volunteer recruitmentVolunteer Recruitment Messaging: 5 Ways to Gain Traction

There a surprising trend in volunteer recruitment messaging that entices potential volunteers to click on your ad: it’s the social construct of reciprocity. Reciprocity is one of those social norms we live by.  No matter where we come from, we feel obligated to return a favor, even if it is unsolicited and no response is expected.

Researchers believe this behavior has evolved in order to keep the majority of human transactions “fair.”  It’s basically helped us cooperate and survive as a species.  And we are, even today, hard-wired to follow the rule of reciprocity.  It simply compels us to act.

The element of surprise is powerful!

Human beings take great delight in being pleasantly surprised.  Social psychologist Norbert Schwarz found that as little as 10 cents was enough to change the outlooks of research participants who found the money by surprise, creating a more positive view of their day. 

According to Scwharz, “It’s not the value of what you find.  It’s that something positive happened to you.”  The element of surprise is so powerful that for-profit companies spend millions finding ways to “delight” their customers.  But, nonprofits don’t need to spend a lot to make a connection with new supporters.  We can put one simple tactic to work.

“Surprise reciprocity” is the ticket.

When you combine reciprocity (a part of our human nature) with surprise (something that can make our day), you’ve got a very persuasive approach to add to your volunteer recruitment toolbox.  But, how can this concept work in the real world?

5 ways to delight future volunteers

Using surprise reciprocity is actually pretty easy — simply surprise volunteer applicants with something small that may be of value to them.  It doesn’t have to be anything expensive, or even tangible.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Send volunteer applicants a “Let’s Get Started Kit” with a small giveaway that shows your gratitude for their interest right off the bat (pick something that follows the “theme” of your organization or program name in some way);
  2. If your program requires extensive volunteer training, that you feel may discourage potential volunteers, send applicants a free Study Guide that covers what will be learned in simple, jargon-free language and gives links to background info (keep it simple, though; too much info too soon will be a turn off);
  3. Set up a separate email address for volunteer inquiries and program it to automatically send a reply with a video link to anyone who inquires about volunteering for the first time — in the video, include a montage of people who’ve benefited from your organization’s good work and want to express their gratitude (this is also a great way to thank your current volunteers);
  4. Form a volunteer-led “Welcome Team” to reach out to volunteer prospects who have contacted you for more info; train them to answer questions, help with the application process, and share their own experiences as a volunteer;
  5. Offer free “Insider Tours” to potential volunteers; schedule them on a regular basis to show interested parties what’s it’s like behind the scenes of your organization or program.

All five of these strategies offer something of value to volunteers — background information, connection with others, evidence of the program’s impact, inspiration, etc. — and will come as a welcome surprise to your new recruits.  After all, how many programs do you know offer any of these things?  Just doing one of these will set you apart from all the other opportunities that are competing for your volunteers’ attention.

In what ways do you already use surprise reciprocity to gain support for your program?  Share your experiences by clicking on the comments link below.

PS– For more great ideas on how to share the love with your volunteers and supporters, check out Help Scout’s free ebook 25 Ways to Thank Your Customers.  It contains lots of great low-cost tips that can easily be used by volunteer programs to thank current volunteers or delight applicants.