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Recruiting Volunteers

Recruiting | Posting Positions | Application | Background Checks

How can you encourage people who have the skills and background you need to give their time and energy to your organization? Speak to people as individuals, each with something unique to offer -- even if  you are looking for 10 people to do the same thing.

The expectations of volunteers are changing. Here are two articles we find helpful:

Recruiting volunteers

Identify what benefits the volunteer will receive and use that to lead the posting. Is it an opportunity to get to know people of a background and culture different from their own?  Is it  forming a strong and lasting relationship with a child?  Is it a chance to learn about social marketing or the legal system?

Be as specific as you can be about what you are looking for. You want the volunteer to read the position description and respond "Hey, they are talking about me!"

Organizations that are successful recruiting well-match volunteers:

  • Are clear about the skills and background that is needed
  • Engage the entire staff, board and community in recruitment efforts.
  • Use a variety of approaches to get the word out (on-line listings, newsletters, staff communications and one-to-one outreach.)
  • Create interesting and eye catching volunteer listings that grab people’s attention and generate excitement

Here are some examples of interesting and informative volunteer listings or recruitment campaigns:

  • Here are materials from an on-going joint campaign between Washington volunteer centers and 501 Commons, aimed at recruiting veterans into service projects throughout the state. Here is a promotional flier and informative brochure.
  • Project Scotland is the national volunteering program for 18-30-year-olds that uses irreverent language and snappy hilarious YouTube videos to attract volunteers.
  • Here are a few examples of well-written recruitment messages, for a volunteer baker, a volunteer coordinator, and a general template.
  • You can find a list of resources, articles, and tools related to volunteer recruitment on the Energize website.

Posting volunteer positions

Our full list of recruitment advice for King County can be found here.  Some of the best places to post and look up sample listings include:

  • Volunteer Centers such as the United Way of King County Volunteer Center are also an excellent place to post volunteer listings and look at good examples. There are volunteer centers and United Ways in many areas of the state. Go to Volunteer Centers of Washington and click on your Washington county.
  • Check out Idealist.org, an excellent place to post volunteer listings and seek out good examples. It’s updated regularly and has lots of visitors.

Strapped for time?  A time-saving best practice for recruitment is to create a listing and post it on your local volunteer center site or your own organization's website and then link to that main listing from all other websites and communications. Then when you update your primary listing, all of your other listings will be automatically updated.

Having trouble reaching volunteers? Perhaps there is something wrong with the language, maybe it’s the design of your flier? In her article, Barriers to Volunteer Recruitment, volunteer management expert Susan Ellis outlines common barriers to volunteer recruitment, and steps to get around them.

Getting the information you need on the volunteer application

It’s hard to overstate the importance of making sure you have the right volunteer for your organization's needs. Determining if you have the right person starts with an application that gives you the information you need.

Besides collecting basic contact and availability information, it is a good idea to ask some question to get to know more about your volunteers. What are their interests and why are they volunteering? Find out if they have any special skills that you could utilize, and if they are interested in making a long-term commitment, or if they just want to do short term work. Know these things will help you get the most out of your volunteers, as well as provide the volunteer with a more enriching experience.

Take a look at these examples of applications from organizations who participated in our 2010 and 2011 Volunteer Impact Program (VIP), now called VIP 360:

  • Here is an example of a volunteer application from the Hearing Speech and Deafness Center, an organization that provides educational, service, and supply resource for deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech impaired people. Volunteer Application.
  • Here is another sample application from the Low Income Housing Institute, an organization that develops, owns and operates housing for the benefit of low-income, homeless and formerly homeless people in Washington state. Volunteer Application.
  • Ask questions like those included in the volunteer questionnaire from Denise Louie Education Center, Denise Louie promotes school and life readiness by providing multi-cultural early learning services to children and families.

Background checks

If your organization works with special needs populations or with young adults or children, do background checks and follow the rules of your contracts carefully. It is a good idea to include background check permission forms and confidentiality agreements with your application materials. Here are some examples from more 2010 and 2011 VIP participants:

  • Life Long AIDS Alliance requires its volunteers to sign a  Volunteer Agreement. Life Long AIDS Alliance provides a wide range of services and support to people living with HIV and AIDS, as well as promoting HIV prevention in the community.
  • Denise Louis Education Center uses this  background check form. Because this organization works with young children, the form must be extremely thorough and comply with state and federal law.

Another important step is to screen applications and conduct interviews. Do you have a set of good interview questions? Successful screening and in-depth interviews can prevent many types of supervision, liability, and management problems with volunteers. Interviews also give make it easier for you to place the volunteer in a role that they see as appropriate and appealing.

Return to Topics in Volunteer Management Guide.