Sealing the Deal with Potential Volunteers

March 24, 2011

According to the Rule of Seven, “a prospect needs to see or hear your marketing message at least seven times before they take action and buy from you.” Once they take action though, you must be prepared to make the final sale.  Let’s think about that in the sense of a potential volunteer.  When a potential volunteer notices our marketing tools and they call us, are we effectively “sealing the deal” to get them connected with a volunteer opportunity?  I have been with RSVP as an AmeriCorps VISTA for about seven months and this is something I struggle with.  Quite a few times I have had a person call in to me after seeing our PSA in the paper or one of our flyers (note that they called me, meaning that they are obviously already interested); so I’d explain the program, send out an application in the mail, and wait, without hearing anything back.  Was there something I could have done differently?

I found some helpful tips online.  Tips for Volunteer Coordinators, Utilizing Your Most Valuable Resource. The tips seemed so obvious after reading them, but maybe I just needed to see them AGAIN.  Two of the tips really stood out to me and warranted a deeper look.

  1. Make it easy for people to volunteer.
  2. Ask people to volunteer in areas they are passionate about.

Part of the reason the RSVP program exists is to eliminate the barriers that older adults have to volunteering, essentially what Tip #1 says.  Here’s how:

  • Have opportunities in the communities they live in.
  • Work within their time availabilities.
  • Prove that volunteering will be worth their time and that they will be making an impact on the community and the organization.
  • Provide perks or deals to get people to volunteer (travel reimbursement, recognition events, trainings, etc.)

And here is how we cover Tip #2:

  • Have opportunities that meet their many skills or interests.
  • Give the opportunity to provide change in areas that are meaningful to them (grandchild’s school, environment, neighborhood clean-up, etc.)

I knew these were the things RSVP did, because I had been told, and because it’s on our flyer.  But what did it mean?  How were we actually doing all of the bulleted items above? I realized that (and it’s so obvious) I had to understand the product before I tried selling it! I had to get out in the community, do visits with our nonprofit partners, understand what types of positions they needed volunteers recruited for, and converse with my coworkers so I knew what they were doing as well.

Being a connector group for older adult volunteers and nonprofits in the community, you play a lot of phone tag.  You have to get to know your volunteer, find a perfect volunteer opportunity for them, see if the opportunity is still available with our nonprofit partner, give them the volunteer’s information, and then follow up to see if it was a good match or if you need to find something else.  Then once a good match is made, help the volunteer understand they are a volunteer at XYZ Agency, and they are also an RSVP member.  Here are some things that we are doing to help make this work:

  • Meeting with the potential volunteer in person.  Getting to know them face to face and making them feel they are worth our time, because we are asking for theirs.  This also helps make them feel like an RSVP member, not just a volunteer at the agency where they volunteer.
  • Creating a universal application with our partner nonprofits.  This way the volunteer doesn’t have to fill out an RSVP application and then fill out all the same stuff on an application for the agency they will be volunteering at.
  • Using a call-log system to track the number of phone contacts it takes before a volunteer gets signed up with one of our partner nonprofits.  Less is best!
  • Having good, effective, “to the point” materials that highlight our program and the areas of great need in the community.

And before I let you go, here’s a tip I learned from my own experience (don’t judge, I’m sure I’m not the only one) which doesn’t need any further commenting:  Follow up in a timely manner!

Danielle Schminkey

Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA)



Helping Volunteers in Job Search

March 17, 2011

According to MAVA’s 2010 report on The Status of Minnesota ’s Volunteer Programs In a Shifting Environment, 66% of organizations experiencing increased inquires about volunteering indicated the increase was primarily driven by unemployed people.

Depending on the geographic location of your volunteer program and the type of organization it serves, your percentage of unemployed volunteers seeking job-related benefits from their service might be relatively high or low.  However, it is certain that they are in your program and there are more of them today than there were 2 years ago.

We say that volunteering is a great way to gain new skills, fill-in resume gaps and “get your foot in the door”.  It’s a solid recruitment message, but is your volunteer program delivering on its promise to help volunteers in their job search?  Have your recognition and retention practices evolved to meet the needs of your job-seeking volunteers?

Aleisha’s blog, originally published by Young Nonprofit Professionals Network – Twin Cities, on her person’s experience as a job-seeking volunteer written to an audience of fellow job-seekers. The author, Aleisha Lee, specifically cites the type of benefits she has found meaningful.  If the Aleisha was a volunteer in your program, how could you best recognize her for her service and retain her as a volunteer over time?

Jay Haapala

Volunteer Services Manager, Minnesota Children’s Museum

President, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration