Three tips for attracting new volunteers

As long as I’ve worked in volunteering, two of the most popular times to recruit volunteers have been the start of the new calendar year and the start of the new academic year.

In January this is often motivated by people’s post-Christmas guilt, while September is a time for people to try new things as a result of change in their lives: students who are now away at university, parents who no longer have school runs to do, young people entering a new course of study etc…

Sadly some organisations still complain that people don’t want to volunteer these days. They blame the cynical, selfish times they think we live in. I disagree with them. I think people do want to volunteer – they just don’t want to do what those organisations are offering. People don’t want to do boring, dreary, make-work, designed to vaguely assist paid staff so they don’t feel threatened by volunteers. People want enjoyable, meaningful, impactful things to do that fit around the demands of the busy lives they lead.

So here are three tips to consider over the summer break that might just make volunteering with your organisation a more attractive proposition:

Give great customer service

Do you remember the days when, if you bought something by mail order, you usually had to wait 28 days for delivery? In just a few short years that expectation has been replaced. Now we’re surprised, frustrated, even annoyed if next day delivery isn’t an option.

Not long ago I encountered an organisation that complained that it was unrealistic to expect them to get back to potential volunteers within three weeks of their initial inquiry. Three weeks!

We live in an instant society where we expect quick responses. To make ourselves attractive we have to acknowledge that people’s expectations are high and we need to try to meet them – being a charity or voluntary group is no excuse.

Consider having a team of volunteers whose role it is to help respond quickly to enquiries from potential volunteers, even if it is just to give them a clear idea of how long a proper response will take.

Go social

We live in an increasingly socially isolated world, which is perhaps why people increasingly look for volunteering roles that provide the opportunity to volunteer with friends and family, to meet new people, or even make new business contacts.

Look at your organisation and opportunities. What could you do to provide a group or family with a chance to volunteer together? Give it a go and see who else you can attract.

Provide enjoyable volunteering

Volunteering isn’t paid work. People mainly volunteer in their leisure time and with the seemingly unrelenting pressures of life, we all want to spend our increasingly precious leisure time enjoying ourselves.

Making volunteering enjoyable is critical if you want to attract and keep volunteers. You see, we’re not really competing with other organisations for volunteers. We’re competing with all the leisure activities that people could spend their spare time doing – going to the cinema, having a meal with friends, watching a sports event etc…

So make your volunteering rewarding and enjoyable. Really understand what drives your potential volunteers, their passions and interests. Or, in the words of that famous kids TV show from my youth, they’ll go and do something less boring instead.

4 Responses to “Three tips for attracting new volunteers”

  1. Kerry Marland

    Great article Rob, it’s sometimes the simplest things that can have the biggest impact.

    We’ve introduced a recruitment standard where we respond to any e-mail within 2 working days which works really well (we generally respond to everyone the day they e-mail us). I’ve heard from volunteers who have applied to us and others at the same time and by the time they’ve been here for a few weeks they still haven’t had a response from the other organisation. As you say, people expect a quick response, the last thing you want is them coming back to you saying they still haven’t heard anything from you.

    One of our volunteers started receiving automated responses asking them how they were enjoying volunteering with a certain organisation and to invite them to help at a bucket collection. They had applied to this charity at the same time as ours (a few months before) and had never been directly contacted, just clearly added to a database.

    The likelihood is that you are not the only organisation being applied to so if you don’t bite the bullet and respond to the potential volunteer when they apply, you will have lost a potentially great volunteer who will find another organisation and unfortunately end up having a poor view of yours.

  2. Rachel Fallows

    There is a lot of talk of the value of volunteers, but unless that is shown from the beginning it seems a hollow statement.

    • Ivor Sutton

      Yes, Rachel. I agree with your sentiments.

      But, we have to also be clear with what ‘value’ we seek from volunteering too. To many its obvious what they work – employment opportunities! I also strongly believe that Charities need to be proactive and clear with what outcomes can be achieved from volunteering with their organisation. Again, employment objectives at the end of a 3 to 6-month volunteering period seems a reasonable ‘value’ for volunteers to achieve. However, this is seldom is the outcome, right!

      Hence, too many now see volunteering more as a benefit to the organisation than for themselves. How do Charities turn such a stigma around?

      One thing that has been adding to the woes of volunteering is both the lack of creative thinking in the employment market (we can apply the Work Programme to this statement) and the lack of boldness to confront employers (not HR staff) about the skilled and ambitious people who can ‘make a difference’ to their companies.

      It’s clear to me that so much has to be addressed for its weaknesses and also so much needs to be turned around by innovative thinkers that those left in the middle continue to feel frustrated and stressed by the lack of Upwards Social Mobility in their lives.

      It makes economic sense to encourage the innovative minds amid the depressed minds and oppressed attitudes that continue to haunt a market in need of change…. and progress.

      We most certainly need boldness and creativity to counteract such challenges.

  3. Georgina Eadon

    Great Article, it really makes you think about the volunteer’s experience!
    I think it is incredibly important for volunteers to feel valued and to start off on the right foot. If people take the time to contact your charity/ organisation to inquire about volunteering, then you should make sure you respond to them straight away and not leave it a week to get back to them. During this time, they may have contacted another charity and had a response from them! Not only have you lost that volunteer, but they may tell their peers that no one from x got back to them… don’t bother with them!

    I think its a great idea to have a team of volunteers to respond to potential volunteers!

    If a volunteer enjoys their role, their passion will show and inspire their family, friends and peers to join in as well! We need to make it clear to them the benefits of volunteer, which are not only for the individual to gain some experience for their CV, but to do good, give back to the community and make friends! Its a great social activity, and i agree, it has to compete with all the great leisure activities available! We just need to prove that volunteering isn’t boring, but a fantastic opportunity with great social benefits!


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