Rob Jackson: Fantastic volunteers and how to find them

Five tips on ensuring volunteers are for life and not just for Christmas

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

At this time of year there is usually a rise in the number of people interested in volunteering. Many of them are keen to get involved over the Christmas period, giving a little of their time during the holidays to help and support good causes.

However, when January rolls around we might never see some of these people again. Normal life resumes and the seasonal motivations wane. So how can we reach out and find fantastic volunteers throughout the year? Here are five quick tips.

Target

A big mistake people make is to suggest that anyone can do the role. It’s a technique that can work for certain roles, but for most volunteering opportunities target, target, target. Ask three questions:

  • What do you want the volunteer to do? Make sure you give proper attention to the work you want volunteers to do so you can answer the next question.

  • Who would be the ideal volunteer for this role? Get as a specific as possible. Avoid saying anyone can do it. That might be the case, but if you segment that broad audience into categories you will be better placed to answer the final question.

  • Where are you likely to find them? Given what you need, where might you find those people in your community? Again, be specific and avoid generalisations such as libraries.

Ask

Once you’ve got your target group identified, do not forget to actually ask them. Research consistently shows that people who don’t volunteer feel like they haven’t been asked to give time. Ask, ask, ask. Keeping asking. And when you’re done, ask some more.

Sell

Sell your volunteer opportunity like a business would sell its products. Focus on the benefits of someone volunteering, not the features. When we buy something we don’t just look at what it can do but how it will help us. It's the same with volunteering – show people how volunteering will meet their needs; don't just tell them what they will do or how desperate you are for help.

Respond

If you are going to ask for someone’s precious spare time, make absolutely sure you have the capacity to provide great customer service to them when they do get in touch. Make use of simple tools like out-of-office email and voicemail messages so people instantly know when you’ll reply to their enquiry.

Scale of engagement

The days of people signing up to regular, long-term volunteering on day one are pretty much gone. People don’t thrill to that kind of commitment any more.

We can get people to make the kind of regular commitments we want, but we have to be patient and plan for it. Offer a scale of engagement, with regular, committed, long-term volunteering at one end and shorter term, bite-sized, easy-to-access opportunities at the other. Start them at the easy end and, as you get to know them, try to encourage them up the scale. It might take weeks, months or even years, but some of the volunteers will climb the scale to give you the committed service you desire.

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