Recruiting volunteers can require as much thought and work as raising money.
In fact, there’s a professional association of volunteer recruiters and managers called Directors of Volunteers in Austin with members from some of the most popular nonprofits for volunteers like Ronald McDonald House Charities, CASA of Travis County, Ten Thousand Villages, Central Texas Food Bank and more. These folks take the care and feeding of volunteers very seriously, and it shows.
While you may not be a professional director of volunteers, you can be open to learning about it. One thing I always recommend: the Volunteer Project Leader training offered by Hands On Central Texas. Years ago, we helped put together the materials for this so I know this program offers a great structure from which to build your volunteer-leader work on. It’s only offered a few times a year, so check it out!
The biggest mistake you can make is taking the effort too lightly. Lack of planning often results in a bad volunteer experience for everyone. Once someone has a bad volunteer experience they not only seldom come back, but they tell all their friends about it, too.
To help you think through the recruitment and leading of volunteers in Austin, we offer a few guidelines:
1. Make clear what the volunteer roles are. Before you post a single announcement, make sure you have a good vision for what the work is going to be. You’ll need this before you proceed to next steps.
2. Identify people or groups to reach out to and find out how to reach out to them. Will volunteers be working with kids? They’ll need background checks and training, most likely. Will volunteers help with a clean-up? You might want to recruit students and young people, so have an age minimum in mind. Does the work require certain skills? What day of the week will you need them? All of these are things to consider before you decide what kind of people you want to reach.
3. Tailor your message to each group you want to reach. People are motivated by different things, but the first thing to know is this: No one believes they have the time to volunteer. Ever. You can get them past that if you let them know how important and convenient the opportunity is. Whatever you do, keep your message short with enough to tease and a few important facts (date, time commitment and where to get more info), then make sure to include a link that actually takes them to more info.
4. Communicate to them all the information they need to know about the job. Once they get to your “more info” page, make sure to tell them the who, what, when, where and why of the work. Include any photos and testimonials from others to give them an idea of what to expect. And make it easy for them to contact you – offer an email address and a phone number.
5. Don’t just announce. Ask in person, if you can. You can post openings all day, but in the end, people want to be asked. If you reach out to a group, ask to attend an upcoming meeting to share more about volunteering or at least meet in person with someone from that group. It’s very easy to say no to a form and harder to say no to a person.
6. Track all the people who show up and make sure they feel useful. Raise your hand if you’ve ever volunteered to work and then spent the time just standing around. Right? When they arrive, greet the volunteers, get their names and contact information, and fully explain the work. Also, please make sure they know exactly what impact their work will have to support the cause. (There’s much more to say about making a great volunteer experience, but that’s beyond the scope of this post!)
7. Thank each of them and make sure they know about any upcoming volunteer opportunities. Again, make absolutely sure they know why they were there and make sure to send a follow-up email — with photos! — to thank them for their work. Remember, it’s likely your volunteers will want to tell their friends about their good deeds. Make it easy for them by sending them photos of themselves, letting them know your social media channels and inviting them to share!
Now, here’s a list of ideas for posting and recruiting volunteers in Austin. Good luck and tell us how it went!
VolunteerMatch allows organizations to post needed volunteer positions and allows volunteers to search for events in their interest area and region.
Linkedin allows organizations to post volunteer descriptions but you can also use it to find people who have the professional skills you need, who have volunteered in your cause area before or who lead volunteer groups at local companies. Don’t underestimate the power of this networking tool and make sure your nonprofit has its own page.
Facebook and all social media in fact can be good ways to crowd source for volunteers, but remember: The more targeted your outreach the higher your return. Post to organizational pages, alumni-group pages and professional group pages. Tag people and organizations that you think might be interested. Make sure to include a compelling photo, too!
Hands On Central Texas, the aforementioned resource for volunteer training, also serves as a volunteering board for groups. If you represent a nonprofit, just register your group to get started.
GivePulse is the volunteer message board the City of Austin uses, but it’s really open to anyone. Created by an Austinite, GivePulse has grown considerably over the years. Make sure to browse other posts to get an idea of how to best craft yours.
Little Helping Hands offers families with young children opportunities to volunteer — and they’re always in need of cooperative organizations that need more volunteers! Kids are great at cleaning, painting, organizing, making cute cards and more. Don’t underestimate the power of kids and parents working on your project.
Try reaching out to professional groups and Chambers of Commerce, also easy to find on LinkedIn or just with a search online.
Look around and contact the local businesses in your neighborhood that might have a few employees looking for a volunteer experience. Small offices contact GivingCity all the time looking for a short-term project. You neighborhood accountant, insurance office, dental office and others might be just the people to reach out to. I suggest sending a letter of introduction first.
Don’t forget to sell it! Volunteers will do almost any amount of work if they know it’s going to make a difference in the lives of someone else. That’s why we love them!