Volunteer Recruitment: It’s all about Relationship Building

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

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