Volunteer Recruitment: It’s all about Relationship Building

September 28, 2012

I work for AccountAbility Minnesota (AAM), a nonprofit organization that provides most of its direct service during tax season (from January through April). Given that I am now ramping up to recruit about 400 volunteers for our 2013 tax season, I figured it would be a good time to talk about the recruitment tactics that I have found most effective. While we’ve done different things to recruit volunteers over the years, the foundation for our volunteer recruitment revolves around one simple tactic – relationship-building. Below are a few ways we use relationships to bolster our program.

Tap into your volunteers: Reaching out to volunteers already involved with your organization is one of the most effective ways to bring in new volunteers. At AAM, I reach out to about two dozen volunteers to ask them to help with recruitment. I start by asking if they have friends or family that might want to volunteer in a role similar to theirs. Often, I’ll ask a volunteer to help us spread the news about volunteer opportunities in their workplace or school. This could be as small as sending an email to coworkers. I often have volunteers help create a lunch and learn type of event at their place of work or school. The volunteer helps by booking a room and advertising the session. I’ve found these events to be a great way to get more people involved. If volunteers don’t have the time to set up an event, I’ll ask them to send a flyer around and have interested volunteers contact me directly. These tactics have helped us significantly increase our volunteer commitment from several Twin Cities corporations.

I have had a few volunteer managers tell me they’re nervous about asking volunteers to do this because of the impression that they’re asking too much. Volunteers are involved with your organization for a reason and most are interested in getting involved in other ways. It’s been my experience that most volunteers I ask to get more involved say yes. And many are happy that I asked, even if they decline. Either way, it’s worth the time to talk with your most dedicated volunteers about getting involved in additional ways.

Using teachers to recruit students:Many volunteer programs depend on students for a significant part of their volunteer needs and teachers are key to reaching them. Students can be great assets. Here at AAM, they’re able to fill many of the daytime volunteer shifts that we’ve had trouble filling in years past. While many schools offer opportunities to recruit volunteers (i.e. posting on a website or attending community involvement fairs), I have found the most effective way to recruit students is through teachers. Teachers are an incredible avenue to students because of the established relationship they have with students. Case in point is my experience with a professor at a law school. She had not heard of our program prior to reaching out to her. However, she had experience working with low-income taxpayers and understood the value the volunteer experience could bring to her students. She invited me into her classroom to make a five minute pitch for volunteers. Because of that connection and her advocacy to her students, we were able to get 18 student volunteers. The best part is that is required very little time on my part.

I would encourage you to think about the relationships you have in your volunteer network and how they may help you with your volunteer recruitment or other needs. I would love to hear what others have found effective. Please post your ideas in the comments section below.

Adam Faitek

Volunteer resources director, AccountAbility Minnesota


The Value of Skilled Volunteers

September 21, 2012

More than ever, it is a time of wearing many hats. Of multi-tasking and added responsibilities. Of doing more than we thought was feasible. All of us as volunteer managers recognize that our organizations could not function without volunteers, and we rely on these volunteers to do everything from mailings to tutoring to preparing meals to taking leadership roles.

My challenge to you, however, is to think about the skills you’d like to have, or the type of staff you’d like to hire, and try to find a volunteer to fill that role. In managing the everyday responsibilities of the Volunteer Center at Community Thread, I have often thought, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had a volunteer who would do such-and-such?”  Several times when this thought has popped up, I’ve dismissed it, thinking there was no way we’d ever find a volunteer with those particular skills. However, I’ve learned that it never hurts to put it out there. Deciding to post the position on social media, our database, and our website has yielded some wonderful skilled volunteers for our organization! Another terrific way to identify skilled volunteers is to learn what some of your current volunteers do for a living and what their hobbies are. I find that most volunteers are thrilled to contribute where their skills lie, even if that means volunteering in a different way than they originally signed up for. Here are a few of our success stories in implementing skilled volunteers.

Graphic Design-Community Thread is small and does not have a Marketing Manager or a staff with skills in graphic design. We had a volunteer sign up to help seniors stay in their homes by offering cleaning help once a week. However, I noticed on her volunteer application that her work history was in graphic design and event planning. I asked her if she might be willing to design a few logos for some of our annual service days, and she was extremely honored to be asked. She has so far designed logos for our Spring Into Service event and our Rake a Difference Day, making our marketing materials much more attractive!

Blogging-Our new volunteer opportunity database-www.communitythreadconnect.org-came with the feature of having blog content feed into the front page. Since we previously didn’t have a Community Thread blog, I was suddenly tasked with creating and updating a blog for our organization. On a whim I posted on facebook for a volunteer willing to try various volunteer opportunities and blog about her experiences. A few days later I was contacted by a college student excited to fill the role, and she turned out to be a very talented writer! Her blog posts have yielded more traffic to our blog than any of our other posts.

Photography-I had been hoping to find someone who could take quality photos for our marketing materials. I found out that one of our Holiday Bureau sponsors was a professional photographer, and asked her if she might be willing to volunteer her time as a photographer for some of our events. She was more than willing to help out, and has since taken pictures at several of our events, created a video for our website, and conducted a photography tutorial for our staff members.

The combined efforts of these three volunteers has saved me a lot of time, and has helped increase the quality of our marketing efforts and our ability to tell our story. These are just a few of the many talented volunteers to come through our doors. When we utilize the unique skills of our volunteers, there is no limit to what we can accomplish!

Elena Ballam
Volunteer Center Program Manager, Community Thread

The Importance of Volunteer Leaders

September 14, 2012

The Webster Dictionary defines volunteer as “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service: as a : one who enters into military service voluntarily b (1) : one who renders a service or takes part in a transaction while having no legal concern or interest.”

But volunteers are so much more than that. We are an extraordinary group of people devoted to improving not only our own life, but the lives of those around us.  We work hard in what we do, even though we may not always receive recognition.  We understand the importance of giving back to the community, and helping those who need it the most.

Leading this special group of people is no easy feat. It takes someone who is organized and can handle stressful situations. It is someone who is able to recognize the hard work of the volunteers. And most importantly, it takes someone who can inspire others on the importance of giving back to the community.

Stressful situations are bound to happen when leading volunteers.  Communication and being organized are vital in preventing these unfortunate circumstances. Organizing and dividing up tasks for the volunteers is required in making sure everything gets accomplished and the volunteer’s time is not wasted. Communication between the site and volunteers is necessary in making sure volunteers understand their role and to stop any problems before they occur. Errors in scheduling, not enough volunteers at an event, or too many volunteers and not enough work are all possible situations for a volunteer leader, but through communication and organization, these problems can be reduced drastically.

In order to make the volunteering experience with the organization both meaningful and memorable, a connection with the volunteers should be made. This connection starts when matching the qualifications and interests of the volunteer with an activity where they can strive and make the site even better.  Throughout their time volunteering, it’s important to connect with the volunteer to ensure they know the organization truly appreciates the time they devote and the work they do really does make a difference.  By doing so, this will help to leave a positive volunteer experience and will hopefully inspire them to volunteer in future.  Making a connection is also important with potential volunteers as a volunteer leader can help an individual understand the value of volunteering and motivate change in the community.

Recognition of the volunteer’s hard work and devotion to an organization is also an important piece of leading volunteers. And it doesn’t always mean having awards and ceremonies. A simple thank you can go a long way.  It is also important for volunteers to be recognized in the community.  According to Independent Sector, the estimated value of volunteer time was $21.79 per hour. This is an enormous impact volunteers are making the community, and the community should be aware of all the hard work they are doing.  In order to have the community recognize this impact, leaders of volunteers should be collecting information on volunteer numbers and hours. Not only will this information be very helpful when presenting at community meetings to share the impact of volunteers, but also in the recruitment of new volunteers.

Volunteer leaders are in a unique position where they can inspire change in individual volunteers and truly make a difference in someone’s life. Their job is anything but easy, but through communication and recognizing the hard work of the individuals they really can make a giant impact in the community and improve the lives of so many people.

Veronica Kneeland, MAVA VISTA 2012-2013


The Individual Volunteer

September 7, 2012

In my seven months as an Americorps VISTA, I’ve worked on recruitment and retention projects that will build capacity within the Volunteer Services Department at Second Harvest Heartland.  There’s no question that our organization will increasingly rely on volunteers to fulfill our mission of ending hunger through community partnerships.  Instead, the question on our minds is how can we best recognize volunteers for the tremendous contributions they make to that mission?

Why is the answer to this question so elusive?  For me, it cuts straight to the sometimes contradictory, sometimes complimentary reasons that volunteerism is so important.

Volunteers are logistical magic: they help our organizations provide services and goods to our communities that would simply go missing without them. Their work is tangible, immediate and real. At Second Harvest Heartland, volunteers donated over 61,000 hours of time last year. That’s more than 7,500 workdays that volunteers spent delivering food to seniors, registering clients for nutritional programs and doing the essential work of simply sorting and packing the food that we send to our partner agencies.

It’s no wonder, then, that our department of Volunteer Services reports to our Chief Operations Officer. Our daily work revolves around our warehouse and its policies, procedures and processes, and the metrics we use to accurately report the volunteer impact to our partners, donors and, of course, the volunteers themselves.

Yet in another sense the real value that they bring to our organization is intangible.  As essential as volunteers are to our internal operations, they are also one of our most important ties to our community. They volunteer with us because our work resonates with their values, motivations and goals.They’re our heart and voice, not just a pair of hands.

No doubt that’s why the secret to volunteer appreciation is hard to pinpoint. We thank our volunteers every time they come in, recognize them in annual events and keep them informed about how their service uniquely impacts our work.  I’m thrilled that we’re working to design processes that make appreciation a priority and a fixture in our relationships with volunteers.

But I think the key to great appreciation is giving it when it isn’t necessarily practical or part of the plan.  The inconvenient and unexpected are par for the course for recognition that also acknowledges the enriching intangibles of lasting relationships. Whether we’re volunteers or volunteer administrators, at the end of the day it’s all about the relationship between people with unique values and motivations.

I’ve certainly found this to be true of appreciation at The Soap Factory (TSF), Minneapolis’ inspiring gallery for emerging artists, where I volunteer and am always looking to steal some ideas.  When I began my VISTA position, TSF Program Manager Lillian Egner met with me to show me the ropes of volunteer coordination even though I was no longer a current TSF volunteer. Later, Volunteer Coordinator Dani Hans shared her knowledge about gathering qualitative information on volunteer motivations and sentiments.  Their receptivity to my new goals was so generous that I’ve been back and volunteering since.

My organization’s need for volunteers is growing, as is the emphasis we put on volunteers’ needs, not least among them recognition.  Appreciation that’s sincere and timely will never miss the mark, but the best recognition gives volunteers to celebrate a deep relationship.

Kaia Arthur Volunteer Program Developer (Americorps)
Second Harvest Heartland