Defining Your Needs and Spreading the Word

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Many people who volunteer want to offer their professional skills and talents to a cause they believe in. It’s important to know your organization’s needs so you can recruit qualified volunteers. Accurate position descriptions will help attract these people. Before you can successfully recruit volunteers, you need to understand what your needs are. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does your organization currently utilize volunteers and community partnerships?
  • What are your needs for volunteers in the near future? 
  • Where can you find volunteers and partners that possess the additional assets, tools, or skills that you need?

Know who posesses the skill sets you need.

People who use the skills you are looking for in their everyday professional lives will have inherent expertise that can be put to work for you.  Examples of professional skills that may translate directly into helping your organization include:

  • Having advertising professionals assist in marketing, public relations, or recruitment campaigns
  • Finding an IT expert to create or maintain your organization’s website, or build a volunteer or donor database
  • Working with hotel conference planners to assist in organizing and facilitating special events
  • Finding a researcher or graduate student to conduct program evaluations

Make sure you have the oversight and guidance available to manage and coordinate these volunteer roles, to get the right people in the right positions.

Click to open interactivity Robert Egger discusses the benefits of having the right people in the right roles

Robert Egger discusses the benefits of having the right people in the right roles

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Craft a three-part recruitment message that briefly details and describes what your organization is looking for in a volunteer.

The recruitment message should be broken into three parts:  a statement of need, how the volunteer can help, and the benefit to the volunteer.

The statement of need should be drafted in two versions.  First, create a version that’s just for internal use; second, create a public version that’s more compelling and “dressed up” to attract potential volunteers.  You’ll use this version in advertising materials. 

  • Example of an internal statement of need:  “Special Olympics needs a softball coach for spring league.”
  • Example of an external statement of need:  “They have gloves, bats, and softballs... but no coach. 75 boys and girls with developmental disabilities are waiting for a coach.  Don’t let them strike out. Join our Special Olympics Team!”

The next part of the recruitment message explains how the volunteer can help.  What can he or she provide?  What hard skills and interpersonal qualities would make an individual a good fit for your organization?  Be brief but explicit in terms of the most important qualifications.

Finally, explain the benefit to the volunteer of working with your organization.  People don’t volunteer to get a paycheck.  Each person has his or her own reasons, which are usually intrinsic; in other words, the volunteer gets some kind of internal satisfaction or gratification from their task.  What might a person accomplish by helping your group?  It might be helping a child learn to read, serving meals to those who cannot afford to buy food for themselves, or simply easing the burden on an overworked staff by helping with administrative work.  A good way to think about the reward for a volunteer is by considering the reward for the person being served.  For example, if a senior citizen gets a lift in their day by spending time with a volunteer as an adopted grandchild, the volunteer may also feel the lift of having brightened someone’s day.

Publicize your volunteer opportunities.

Accurate, detailed position descriptions help attract the right people, which can save you the trouble of having to turn away applicants who don’t possess the relevant skills.  Of course, how detailed your position description is depends on the task for which you are recruiting volunteers. A project-based opportunity, such as building a house, may only require healthy bodies; creating a booklet for a literacy program, on the other hand, may require someone with marketing or design skills.

You can both passively and actively recruit for volunteers. Passive recruitment might involve putting up flyers or posting ads online.  Active recruitment could include visiting a local company to talk to their staff, or speaking to a professor or class at a local university who possesses skills you need.  Here are some other ways to reach potential volunteers:

  • Local agencies (e.g., United Way)
  • Partner with large companies’ human resources or community relations department
  • At community events
  • Newsletters and brochures
  • College alumni associations (can make posts in their publications or online)
  • Word of mouth via current volunteers
  •’s volunteering section (under “community”)

These forms can help you recruit volunteers.

Click to download Volunteer Inquiry Form , Volunteer Position Description, and Volunteer Application

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