3 Tips on How NOT to Recruit Volunteers

There are times that we discuss a topic that is somewhat difficult to articulate. And in these times we find it helpful to, rather than explain what to do, explain what not to do.

Volunteer recruitment is one of those times. It requires a delicate balance of knowing when it’s the right time to push for volunteers, and when it’s time to step away. If you handle yourself properly, your nonprofit will be equipped with volunteers all year long—not just at that last big event of the year. Here are three tips on how not to get volunteers for your organization:

#1: Guilt Trip Them

We didn’t like it from our parents, and volunteers don’t like it either. “Sadly, this program will shut down if more volunteers don’t sign up.” Do not, we repeat, do not ever use this phrase. This is a problem that should be handled within your organization—not a problem that you advertise in hopes that a few overworked volunteers will feel guilty and sign up to help. Keep things positive, because volunteering should be a positive experience.

The volunteers who stay with your organization consistently throughout the year are those who not only feel they are giving back, but are also getting something out of it for themselves. Yes, at first glance this sounds selfish. But think about it: if a volunteer feels a sense of satisfaction, they’re likely to revisit your nonprofit to relive those warm and fuzzy feelings. If a volunteer simply does it out of obligation, as with most obligations, the will likely try to avoid signing up to help again if possible.

#2: Make them Life Long Volunteers

Commitment is scary. Most guys (sorry, we’re stereotyping here) are afraid to commit to their own girlfriends, let alone a volunteer job. So don’t make it a long term commitment. Be flexible on letting short term volunteers participate. People are busy—we know and you know. So don’t make it seem like they’re signing a life-long bonding document that binds them to every Saturday for the rest of their lives. Volunteers are more likely to say “yes” if they can see how long the commitment is.

#3: Be a High School Boy

Every year, for whatever reason, we put our young boys on the line to ask girls to the big dance. Palms sweaty and tongue-tied, they approach and make their proposition (“My mom could pick you up at six”). She glances downward, trying to find the kindest words—“I don’t think so.” BOOM. Crushed forever.

Don’t be a high school boy. “No” isn’t “never”. If volunteers turn you down for one event, that doesn’t mean they won’t ever participate. Be willing to be shot down. And when the time comes that you are—because believe us, you will be—give them a couple of months (or whatever amount of time you’re comfortable with) and then ask them again. Timing is key when it comes to recruiting volunteers. So be persistent, don’t be shy, and don’t let your sweaty palms get the best of you.

We hope these tips help you in your quest of recruiting volunteers year round. It’s no easy task—and we realize this. But hang in there. Because your volunteer experience is one worth having (or it had better be), some might not know it yet, but we believe in you.

How do you successfully recruit volunteers for your nonprofit organization?


Kathryn Pauley

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Nonprofit Hub. Soon to be college graduate, she enjoys helping nonprofits understand better how to reach the millennial demographic—cause we are living in a millennial world, and Kathryn's a millennial girl. With experience leading the largest student-run charity event on her campus, she looks forward to bringing her unique perspective to the Hub team every day.

January 13, 2012

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