs is fantastic.  

And one of the things they’ve been testing is what they call P to P outreach, person to person outreach, and they found it to be very effective for entrepreneurs who are looking to build an audience and sell their service. 

Well, I started to think about how can we apply this to volunteers as well, and so what you do is with your social media list you send out, it’s similar to the freebies that we talked about, the nurture campaign, but it’s just one freebie and you send out to your list. 

“Hey, who wants the X, Y, Z ultimate guide” to whatever your cause is. “Who wants this” and just post it in your social. “Post a comment and I will send it to you.” Right?  

When people post the comment, then you send them the freebie. You send them directly via a direct message on Instagram or on Facebook or on Twitter, whatever is individual.  

You send it to them. Then you begin a conversation. “So tell me more about your interest in this cause.” Really short messages back and “Well, here’s some things we’re doing in the future. Would you like to learn more about getting involved?” 

So after you’ve had a couple of interactions, if it seems like that person might be interested, then you can send a link to your volunteer recruitment page. The focus here is about having a conversation.  

Offering something up, then starting a conversation and seeing where it lands. It is not about heavy pushy sales. It’s about exploring who your audience is, what they’re interested in, and maybe if they’re interested in partnering with you.  

But again, it’s very gentle conversation. It’s not just immediately sending out a call to action. It’s not carpet bombing people. It’s having individual conversations.  

So this could be done by a group of volunteers, it could be done by you, it could be done by an intern. Lots of people who can do this for you, this outreach via social media or P to P. 

All right, so let’s take a quick break from my creative ways to recruit volunteers list and when we get back I will share three more ways you can reach volunteers in new and different ways. So hold on and I’ll be right back.  

If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the VolunteerPro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause.  

VolunteerPro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s-working-now volunteer program with less stress and more joy, so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. 

It is the only implementation program of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the Volunteer Strategy Success Path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join.  

Okay, we’re back with my top creative ways to recruit volunteers. I’m going into the list. We’re going to talk about four more or three more ideas. Idea number four, host a recruitment breakfast or lunch.  

Now, I have done this before when I ran a youth employment and training program for homeless youth. I was developing opportunities for young people who were in our transitional living facility and were getting ready. 

You know, part of the expectation was that they get a job, and so my job was to help get them trained and ready for work and then place them with employers in our area.  

And so for me to get in touch with employers that we’re willing to hire our people. We found that the best way to do it was to have a recruitment breakfast where we were recruiting employers to think about hiring our youth, or at least doing informational interviews. 

So it’s similar to a donor cultivation event, but it’s where you bring people together and you talk about what you’re doing, and then you make an ask.  

So you want to align it with something that makes sense, like Valentine’s Day, National Volunteer Week, giving Tuesday, your special day or week or month, and to partner with your development department too. 

You can even do a general philanthropy lunch where you are asking, making an ask for a financial contribution, but also making an ask for volunteering. You can do that as well.  

I prefer to focus only on volunteering, but you know, you do you, whatever works. Here’s the key, though. To make this work, you need to enlist your current volunteer leaders, major donors and board of directors to help you build an email list of highly qualified prospects. 

It’s not just about putting up flyers and trying to get people to a breakfast or luncheon. That’s not how this is. This is a very targeted outreach to people.  

And it could be some of the people, if you’ve done the freebie, a cultivation, the nurture campaign I talked about earlier. You could also invite people who’ve downloaded more than one tool. 

So people who are opening your newsletter frequently, people who have made financial contributions, people who have an interest in your cause, any of those things.  

Friends of volunteer leaders who are interested. So you’re really inviting a very warm list of prospects that are more than likely to say yes to your ask, right? 

So you can also ask partners and sponsors to provide in-kind donations of food, the room rental, et cetera, printing the flyers. When we did a breakfast for our employers, we actually made, had coffee mugs made up so they could drink out of their coffee mug, and the coffee mug had our program’s logo on it. 

So, you know, you don’t have to come up with this all out of your own budget. So what does an agenda look like for this? It’s about sharing your big why through story. So why volunteers? Why your organization?  

What does it do in the community and why do volunteers matter? You want to tell stories, you want to share a glimpse into the future of what your organization has planned. You want to pose a challenge to invite people to be part of that big plan.  

So invite compelling people to speak on your stage at this event. So you want to have service beneficiaries. You want to have people that who people respect, maybe your board chair, you as the volunteer coordinator, you may not ever be on stage for this event, and that’s okay too. 

You want to have the most compelling people who have the most authority. So existing volunteers, service beneficiaries, people on your board, local celebrities or elected officials that people respect those kinds of people.  

And don’t be afraid to make the ask at the. In our event, what we did was we had an interest card on the table. You know, in donor cultivations events, they’ll have a contribution envelope on the table.  

In this case, we had an interest card. We had people drop them off or leave them on their table, and then I made personal calls to each person and set up meetings with them to talk about our program and how they might employ our youth. 

And so you be prepared to do a fair amount of legwork afterwards. But you’re really trying to bring on a large group of people all at once. That’s the point of an event like this. That’s what makes it the payoff.  

So why is this one of the creative ways to recruit volunteers that I added to my list? Well, I like it because it builds momentum through people to people, communication in person.  

And people are already, you know, you’re doing a celebration of volunteerism, a celebration of your organization’s cause, and people know when they come to an event like this, they know that they’re going to, an ask is going to be made.  

So people are already primed for an ask and they’re more likely to say yes. So these are great for re-engagement campaigns as well. If you have a group of volunteers, if it’s relatively large that have not re-engaged post covid, definitely you could host an event just for lapsed volunteers. 

And I recommend you also check out Volunteer Nation episode 21, Engage Volunteers with a Win-back campaign, where I talk about email win-back campaigns as well, but I like the P to P, people to people. 

Right now we need to rebuild relationships with people, and sometimes it’s best done in person. Okay. Idea number five, ask the people you serve current or past.  

So we don’t often think of the service beneficiary, the people who benefit from our services, whether they’re currently actively utilizing our services or they’ve been a customer or a patron even.  

So if we’re a arts and culture organization, what about our patrons? What about our season ticket holders? So it doesn’t have to necessarily, this doesn’t necessarily related to direct service.  

You can think about all a variety of organizations, but anyone who is a patron, customer, beneficiary of your services, we often don’t think about asking them to help out and volunteer. 

And you know, in some cases people are under stress when they’re utilizing our services, so it may or may not be the right time. But I always try to think about how can volunteering make their lives easier?  

Are there special perks or barters you can create for volunteering? Are there things you can put on their resume? Is there special training? Is there social time? Is there a way for them to pay forward what they received from your organization?  

So what is the value add of volunteerism for someone you serve or someone who benefits from your organization? And you know, you need to be sensitive to people’s needs and reinforce that it’s a no obligation ask, and that there is no quid pro quo on services, that people can still be part of your services. 

They don’t have to volunteer, but you’d love to have them. And be okay if they can’t help right now, sometimes if you’re a direct service organization that helps people in crisis, they’re probably not going to be able to help right now.  

But you never know until you ask. And I think of little ways for people to regain their dignity and to regain their sense of agency. And sometimes volunteerism helps people do that.  

And so I don’t think we should be cutting people out based on the fact that they’re receiving services. I just think that’s small thinking. I think we need to think about everybody as bringing something to the table that everybody has value, everybody has skills, everybody has assets of some kind that they could bring to the table. 

And so one of the reasons I like this creative way to recruit volunteers, and I added it to my list, is because I think it works against the idea that people who need services somehow lack the capacity to give.  

I just think that’s an assumption that we need to question. Because there’s a bias sometimes against the people we serve. There’s a savior complex that we have going on that, well, they absolutely could not do this other thing.  

You don’t know until you ask, and you don’t know what kinds of skills and situations people have been in their lives and the assets they have to bring to the table, and you don’t know if they might want to be part of your volunteer. 

So I think asking the people you serve current or past, past service beneficiaries, that’s a great, you know, people who’ve gotten out of crisis may want to come back and pay it forward.  

Okay, my final idea for this episode is the no-brainer. This is the no-brainer. Now, this is one you might already be doing, but I feel like sometimes people need to be reinforced, you know, around the most obvious thing. 

So this one’s the no-brainer. Go to where people are already looking for volunteer opportunities. Go straight to the source, go to the place where people are already looking, whether it’s intern fairs, whether it’s Catchafire for skilled volunteers, Idealist, or VolunteerMatch for other volunteers who are looking for opportunities. 

Service learning centers at local colleges and universities, or your local volunteer center. This is sort of seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes people forget they’re looking for something super, you know, out.  

Have you tapped all of the places in your community where people go to look for opportunities to volunteer? Have you figured out every single one? And they don’t necessarily even need to be in your community because online things. 

You know, if you have online opportunities or there are online postings that can be geographic, then it makes sense to do those posting. So one piece of advice on this no-brainer, is check out what other people are doing, other people are posting and sharing, and try to do it better.  

So, you know, if you’re going into an intern fair and you’re checking out what other people’s tables are, you want to make yours super fantastic. If you’re posting to VolunteerMatch a volunteer opportunity, check out what other people are doing and see if you can do better. 

Get a little competitive because you are, you’re going to need to stand out from the crowd when you go to places where other people are all also asking for volunteers. You know, you might want to conduct a competitor, quote unquote, competitor analysis.  

We’re, we all try to work together. But other people who are also asking for volunteers look at their messaging, branding, variety of volunteer opportunities, the ease of the process to get involved and see what you can learn from others in your community. 

One of the reasons I like this tactic and why it’s on my list, it is the definition of low-hanging fruit. People want to volunteer, so go where they are looking for opportunities. It is just the definition of low hanging fruit, and this is where I would probably start.  

So there you have it. To recap my creative ways to recruit volunteers, here are my ideas. Just to recap idea number one, host a monthly or weekly service night or day to accommodate. Those flexible schedules that your volunteers need.  

Idea number two, build a list and send a month of love, some freebies that cultivate and nurture your audience and educate them about your good cause. Idea number three, individual outreach via social media. 

There’s nothing that can replace the individual touch, so give it a try. Idea number four, hosted a recruitment event with food. Food always brings people, but make sure you’ve got a solid agenda and you are willing to make that ask.  

Idea number five, recruit service beneficiaries or customers or patrons to become volunteers. There’s no reason why they can. And then idea number six, for creative ways to recruit volunteers, the no-brainer, go where people are.  

Use the tools at your disposal. Go to the places volunteers congregate, wherever it makes sense for your ideal volunteer. Go there and make your ask. So there you have it, my six reasons and six creative ways to recruit volunteers.  

I also want to remind you that we have our VolunteerPro Month of Love. I talked about it at the top of the hour or the top of the podcast. Our Month of Love has free nonprofit tools, downloads, and templates. We’re sending things out twice a week. 

We’ll have eight separate freebies going out, so if you subscribe to our newsletter, you’ll get an alert every week. And if you want to see what we have, we’re going to be building out the page week after week. The page is volpro.net/free-nonprofit-tools. And you’ll be able to check out those tools. 

All right, so thank you for joining us for this episode of Volunteer Nation. I hope this episode has given you creative ways to recruit volunteers. If you liked it, I hope you would share it with a friend who might be able to benefit from the info.  

And please go ahead and like, comment, share. We always appreciate that because that helps us reach more people. I hope to see you next time. Thanks for listening. We appreciate each and every one of you, so we’ll see you next time. Same time, same place on the Volunteer Nation.  

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause.  

For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at TobiJohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.