Going Virtual: Recruiting and Engaging Volunteers Online



Welcome to the e-learning lesson on recruiting and engaging volunteers online. This tutorial will review Facebook and Meetup.com, two web-based tools that are available for little or no cost, and that require no advanced technical knowledge or skills. Facebook and Meetup both: can help you generate word-of-mouth publicity for your organization; can help you organize events; have privacy and security settings; and offer membership perks, like increased engagement, to your current volunteers.

This tutorial explores two tools for recruiting and engaging volunteers online.

This tutorial will give you a basic overview of two tools for recruiting and engaging volunteers online: Facebook and Meetup. Each offers its own advantages and disadvantages, but both can help you use the web to target the types of volunteers you want and help you engage your current volunteer base.

Recruiting volunteers online can increase your efficiency.

These web-based tools offer low-cost ways to expand your organization’s reach. Depending on the site, the fees are either low or nonexistent, so your only other investment is in staff time. By using Facebook and Meetup, you can target potential volunteers by zip code, demographic background, etc., to easily find the right match for your group.

CHAPTER 1: Getting Started

The web is a great tool for recruiting volunteers because you can reach many people for a low cost, or no cost at all. In this tutorial, after we explore both Facebook and Meetup, we’ll provide a comparison of features, pros and cons, costs, and skill levels required. Two additional sites—Craigslist and VolunteerMatch—are included in the comparison spreadsheets, but are not reviewed in depth in this tutorial.

The web offers low-cost recruitment and expanded reach.

The web is a great tool for finding volunteers because you can reach many people for a very low cost with a low staff-time investment. The web can also expand your reach. If you’re currently doing most of your volunteer recruitment in-person, only so many businesses will let you in the door. The Internet gives you access to audiences you couldn’t reach otherwise.

Additionally, you can easily find people who live in a certain zip code if you need volunteers who live in the community you serve. You can also target demographic qualities, such as age and gender, if you’re seeking a diverse volunteer base.

Finally, you can use these web tools to engage your current volunteers. Task them with setting up and running these products, or use the tools to plan events to educate or recognize your current volunteers.

The report card and comparison table evaluate and illustrate the different features of each tool.

As we review Facebook and Meetup in this tutorial, we will also “grade” and compare them using a report card and comparison spreadsheet. The report card explains the tool’s cost (if applicable), key benefits and drawbacks, level of security, and time required for both initial setup and ongoing maintenance. It also rates how difficult the tool is to administer and the skill level required for a user.

The comparison table outlines basic features and customization options, and compares Facebook and Meetup. Two additional tools are reviewed on the spreadsheets: Craigslist and VolunteerMatch. They are not reviewed in depth in this lesson, as many organizations are already familiar with them. Both sites are simple to use and don’t require much explanation, though the spreadsheets will provide feature comparisons and additional info.

You can download the report card and comparison table and add to or adapt them for your own organization. Please click the icon to learn more about the report card and comparison table.

CHAPTER 2: Facebook Groups

More than 400 million people worldwide are Facebook members, and chances are you’re one of them. If you’re not, however, you’ll need to know that Facebook is a social networking site that began as a place for individuals to connect with friends and family. As the site has grown, it has added capabilities that allow organizations, causes, and clubs to create group profile pages. Facebook group pages are easy to create and can help spread your organization’s message to potential new volunteers.

Facebook ads let you target the “right” people.

Before we discuss Facebook group pages, we’ll briefly point out Facebook ads and how you can use them to target potential volunteers.

Ads on Facebook show up in small blocks, usually down the right or left side of a page. The great thing about buying ad space on Facebook is that you can target your ads to the exact users you want to reach. Ads show up for users based on what information they share about themselves in their Facebook profile. This information usually includes age, location, interests, and gender, among other things. You can choose to have your organization’s ads show up only for people in certain zip codes or in certain age ranges. You can also have it show up for people who mention volunteering or working with youth as an interest. When you’re setting up your ad and defining your target audience, Facebook will tell you how many people will see your ad based on your specifications. You’ll know, for example, if you were too specific and your ad will only reach five people.

Facebook ads also let you decide how much you want to spend. You pay a per-click fee when a user clicks your ad. You can choose whether you want to pay, for example, five cents per click or one cent per click. Paying five cents adds up faster, but paying the higher fee also earns your ad higher placement on the page, making it more visible to users. Finally, you can set a ceiling for how much you want to pay per month. For example, if you set your ceiling at $50, your ad won’t appear anymore after you’ve reached that limit. Facebook will alert you when you reach your preset limit, which is a good feature if you’re working on a tight budget.

You determine what happens when someone clicks your ad. You can have it send users to your website, to a volunteer forum, or to anything else online.

Facebook group pages act as an organization’s profile and can complement your website.

Facebook group pages are an additional way to showcase your organization and drive traffic to your website. They also provide a way to maintain control over information about your organization on the web. It’s a good idea to take the time to set up a Facebook page, because any Facebook user could decide to create one about your organization, and they don’t need your permission (or Facebook’s permission) to do so. Creating one yourself allows you to keep control of content and communications.

On your Facebook group page, you’ll provide basic information about your organization, including its name, mission, contact info, and website. It also offers space for you to advertise upcoming events.

Facebook users can find your group page by searching, and they can request to become group “members.” Members are essentially just people who support your group. You can set controls so that users request to become members, and you have to approve them before they have full access to your Facebook page. It’s a good idea to briefly review the profiles of people who request membership, as people post personal and sometimes inappropriate information on Facebook. (People will generally understand your organization isn’t advocating the behavior of your group members, but just try to be aware of who is affiliating themselves with you.)

Features of a Facebook group page include a discussion board, a “wall” on which members can post comments, and a section that links to groups related to yours. Click the icon to explore and learn more about the features of a Facebook group page.

Report card: Facebook group pages are easy to use, but require motivated staff to keep them updated.

Facebook group pages are free to set up and use. You will have to pay if you want to post ads, but how much you spend is up to you. Security on Facebook is low, so you shouldn’t post anything that is confidential or not for public view. Facebook works best as a tool to publicize your organization. You can gather new members and generate interest from people not already involved with your organization; however, Facebook is not a great platform for managing messages or exchanging internal information.

In terms of skill level required, administrators should be comfortable posting content to the web. If you already have a personal Facebook profile, you can handle it. If you don’t have experience with Facebook, check with your current staff and volunteers. Chances are, someone is comfortable with the site and can manage the page for you. Make sure, however, that this person can devote time on a regular basis (preferably daily) to keeping page information up-to-date and providing fresh content.

Using or viewing the page is even easier than posting to it. You can look at a Facebook group page without being a Facebook member (though you can’t post comments), so you don’t need a lot of skill to view the page.

Facebook group pages’ key benefits include viral marketing, the chance to connect with a younger demographic, and inexpensive but targeted advertising. Drawbacks are that the page requires consistent monitoring and dedication. You should check the page every day and actively respond to users/members. Also, once again, be cautious with affiliations. Take a cursory glance over member profiles before you approve them.

Visit Facebook to create or manage a page for your organization by clicking here: http://www.facebook.com.

CHAPTER 3: Meetup.com

Meetup.com can help you target your volunteer outreach and organize volunteer events. On the site, people can create or find groups and plan events based around activities they enjoy, such as volunteering. You can search Meetup to see if there are volunteer groups in your city or county. In the Washington, D.C., area, for example, there are 73 groups in a 10-mile radius that have something to do with volunteering. One such group has more than 1,500 members. This would be a great target audience to reach out to and recruit from for your own organization.

Meetup.com allows you to easily reach people who already enjoy volunteering.

Meetup.com is a website where people can organize associations, clubs, or groups, and plan things to do offline and in-person. Group themes range from hikers, to business-starters, to dog-walkers, to just about any other professional or personal interest. Meetup groups exist in almost every community and gather on a regular basis.

What does this mean for your organization? You can search Meetup to see if there are volunteer groups in your area. These groups are great targets from which to recruit. You can click on the group and contact the administrator, and ask him or her if you can come to a group meeting to present about your organization. You could also request to post information about your organization on a group’s online bulletin board.

By thinking outside the box a bit, you can search for groups that hit a certain demographic you may want to recruit. For instance, if you want to reach young African-American men for mentoring, you might search for a young professionals group (or young black professionals). In this way, Meetup.com can help you target your volunteer outreach.

Start your own Meetup group to publicize your work and organize events.

Starting a Meetup group can help boost interest in your organization. For example, if someone visits the Meetup site and searches for volunteer opportunities in your area, they may find your group and directly contact you to express their interest.

You can also organize events for your current volunteers. The point of these events is to create ways for your volunteers to come together on a regular basis, and to recruit additional volunteers. For example, one strategy used by some mentoring groups is to create a “sports buddies” event. These events are good bonding sessions for mentors and mentees, but they can also draw the attention of new potential male mentors. Recruiting male mentors is a common challenge, but if a male goes to Meetup.com and searches “sports,” “mentoring,” or “youth,” he may find the group and become interested.

A person can request to join a group by providing his/her name and email address. Meetup.com offers privacy controls so that, if you set your group to “private,” viewers of the group page (who are not members) cannot see who your members are or when/where they are meeting. You can designate it so only members can access this information. This is important, for example, if you’re working with youth and would want to screen adults before they show up at an event.

Report card: Meetup is less intimidating and intense than Facebook, but the organizer pays some low fees.

Meetup.com offers three fee options: six months for $12 a month; three months for $15 a month; or one month for $19. (Check the website directly, as these fees change regularly.) Only the organizer has to pay; members of Meetup.com (i.e., your volunteers) pay nothing.

Security is low, so do not post any confidential information here. Administrator and user skill levels are similar to Facebook, but Meetup is a bit easier to set up. Facebook has a lot of options, and Meetup is more straightforward. For users, the site requires only that a person be comfortable surfing the web.

A great benefit of Meetup is the ability to target your outreach to people of certain demographics, with certain interests, etc. It’s also easy enough for a trusted volunteer to manage. The biggest drawback is that the site requires consistency and dedication. While it’s not necessary to log on everyday (as with Facebook), you should log on and respond to emails at least once a week. And of course, you’ll need to commit to attending the events you organize.

Explore Meetup.com by clicking here: http://www.meetup.com.

CHAPTER 4: Next Steps

Facebook and Meetup can help you recruit and connect with volunteers online. Before deciding to use one or both sites, it’s important to think about their features, and which ones will best meet your needs. You’ll want to talk to your staff and current volunteers, and designate people to manage a Facebook or Meetup page. Using an action plan can help you get organized and move forward efficiently.

Talk to your stakeholders and consider staff time investments.

Before implementing any tool, you’ll need to identify and understand the needs of the people who will use it, such as your organization’s volunteers or partners. Consider whether consultants, clients, or even your board of directors will be impacted by your decision to use an online tool for recruiting.

Additionally, consider the amount of time it may take to set up and administer a Facebook page or Meetup group. You’ll need to invest some staff time for training and ongoing maintenance. Review the comparison tables that provide guidance on the time required for each tool.

Compare and prioritize features.

Consider your organization’s needs when deciding how to recruit and engage volunteers online. Do you want to increase word of mouth about your cause? Is your focus simply on recruitment? Do you want to plan events? Or are you seeking a combination of the three?

Once you’ve identified your needs, take the time to compare the features that meet those needs. You can begin by using the comparison table and report card provided in chapter one. Build upon these tools and adjust them for your organization.

Effectively prepare for and address change management.

Once a tool is chosen and the adoption phase begins, consider:

  1. How will you let members of your organization know?
  2. How will you train staff or volunteers to use the page?  
  3. What is your plan for ongoing maintenance of the page?

Once your organization has selected and begun using a Facebook or Meetup group, you’ll want to evaluate its effectiveness.  Are you reaching new audiences?  What’s your goal for new volunteers recruited?  Are you meeting that goal?  Is the return on your investment worth the time commitment for managing these tools?  Talking to your staff and volunteers and gathering their opinions on the tools will help you gauge how useful and meaningful they are to your organization. 

An action plan can help your staff see the value.

These sites do not require major investments of money or time, so the decision to use one (or both) of them may not majorly impact your organization. Still, it’s still a good idea to make sure your staff understands the value they add.

An action plan can help you organize your thoughts on paper. Include your volunteer recruitment goals, a list of identified stakeholders, and steps for moving forward. To begin creating your action plan, download the action plan template.


Thank you for taking the time to view this tutorial on recruiting and engaging volunteers online. Remember, these tools are all available at little or no cost. They offer unique options for reaching an extended network of potential volunteers. If you communicate with your staff and volunteers and take the time to research which tool is best for you, you can make the most of online recruiting.

These web tools are low-cost and relatively simple online recruiting options.

Thank you for taking the time to watch this tutorial. The online recruitment tools reviewed here were selected because they are either low- or no-cost, web-based, require no programming or advanced technical skill, and fit the needs of many nonprofits.

Here’s a summary of the tools reviewed.

Remember, you can use the comparison and report card spreadsheets for an at-a-glance look at the features, benefits, and drawbacks of each tool. (For your reference, here they are again: the report card and comparison table.)

In summary:

Facebook group pages: Easy to use, but requires motivated staff to keep pages updated.

Meetup: Less intimidating and intense than Facebook, but the organizer must pay fees.