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5 min read

Adjectives That Turn Off Prospective Volunteers

May 28, 2019


Guest post by Meridian Swift. This post originally appeared on volunteerplaintalk

Everywhere you look, you see volunteer recruitment ads that begin with “Energetic Volunteer Wanted.” Or “Caring volunteer.” Or even “Friendly volunteer.” Maybe “Enthusiastic,” “Flexible,” or “Compassionate” appears. But does “Detail-Oriented” really float your boat? Does “Organized volunteer” send you running in to help sort an organization out of their accounting mess?

The point is, how can a volunteer be enthusiastic about a role they haven’t yet undertaken? And what does flexible indicate? That a volunteer will be called at 3 am? Or that they have to drive 50 miles just to participate?

What about caring? How much can a volunteer already care about people they have not met?

And what does energetic mean anyway? That a volunteer will have to run back and forth at an event, carrying 30 pound boxes of giveaways?

The World War II generation might have responded to these adjectives. They were, after all, people who believed in humble service and assumed they had to fit in with an organization, not vice versa. Today’s volunteers view things differently, and our recruitment ads need to reflect a more updated approach.

In place of asking for vague qualifications, our volunteer recruitment ads need to spell out who we are and what the volunteer will gain by giving us their precious time. What impact will their donated time have on the mission? What personal benefit will they gain by joining the cause? Why should they bother with us at all?

Our volunteer ads are potentially our most potent recruitment tool. They are passive recruitment, which means they’re working while we’re out talking to potential volunteer groups, training new volunteers and even while we’re sleeping. Recruitment ads are a way to encapsulate all the positive aspects of volunteering for our organizations and they have only a moment to speak to volunteers who are scrolling for something that sparks their interest.

Try to look at it from the prospective volunteer's point of view. Imagine this volunteer late at night, scrolling through at volunteer opportunities, wondering what they can do to make a difference. They know nothing about your organization. If you had 10 seconds, what would you tell them to grab their attention and convince them to respond?

Recruitment ads are elevator pitches, and most of us write them aimed at describing what kind of volunteer we’re looking for instead of reflecting what the volunteer is looking for from us. I know because I didn’t give ads much thought at the beginning either. Then I started to ask prospective volunteers how they heard about the organization and what made them take that first step. I found that recruitment ads needed to go way beyond a description of the job — they needed to have appeal.

By flipping our ads to reflect what we offer, we will entice volunteers to contact us. Positives to include in ads:

  • Quotes from current volunteers
    Example: “I am made to feel that my contributions are important.”
  • Quotes from clients
    Example: “My volunteer helped me to…”
  • Flexibility of assignments
    Example: “Volunteer when your schedule allows.”
  • Any trial periods, or the message that you don’t judge people who don’t find a suitable fit
    Example: “Give us a try to see if we’re worthy.”
  • Statistical impact
    Example: “Our volunteers helped 750 people find housing last year.”
  • Humor or lighthearted messages, or it’s not all doom and gloom
    Example: “Do you get all giddy over other people’s junk?”
  • Humanizing messages, or we’re also new to this and we welcome you
    Example: “We would love your help in creating new programs to…”
  • Craft a tagline (I love taglines…just saying)
    Example: “Where passion meets purpose.

Volunteer recruitment ads are like having a personal robot assistant helping you. It never sleeps. It never stops. Program it wisely, and it will work tirelessly. But just as a robot needs a tune-up once in a while, our recruitment ads also need updating, so check yours to see if they sound fresh.

Today’s volunteers respond to modern recruitment ads. They need to be shown the reasons why they want to volunteer. So, if your volunteer wanted ad says:

Flexible, energetic and obedient volunteers needed to support our work. One year commitment required or you need not apply. Background check a must! Copy this number to your flip phone and download our application to your floppy disc

…you might want to rewrite that one.

Author bio: Meridian Swift has been a volunteer manager for twenty years. She is the author of the book, "The Volunteer Shelf Life" and blogs about volunteer management on volunteerplaintalk.com. She has held the CVA certification since 2005, and has presented volunteer management workshops on state and national levels.

Meridian Swift

Written by Meridian Swift


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