Word-of-Mouth Volunteer Recruitment – It’s Easier Than You Think!

Editor’s note: In honor of VM Summit 16, which is all about corporate/ nonprofit collaboration, this series of volunteerism-related blog posts will take one topic and explain how it’s relevant to both groups. Today’s topic? Word-of-mouth volunteer recruitment. Check out our other blog, Volunteering is CSR, for the same topic from the perspective of corporate volunteer program managers.

Word-of-mouth volunteer recruitmentFor me, there’s nothing quite like the rush of recruiting a new volunteer! Having a conversation, chatting about my experience, and seeing someone take the leap to volunteer… I love it so much that I’ve made my career out of it. Here at VolunteerMatch, I help lead the effort on growing the base of our volunteer, nonprofit, and corporate members.

For some, however, this is a terrifying idea. That’s why I wanted to share some ways to enhance your word-of-mouth recruitment efforts that can help you shape all of your volunteers into volunteer recruiters!

Over 70% of nonprofits find word-of-mouth recruitment to be the most effective way to find volunteers (with online recruitment through tools such as VolunteerMatch as 2nd) according to Hart Research Associates. As Karla Robinson from Project: LEARN of Medina County, Ohio shared, “Word of mouth is so important in volunteer recruitment because you want volunteers to have a realistic expectation of the position. Current helpers can give prospective volunteers great insights into what it’s really like to be in a position, hopefully leading to better quality recruits who will stay longer.”

Here are 5 examples showcasing how to enhance your organic word-of-mouth recruitment (and things you should consider before getting started).

Note: These stories come from various nonprofits, ranging from large teams of paid staff down to just one paid staff person.

  1. Staff & Volunteer Partnership: Add Word of Mouth to Existing Recruitment Efforts

Early on in my volunteer recruitment days, I doubled the volunteer program in a neighborhood of San Jose. How? By leveraging existing volunteers and making it as easy as possible for them to share their stories. I would recruit at least two existing volunteers to share their stories and answer questions. This way, a potential volunteer could see what it’s like to become a volunteer as well as see the support they will get if they join.

Things to Consider: It’s important to identify the characteristics of your ideal volunteer. Then, seek out existing volunteers who would help you inspire those with those characteristics.

  1. Referral Incentives that Work: “Invite-a-Friend”

For two years in a row, my team at Girl Scouts of Northern California recruited the most troops nationwide through our national “Invite-a-Friend” campaign. The incentive program worked like this: For a limited-time, recruit a friend to start a new troop and receive $50 to the Girl Scouts’ retail shop. Plus, the new leader received a Volunteer Resource Pack (badge book, pins, tote bag, and more).

Things to Consider: This program worked well for two reasons: 1) impact & scale and 2) the right incentive. Let’s take a closer look at these:

Impact & Scale: Rather than having a volunteer invite a new volunteer, this program was focused on recruiting a new troop leader. This, in turn, means bringing on about 10 girls and 2 adults if you look at the average troop.

The Right Incentive: This program had the right mix of incentives that were meaningful to both the existing volunteer and the new leader. $50 to the retail store is quite a bit of money, and the Volunteer Resource pack is everything a new leader needs to get started. The return on investment also worked well, and should be considered:

Return on Investment = Revenue (12 members X $15 = $180) – Cost ($100 per troop leader)

Remember, ROI could be based on time, too!

  1. Culture of Recruitment: “Replace Yourself in the League”

As a volunteer with the Junior League, we have mantra that you should replace yourself in the League. This means, if you decide you no longer want to volunteer with the organization, you basically find your own replacement. This is a culture that we have created and of course, building culture takes time. I’ve also seen this work effectively for Board of Directors replacements.

Things to Consider: Volunteers spend time with your organization because they care about it. So building this culture of recruiting a replacement might be a great way to help bring in new volunteers.

  1. Social Media: Who says word of mouth has to be in person?

The nonprofit Braven offers a college course to empower promising young people on their path to college graduation and strong first jobs. They do this by through leadership coaches who facilitate sessions with a cohort of students. As a former coach, it was easy for me to help them recruit. Why? They equipped me with social media content that was easy to post:

Twitter/Instagram:

Coach the leadership development of diverse college students with @BeBraven. Learn more at https://bebraven.org/volunteer-as-a-coach/

Build the next generation of local leaders; apply to serve as a @BeBraven Leadership Coach. Learn more at https://bebraven.org/volunteer-as-a-coach/

Facebook:

I really loved being a @Braven Leadership Coach because [insert your reflection]. Join us in building the next generation of Bay Area leaders by becoming a Leadership Coach. Learn more at https://bebraven.org/volunteer-as-a-coach/

Braven Makes it Easy for Volunteers to Share their Stories OnlineThings to Consider: Having easily shareable content can increase the likelihood that those who would prefer to share their experience online will actually do so.

  1. VolunteerMatch

And, of course, encourage your volunteers to share your VolunteerMatch opportunity!

Throughout my experiences, I’ve discovered that retention increases among those volunteers who recruited new volunteers, and volunteer recruitment is most effective when you use multiple methods, including word-of-mouth and online recruitment.

Why “Tough Love” Produces the Best Volunteers

Guest post by Mike Devaney

Why Tough Love Produces the Best Volunteers“Look, this has to work for you… what do you wanna get outta this experience?” she asked, squinting.

Katerina (Kat), the hospital’s volunteer coordinator, was quietly putting to bed everything I thought I knew about recruiting volunteers. For starters, she wasn’t pleading with me to join her program. Actually, quite the opposite. It felt like she was trying to dissuade me from applying!

She wasn’t, of course. But I still remember that conversation nine years later because it was so different from all my other volunteer program inquires. Based on those experiences, I had assumed coordinators were supposed to …

  • Gladly accept anyone
  • Downplay the demands of the onboarding process
  • Avoid probing questions about motives

While Kat’s program depended exclusively on volunteers, she wasn’t looking for just anybody. Why? Because visiting sick and dying patients on a weekly basis wasn’t for most people.

Motivation Drives Commitment

The first interview with applicants, Kat later told me, revealed a lot. She could predict, with a high certainty, who would follow through with the application process and who would drop out.

The program included 20 hours of classroom training, which Kat oversaw. Again, with high certainty, she could tell who would thrive as a volunteer in the hospital and who’d wash out. Discussing the big issues of life — pain, suffering, and death — reveal a lot about a person’s motivations.

Which brings me to this point: Motivation. It’s good to question an applicant bluntly, like Kat did to me, about his or her motivations. Applicants might not be fully cognizant of their driving motivation, but they should be able to articulate more than a pat answer. Why? Because it’s what’ll keep them committed and growing as volunteers.

[Grab a list of sample interview questions here.]

Now it should be said that a volunteer’s motivation may not always be altruistic. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t conflict with your organization’s mission. I stayed with Kat’s program for 4 ½ years. We became good friends and discussed a lot of things “off the record.” Some of those discussions, I’m sure, didn’t sound particularly gracious coming from a hospital volunteer, but they were authentic.

Business, Not Personal

In business, the companies who develop thoughtful, creative, even rigorous hiring processes win. The hiring process is a branding tool; word gets out quick among job applicants about the companies who do it right. From the company’s perspective, the better they screen applicants in the early stage, the more time they can devote to promising candidates in the later stages.

The same principle is true for nonprofit and charitable organizations. Put another way, cast a wide net for volunteers using vague and undefined language, and you’ll spend more time later eliminating unqualified applicants.

In my experience working with nonprofits, particularly smaller ones, I find resistance to using “callout” language when advertising for volunteers. Callout language says to the applicant “Come closer,” or “Stay Away.” It doesn’t do both. The fear is that an otherwise awesome candidate might not apply if the language is too restrictive.

That’s when I tell them about the Peace Corps. Four years after “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love” slogan debuted, applicants outnumbered openings 10:1 and by 1991, 30 percent of Peace Corps volunteers were reached through this recruitment campaign.

If anything, the slogan proved that qualified volunteers respond to “tough love.” The question is, are you willing to go there?

About the author:
Mike Devaney is a freelance copywriter and marketing consultant who helps nonprofits recruit and retain promising volunteers. In addition to the hospital mentioned above, he’s also served as a volunteer at a nursing home and a church-sponsored meal program. Visit him at mikedevaney.com
to schedule a consultation.

How To Use Positivity To Attract New Volunteers

Guest post by Kayla Matthews

Finding qualified and capable volunteers for your organization isn’t always easy. Getting the word out is one challenge. Finding people willing to commit to the tasks at hand is another. Once volunteers are recruited, keeping them around and satisfied is a whole other effort.

A great way to make all of this happen is to focus on positivity. The message your organization conveys helps immensely. While these messages are often tailored for potential donors, they can be just as effective for prospective volunteers.

Here’s how to harness the power of positivity to attract new volunteers and keep effective ones around.

Highlight the Work Volunteers Do

How to Use Positivity to Attract New VolunteersTo recruit new volunteers and keep your current volunteers contented, highlight the great work they’re doing. Sharing volunteers’ unique roles, day-to-day tasks and what they like about volunteering go a long way in appealing to new volunteers. Using social media to thank long-time volunteers and welcome new ones is a good way to diversify your marketing efforts.

Highlighting this kind of work is also a great method for sharing the interesting ways volunteers have contributed. Take, for example, how Ford Mustang part dealer CJ Pony Parts teamed up with Make-A-Wish to restore a teen’s vintage Ford Mustang. That’s not an everyday occurrence, so it shows the different ways the volunteers might be able to help.

Sharing a story of a volunteer is a lot more effective than simply sharing a volunteer job description. By presenting volunteers in a positive light, you’ll appeal to both prospective volunteers and those who have no interest in volunteering. Simply posting a volunteer job description won’t get a lot of attention, but a compelling story coupled with a link to your organization’s volunteer page works on multiple levels.

Focus on the Outcomes

Volunteering is proven to be rewarding and satisfying, but maintaining positive messaging can be a challenge if your organization is dealing with grim subject matter. Organizations that oppose trafficking, domestic abuse, and other societal ills aren’t able to post the warm and happy images that other organizations might be able to.

That’s why you should focus on the positive outcomes your organization creates. People love a happy ending, and your organization can share those despite how difficult the path to that ending may have been.

It’s these positive outcomes that are especially motivating when the work is difficult, so share as many as you can.

Keep Positive Messages Simple

It’s important to highlight the varied work that your organization is doing, but be sure to focus on the key messaging. Distil all the work into a simple and compelling message that easily explains what your organization is all about. Potential volunteers are overloaded with distractions and often aren’t willing to dig through extensive messaging to see if the nonprofit is right for them.

Make Sharing Positivity Easy

Charity: Water, a nonprofit dedicated to providing access to clean water, has some of the best marketing in the nonprofit sector. They’re at the forefront of digital marketing trends, and their mission is easy to convey. What makes their marketing so effective is just how easy it is for supporters to share their personal experiences. This helps get the word out organically, as Charity: Water doesn’t have to pursue active outreach. The supporters do it for them.

Think of ways to encourage your volunteers and supporters to share their thoughts and feelings about your organization. Personal recommendations are far more useful than any form of advertising, so make it as easy as possible for existing volunteers to spread the word.

Positivity is a powerful tool, yet it’s most effective when you know exactly what your audience wants. Finding that balance between informative and positive can help you reach more potential volunteers.

To find what works best, fine-tune your messaging as needed and ask yourself important questions about demographics and communications channels. Following these steps will help you bring in new volunteers that can help fulfill your organization’s mission.

_

About the author:
Kayla Matthews is a writer and blogger. Her work has appeared on Nonprofit Hub and The Caregiver Space, along with The Huffington Post.

Image credit: Kaboompics

4 Strategies for Engaging Your Volunteers on Facebook

Guest post by Abby Jarvis

Your nonprofit’s volunteers are likely using Facebook to connect with each other, their favorite companies, and their favorite brands and nonprofits.

Are you one of their favorite nonprofits? Do you want to be?

Let’s look at four tactics for engaging with your volunteers on Facebook.

Check out these tips for staying in touch with volunteers on the internet in general.

1. Recruit More Volunteers.

Recruit More Volunteers

Facebook is an excellent way to engage with and recruit more volunteers. If you have a strong presence on Facebook (i.e., you post regularly, interact with followers, and have a good mix of status updates, pictures, and videos), this is relatively simple.

You should:

  • Continue reaching out to volunteers by answering any questions or comments they post on your statuses, photos, videos, or other content.
  • Keep sharing great content.
  • Give people ways to find your Facebook page on your website and within your emails.

If you don’t have a strong Facebook presence, you should:

  1. Start with those in your organization. Encourage your entire nonprofit to like and interact with your Facebook page.
  2. Ask your current supporters to join in. If your current volunteers are liking and commenting on your posts, it’ll be easier for you to connect with their networks.
  3. Post content regularly. Post statuses, pictures, and videos on a consistent basis. Respond to your followers’ comments, questions, and messages promptly.

If you follow these steps, you’ll be able to recruit more volunteers via Facebook.

How?

Well, individuals might start asking to volunteer simply because you’ve raised awareness on Facebook.

But, they might not know about volunteering opportunities unless you tell them. Next time you host a volunteering event, post a few Facebook statuses in the weeks leading up to the big day.

By growing your network on Facebook, you automatically have a larger pool of potential volunteers to pull from. Once you’ve virtually connected with those donors, post volunteer opportunities right to Facebook.

By maintaining a strong Facebook presence and reaching out to your existing supporters via social media, you’ll be able to expand your network and potentially recruit more volunteers.  

2. Make Donation Appeals…

Make Donation Appeals

…But not all the time!

Yes, your volunteers are already giving you time and energy.

But research shows that if someone supports your organization, they are likely to support it in multiple ways. In fact, two thirds of volunteers also donate money to the same organizations they donate time to. But in order to get a donation, you have to ask!

As a general rule, Facebook should mostly be an avenue for relationship-building and conversations with your supporters.

Appeals should be made only occasionally, and it’s important to time them well when you do make them.

Scheduling donation appeals during peak giving times can be a good way to convert some of your volunteers into donors.

Special events like #GivingTuesday aren’t necessarily volunteer-oriented, though.

VolunteerMatch and #GivingTuesday have recently partnered up to encourage “Giving Time” as an alternative to monetary donations.

Times like these can be opportune moments to ask for donations on Facebook. Additionally, the end of the year is prime time for donation appeals. Many people are in more charitable moods and have better grips on their financial situations.

Some of your volunteers might not want to give monetarily, but it doesn’t hurt to make a donation appeal on Facebook every so often (tip: don’t make your appeals any more frequent than once a week).

3. Highlight Your Volunteers.

Highlight Your Volunteers

Nearly everyone enjoys being the star of the show from time to time. Even your most selfless volunteers might like being publicly recognized for their work.

Facebook is the perfect platform for thanking your volunteers.

If one of your advocates did a great job getting signatures for a petition, for example, highlight her on your Facebook wall. Not only will it encourage her and show her that you care about her passion, it will also show others that you value your volunteers and inspire them to get involved.

You can even make a weekly or monthly post highlighting your supporters!

Your followers will appreciate the consistency, and it’ll motivate them to try to get the Facebook equivalent of “Volunteer of the Week.”  

Tip: Make sure you get permission from your volunteers before you post pictures of them on social media (especially if there are kids in the images!).

4. Encourage Volunteers to Share their Experiences

Encourage Volunteers to Share Their Experiences

If you want to potentially recruit more volunteers and get feedback from your existing supporters, encourage volunteers to share their experiences on Facebook!

During your follow-up after a volunteer day, ask supporters to post statuses, pictures, and videos (when applicable), to their own Facebook walls, tagging any other volunteers they met during the day.

If they had a positive experience, it serves as a great online review of your organization’s volunteer program.

If not, then your nonprofit can take that feedback and use it to improve your volunteers’ experiences with your organization.

Encourage your supporters to share their encounters with your nonprofit as a way to further engage with them!

——

Facebook can be an excellent tool for nonprofits to engage their volunteers. If you already have a substantial following on Facebook, use it to your advantage! If not, now’s a great time to start building up your social media presence.

Engaging Volunteers Guest Blogger Abby JarvisAbout the author:
Abby Jarvis is a blogger, marketer, and communications coordinator for Qgiv, an online fundraising service provider. Qgiv offers industry-leading online giving and peer to peer fundraising tools for nonprofit, faith-based, and political organizations of all sizes. When she’s not working at Qgiv, Abby can usually be found writing for local magazines, catching up on her favorite blogs, or binge-watching sci-fi shows on Netflix.