The Best Ways to Manage Local Volunteer Recruitment

We talk a lot about the value of local. We eat local. We buy local. And we know how important it is to recruit locally. What are the best ways to leverage the presence of local volunteers?

Reaching out to community organizations is essential to both enlisting enough volunteers and incorporating your event into the hosting community. Schools often have incentives for students to pursue volunteer opportunities. Certain sororities and fraternities have service built into their bylaws. Service-minded organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and Lions Club focus on community improvement and have great potential to partner with you.

By recruiting from a variety of entities, your volunteer base grows in diversity and gives you an effective snapshot of the city, suburb, or neighborhood you’re planning to reach. Each individual offers a unique understanding of the local context and can provide insight as to how to successfully tailor your event to the event location. Now let’s make the most of it!

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1. Give Some Form

Before asking your volunteers about event details, gather as a staff to decide the aspects of your event that are most core to your mission and vision. You know your organization and its goals the best! List the qualities and methods that are central to who you are as an organization or to the event itself. These are your non-negotiables and therefore not up for discussion or debate with your volunteers. This may sound harsh, but by providing this structure before you talk with volunteers, the conversation remains focused and your volunteers better understand the overall goals of the event and organization.

2. Give Some Freedom

Now that your non-negotiables are in place, decide what is flexible! There is often a difference between “the way we’ve always done it” and “the way we should do it this time.” Your volunteers can help you bend and shift on these topics to maximize your overall effectiveness. Take a look at your logistical decisions, local marketing strategies, or any other areas that need to adapt to different locations, and bring in your volunteers! Utilize email surveys or plan volunteer forum opportunities. Identify key volunteers who seem most in-step with your work and invite them to planning meetings. It’s not wise to incorporate every idea, of course, but intentionally communicating with your volunteers helps you adapt to event locations and helps your volunteers invest in their work on a deeper level.

3. Get Some Feedback

While we strive to integrate great methods before the event, sometimes the best ideas come afterward. After an event, continue your volunteer communication to gather ways you succeeded and ways you can improve in the future. Keeping notes about what worked and what should be modified helps create an even better experience when you return and shows your volunteers that you’re listening!

Incorporating the voice of your volunteers may take patience and creativity, but the end result elevates your event from good to great.

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Diagnosing and Curing “Volunteeritis”

Volunteer management is a significant part of my community relations role at a medical school. Our students are incredibly brilliant, generous, and hardworking people. I’m fortunate to have a highly motivated volunteer pool, but I have come to realize that my success in coordinating them corresponds closely with the other stressors in their lives (biochemistry tests, for example).

If we have a big event on the eve of an exam, there is likely to be an outbreak of “volunteeritis,” as I’ve dubbed the disease of last minute “something came up” cancellations from my volunteers. Here are a few tactics I’ve come up with to prevent this event-crippling disease:

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  1. Pad your volunteer slots – slightly. Deciding upon the right number of volunteers in a job is as important as administering the right dose of a medication. Too many in a position and your volunteers feel like you’re wasting their valuable time and might not feel they’ve had a good experience. Too few and you’re in panic mode. Volunteer atrophy happens, so adding an extra spot or two can help offset last-minute cancellations. I also keep e-mails from people who are interested in volunteering but didn’t have a chance to sign up before the slots filled as a virtual waiting list.

  2. Send a couple rounds of volunteer detail messages. An outbreak of volunteeritis typically strikes a few minutes after I send out the details confirming where to check in, what to wear, etc. I like to have all of the details before I communicate them to volunteers, but sometimes everything doesn’t come together until a few days before the event. I’ve begun to send volunteer details a little more than a week out, whenever possible, and then a second e-mail a day or two before the event that’s been fine-tuned to address questions that have come in, or offer a better map or additional information on the event hashtag, etc.

  3. Set expectations on finding replacements. I’m fortunate that my volunteer base is well-connected with one another, both in person and in a Facebook group specific to sharing campus volunteer opportunities. I try to set up an expectation that volunteers seek a replacement whenever possible. I think this also sets student volunteers up to have stronger professionalism skills when it comes to making career commitments.

I’ve begun to address “volunteeritis” at our big orientation meal packaging event training, which is a kickoff to service for the school year. The med students humor me by laughing when I tell them I’m going to share information about a secret disease they won’t find in their medical school textbooks, but addressing the issue at the start of their experience at school has definitely helped me as they seek out opportunities to make a difference in the community.

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Recognizing Volunteer Trends

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Volunteer coordinators are always looking for new team members – and volunteer trends are a good place to start. At VolunteerLocal, we’ve noticed a few trends that seem to be popping up more and more across the country. Below, we’ve listed some of the top trends we’re seeing that may help you find your next great volunteer.

Businesses are Getting Involved

More and more businesses are looking for ways to make a group outing a way of giving back to their community. Whether it’s a major corporation that just moved into town or a small business with 10 dedicated team members, there are so many opportunities to get help for your cause. Try reaching out to the HR team at the company with a bit about your organization, what kind of help you need and see if they might be interested. For this kind of outreach, offering an opportunity for a large group to come to help out all at once can be a great option.

Colleges are Looking for New Partners

Colleges offer a wealth of volunteers with varied schedules and a passion for changing the world. We’re seeing a growth in millennial activism and with that, there are plenty of willing volunteers walking around local campuses. With colleges, you can often reach out to a specific organization on campus that’s just right for your cause. Maybe the track and field team can help at your next marathon or students in the communications school are able to do social media outreach for your event.

Schools are Teaching Civic Duty

Volunteers aren’t just walking around college campuses these days; they’re also bounding through the halls of elementary schools. More and more primary education teachers are looking for ways to teach students about civic engagement. While high school kids are old enough to help with quite a lot, you’d be surprised what the little ones can do too. Stuffing envelopes and making signs are simple and fun ways to get younger kids involved.

So get out there and broaden your base! There are people of all ages looking to help, and keeping an eye out for volunteers in the places you might not normally think to look might just win you a lot of new volunteers.

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Creating a Hype Squad

 There are lots of important volunteer jobs – but what about one that keeps your volunteers excited to be a part of your movement? Enter: The Hype Squad. Take those energetic teens and millennials in your volunteer base and create a team to hype everyone up about your event and organization’s mission.

At the Event
When you start scheduling out each role for your event, why not leave 15-minute shifts here or there for a small crew to get the other volunteers excited? Send them out with bottles of water, small pieces of swag or (our personal favorite) snacks! Giving volunteers that quick acknowledgment that you’re glad they’re there can be a huge morale boost and keep everyone excited for the cause.
On the Ground
Get your organization evangelists out to the masses! Create a small team of people who will go the extra mile in getting the word out about your organization. Make sure this team has a clear understanding of your mission, some literature/pins/swag and a genuine interest in getting the word out. We’re not necessarily suggesting you send them out to a street corner to yell about your cause, but outreach can be as easy as talking about it at a party or posting flyers at school.
Virtual Squad

While face-to-face is always great, social media is a hype squad’s best friend. See if volunteers are able to share news about your event and organization on their social media accounts and offer ideas for how to share to make it even easier (a selection of event photos, sample tweets, etc.). Encouraging your team to take photos while volunteering and creating organizational hashtags will get the word out fast about what your crew is doing and attract more volunteers.

Most of all, make sure your organization has a mission that people can get behind. Help volunteers understand why your team is so important and how much you can help your community so you can create a team that truly wants to hype your cause.

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Mind the Gap: Managing Generational Differences in Your Volunteer Force

FREE PIZZA! FREE PIZZA!

While this tactic might work to gather young folks to learn about your cause, it probably won’t be a selling point for older generations. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as enough pizza. As baby boomers begin to retire and have more free time for contributing to their causes, and younger generations feel more connected and civically-minded, it’s crucial to make all ages feel engaged when volunteering.

It’s true that most folks volunteer thanks to a genuine desire to help their communities. However, research suggests that motivations vary by generation.

How can a volunteer manager bridge this gap, pointing out individual successes while cultivating a community that brings everyone together?

Step one – be creative. Flyering in a coffee shop and making a Facebook event might not cut it. Talk to current volunteers about what events they are attending and ask them to help you recruit there. Reach out to new media sources and venture to new parts of town. Utilize your organization’s network – if they’re passionate about your mission, they’ll be thrilled to help!

 

 Step two – be deliberate. Once you’ve got a solid crew of volunteers, learn as much as you can about them. Consider personality types – who is going to be a great leader of a committee, and who has the technical skills to get work done fast? Establish a clear problem-solving protocol so that your volunteers know from the get-go that they can be honest with you and their teams.

 

Step three – be gracious. Consider your volunteers’ motivations when expressing your gratitude. A young volunteer might like to know how her contribution directly impacted the organization’s mission, whereas an older volunteer might like to know how his contribution made you feel. When possible, let each volunteer know that you are paying attention to them and are thankful for their specific abilities.

 

The benefits of age diversity in your volunteer group are obvious: more perspectives, more community engagement, and a better network. But it goes beyond that. One study on age diversity suggests that having people of different generations making complex decisions together leads to higher work performance and self-reported health.  Thinking beyond the free pizza to engage volunteers of all ages is a great step for your organization and for your community.

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