Rob Jackson: Your competition is the whole world

If you want to attract volunteers, you have to convince people that spending time with you will be the best use of their spare time, writes the volunteering consultant

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Recruiting volunteers isn't easy. Before we even get our message in front of people, we have to cut through the mountain of communication bombarding our lives: advertising; email; social media; text messages; TV; internet; radio. The list goes on and on.

The implicit message is that we struggle to recruit because people are just too busy to see our recruitment efforts, let alone respond to them. You might be nodding away in agreement at that statement. If so, this next sentence, taken from a recent Buffer podcast on content marketing, might be a surprise: "The lie every marketer tells themselves is that the audience is too busy to consume their content. It has nothing to do with how busy they are. If they aren't consuming your content it is because it simply isn't relevant enough."

The public aren't too busy to see or respond to our recruitment messages; they just don't find what we have to say relevant or interesting enough to warrant their attention.

One of my long-standing personal bugbears is the messaging organisations still use when recruiting volunteers. You see it up and down high streets, in charity shop windows across the country: "Help, we need volunteers!"; "Help, we urgently need volunteers!"; "Help, we desperately need volunteers!"

It is the only form of advertising that sells a product (volunteering) based on how the supplier will benefit. All other forms of advertising sell the benefit to the consumer. For example, Tesco advertises by saying "every little helps", not "buy from us, we need to make more money". Lexus advertises its cars as a lifestyle choice, not a way for us to increase its shareholder value.

Almost all advertising is based around the idea that if you buy a product you will be fitter, happier, healthier and more attractive. Volunteering opportunities are rarely advertised this way, the emphasis instead being placed on what the organisation needs people to do.

When we are recruiting volunteers, we are competing against all this other advertising. As they put it in the Buffer podcast, "your competition is the whole world". We have to cut through and convince people that spending time with us will be better for them than doing anything else with their spare time. We have to make our message relevant and interesting to the public and sell them the benefits of giving us some of their time.

Here are three quick tips:

  1. Inspire people with your cause. Don't jump straight to the recruitment ask, but convince people of the importance of the issue your organisation is trying to address.
  2. Target your recruitment messages as much as possible. If you aim to reach everyone, the chances are your message will be relevant to no one. Decide who you want to reach and adapt your efforts to that group.
  3. Don't tell people they'll make a difference; tell them the difference they will make.

Over to you. Share your top tips in the comments below.

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

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