volunteer recruitment storyYour Complete Guide to Word-of-Mouth for Superior Volunteer Recruitment 

When I start working with Volunteer Recruitment Accelerator clients, I always ask about their current volunteer recruitment strategies and what’s working now. 

When developing a new strategy, it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bath water. 

And it’s smart to double down on what’s driving traffic and new volunteer applications. 

Nine times out of ten, the primary way organizations attract volunteers is through word-of-mouth, and most often from their existing volunteers. 

When I then explore whether proactive, planned word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment strategies are in place, the answer is usually “no … and why didn’t we think of that!?”  

Sometimes the most obvious answers are right in front of our faces, and it takes an outsider to point it out.  

The fact is that while volunteers are the most effective messengers of volunteer recruitment appeals, they are often only casually asked to help spread the word, and the results aren’t that great. 

The problem is that there is no purposeful framework in place to create a marketing campaign with purpose and that includes support for your most powerful ambassadors. 

In this post, we break down how to develop a thoughtful word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment campaign that has a better chance of getting you traction than relying on random moments of enthusiasm or a few superstars (you know, those highly networked extroverts) to carry the load. 

Let’s get everyone involved – both volunteers and employees – in helping raise awareness about opportunities to support your organization’s mission and activities.  

In the end, this will not only increase the number of volunteer applications you receive but also might have a secondary benefit of growing your donor base, as well. 

So, it’s a win-win for everyone. 

For more on diagnosing why your volunteer recruitment may not be delivering results, check out Why Isn’t Your Volunteer Recruitment Strategy Working? HERE >>

How to Encourage Current Supporters to Spread the Word 

You may have asked volunteers to help amplify your recruitment appeals in the past and received a lukewarm response.

Or volunteers may have responded enthusiastically but may have not followed through.

Or volunteers may have helped spread the word to their personal or professional networks, but nothing came of it. 

Whatever the results, it may be time to rethink your approach. 

Wondering why you can’t get more volunteers to share your volunteer recruitment appeals in a way that works? 

To inspire your supporters, you must first give them something wonderful to talk about. This means both an exceptional volunteer experience to brag about and remarkable stories to tell. We share how to do that later in this post. 

Second, you must speak to the needs and motivations of the messenger in ways that inspire action with conviction. 

volunteer recruitment why people are talking

3 Reasons People Will Rave About Your Volunteer Recruitment Opportunities 

There are three key reasons why your supporters will spread the word about your cause – it’s about you, it’s about them, or it’s about us. 

In other words, it’s all about a sense of belonging. 

When volunteers feel a sense of relevance in one of the following three domains, they will be more likely to share your story with others. 

Below are some specific reasons why people will talk about your cause with others. We also share and some ideas for implementing a word-of-mouth marketing tactics around each. 

YOU: It’s About Your Organization & Services

  • People will talk about you because … 
    • They love you and your cause 
    • You’ve given them something to talk about related to your mission 
    • You’ve made your information super-fast and easy to share
  • So, try these to inspire word of mouth … 
    • Create buzz-worthy information and events 
    • Share short and smart tips, facts, feel goods 
    • Include social sharing buttons on every web page 
    • Offer free training to the public 

Them: It Makes Them Feel Good or Important

  • People will talk about you because … 
    • It makes them feel smart 
    • They feel important and like an “insider” 
    • They genuinely want to help 
    • They want to express themselves and their identity
  • So, try these to inspire word of mouth … 
    • Include a “tell-a-friend” link (e.g., a Share This widget) on every web page that mentions volunteering 
    • Ask for volunteer testimonials that focus on how their role aligns with their values 
    • Give volunteers exclusive online badges or bling to wear 
    • Invite volunteers to lead recruitment teams 

US: It’s About Feeling Connected to the Group

  • People will talk about you because … 
    • They are part of your volunteer “family” 
    • They belong to your local neighborhood or community 
    • They are part of a successful team 
    • They consider themselves “insiders”
  • So, try these to inspire word of mouth … 
    • Offer “sneak peek” insider info they can share as some who is “in the know” 
    • Offer priority registration and seating for events 
    • Facilitate team building activities that strengthen team spirit 
    • Launch group projects that build greater cohesion and volunteer leadership over time 

In addition to these three reasons, supporters will also be more likely to spread word on your behalf if they are trained, supported, and encouraged to do so. 

In order to feel confident, capable, and effective, volunteer ambassadors need a structure to work from. This comes in the form of a well-crafted volunteer recruitment campaign based on word-of-mouth marketing. 

How to Launch a Tell-a-Friend Volunteer Recruitment Campaign in Three Steps 

Tell-a-friend campaigns are the most obvious choice for boosting word-of-mouth marketing. 

The steps are simple, so don’t overthink it. 

All you need to do is engage a group of volunteers to help, equip them with the necessary tools, and give them the power to go out I the community and speak on your behalf. 

By choosing the right volunteers for you tell-a-friend outreach team, and training and supporting them properly, you should be willing and ready to let go of control. 

As a side note: The idea of “control” is an illusion – people already can and do speak about your organizations and its volunteer opportunities. Isn’t it better that you lead the way with a thoughtful campaign? 

Here’s how it works … 

Step 1: Engage  

In this step, you engage your team. Try to find people with the right heart for it, but don’t feel the need to find the “perfect” team for the job – they don’t exist. Rather, ask and listen to current volunteers as they speak about their experiences – who has a compelling story to tell? Who is passionate about what you do?  

You also want to quickly brief any potential campaign team embers with what it’s all about and how they can help. 

In short, be sure to … 

    • Recruit people with enthusiasm 
    • Listen and interact to see who is a natural 
    • Offer a short campaign briefing 

Step 2: Equip 

Next, if you want to promote robust word of mouth marketing about your volunteer opportunities, you must give supporters something to talk about.  

This might be their own exceptional experience as a volunteer or stories about what people have achieved or how communities have been transformed through the organization’s work, led by volunteers.  

Create an info bank of the following kinds of content for your team and give examples of how it might be shared … 

    • Compelling stories 
    • Testimonials  
    • Insider knowledge 
    • Unbelievable facts  
    • Funny disclosures 

Step 3: Empower 

Finally, give your team the go ahead.

If there are things they should not be doing (e.g., speaking to a reporter without first going through your marketing director), then let them know those guidelines.

If there are specific ways to use your logo and style guide, brief them on this, too. 

Also, give your team full access to a wide range of marketing collateral that they can use, depending on the situation. Plus, give them tips and ideas of how these can be used in their outreach … 

    • Brand guidelines and style guide 
    • Graphics and photos (that have been cleared for use) 
    • Tell-a-friend buttons and links 
    • Webpage “widgets” (simple graphics that can be placed on partner websites) 
    • Emails to forward 
    • Social media posts 
    • Post cards, rack cards, or business cards 
    • Links to videos 

Get your team fired up and then meet with them regularly to share ideas, what’s working, and what resources they need. Report back to them regularly about how your volunteer application rate is improving and where new applicants are coming from. 

And, of course, recognize your team privately and publicly for their demanding work. After all, they are superstars, right?!

volunteer recruitment sharing stories

How to Collect Powerful Testimonials to Fuel Your Volunteer Recruitment 

The info bank you provide for your team should be full of testimonials from volunteers, employees, partners, and those they serve. 

Testimonials are one of the most powerful ways to give your volunteer opportunities credibility. and it helps to use text and photos together for more impact. So, provide both, whenever possible.  

There are some great times to ask for a testimonial, right in the moment. They include … 

  • Right after you helped a volunteer accomplish something wonderful 
  • Right after hitting a particular milestone  
  • Right after they increase their depth of involvement 
  • Right after they positively respond to volunteer satisfaction survey or sent you a positive email 

In addition, the task of collecting, editing, and posting stories and testimonials that are ready to share might also be a task that your tell-a-friend recruitment team takes on.  

They can practice on interviewing each other first, to kick start their collection process. 

In addition to sharing through the campaign team’s personal networks, there are plenty of other places to share testimonials, too.  

They include … 

  • On home page 
  • In social media posts 
  • On event registration page 
  • On volunteer application, registration, or informational page 
  • At the bottom of emails 
  • In volunteer recruitment marketing materials 
  • In volunteer position descriptions 
  • In volunteer manuals 

Further, by featuring the “voice” of the volunteer at key infection points in the volunteer journey, you can also reinforce how others are taking action. This will also help them begin to take the steps toward true commitment. 

Build a Volunteer Recruitment Story Bank 

Story banking can help you manage your story collection and reference process, so that you and your team have edited and approved stories ready to go whenever you need them. 

There are five basic story themes that work well for nonprofits … 

  • “Overcoming the Odds” stories are just that, tales of how regular people experienced personal revolutions 
  • “Making a Difference” stories show the power of people who work together to change their community 
  • “A Day in the Life” story follows a staff or volunteer as they go about their day changing the world   
  • “Our History” tells the story of how your organization was founded and why.  
  • “Unlikely Connections” share how people from diverse backgrounds come together for the common good 

Your story bank can be incorporated into your tell-a-friend volunteer recruitment team’s info hub, so that everything is at their fingertips when needed. 

Here’s how to set up a story bank, step-by-step … 

How to Set Up Your Story Bank 

  • Step 1: Decide your goals for story bank (how many stories, what kinds of stories, in what format, etc.) 
  • Step 2: Choose formats and collection methods for stories (text, video, audio, etc. – below are a few ideas) 
    • Interviews 
    • Audio and/or video recording 
    • Web form 
    • Surveys and focus groups 
    • Social media 
    • Art projects, games, and other crowdsourcing techniques 
  • Step 3: Choose tools you need to collect and store stories (software and hardware) 
  • Step 4: Decide when you will collect stories (set the beginning and end date for the current campaign) 
  • Step 5: Choose where you’ll “bank” your stories (brainstorm a list of where stories can and will be shared – see the list for testimonials above to start) 
  • Step 6: Decide when to share stories (create an editorial calendar so that stories are shared regularly across your organization’s platforms, but don’t compete or overlap with one another – let each one shine; ask the team to amplify your shares to their network as well.) 

repurposing stories

How to Save Time Creating Volunteer Recruitment Content 

While you may think every piece of content you develop for your volunteer recruitment campaigns needs to be unique and individual, it’s simply not necessary. 

People read books and watch movies more than once. Your story might be just thing that lifts their day! 

In other words, one story will go a long way. 

Here’s how to set up and re-purpose a single story and save yourself a ton of time …  

  • Set up your camera or smart phone and record whomever you are interviewing. Now you have video, audio, and text that you can repurpose for all kind of different content.  
  • Take the transcript from the interview and turn it into a blog post 
  • Use inspiring quotes as tweets 
  • Take a few seconds of their best audio and drop it in your Instagram stories linking back to the full 2-minute video 
  • Reformat the interview into an informational case study 
  • Have the interviewee send you some pictures from their service or childhood and use them as Facebook post linking to the blog post 
  • Have someone who is good a drawing? Have them take funny or interesting moments from your organization’s history and turn them into comics. 

Thank of your story as a content cascade, starting with your cornerstone and then excerpting pieces to be shared elsewhere. 

You can also recycle stories and share them again later. People don’t remember what you shared six months ago.  

Don’t be afraid to repeat a relevant story.  

If you take the time to develop a volunteer recruitment marketing campaign that includes, tell-a-friend element, you will exponentially grow the number of people who hear about your opportunities. 

What’s more, your message will be carries by trusted community ambassadors whose influence will ensure your calls to action are not only heard but responded to.