Volunteers are the vital cog that keeps the third sector turning. They are the champions whose dedication allows non-profits to address social need and support the people who rely on their help. But volunteer recruitment remains a near constant effort and drain on resources for many non-profits already stretched for time and money.
Word of mouth is still the most common method of volunteer recruitment, but as more online options become available, we take a look at the best way to get people on board.
Reaching volunteers through word of mouth (e.g. referrals from existing volunteers or connections) links you to an audience who are likely to be more ‘warm’ to the idea of volunteering and who probably already know a bit about the work that your charity does. These connections may well have already seen the difference that volunteering makes to the causes they care about, and, as a result they are likely to be loyal and committed.
Word of mouth marketing has been proven time and time again as a great way to build trust within a community. In fact, a 2018 study reports that millennials found word of mouth marketing 115% more effective than traditional advertising.
And this type of marketing doesn’t just work for profit-making companies. Non-profits have the advantage over businesses of being easy for people to endorse and promote – they’re actively doing good in the world and they’re not selling anything. Asking your community of volunteers, donors, or even beneficiaries to spread the word about your non-profit is a great route to finding new volunteers and raising awareness for your cause.
One of the main problems of the word of mouth approach is that it’s difficult to measure the success of your actions. If you ask your community to spread the word and try to attract new volunteers, some will, and some won’t. It’s hard to identify how many people you have reached and how quickly they might get in touch.
This might be ok if your organisation needs a constant stream of volunteers all year round, but if you need support for a short-term or time-sensitive project, you’ll need a quicker, more measurable result.
Creating a more formal ‘refer-a-friend’ campaign can be hugely beneficial for volunteer recruitment, but it’s also very resource and skills reliant, not to mention time-consuming. You’ll need at least a basic understanding of digital marketing, and you’ll need to conduct research into the most effective channels to reach your community.
You’ll need to create engaging content that your volunteers and connections will be likely to share. Case studies of volunteer success stories will bring the impact alive, engage people emotionally, and open their eyes to the importance of volunteering.
Finally, you’ll need a way to share your request for support. It might be a social campaign asking connections to re-share your posts, a ‘refer-a-friend’ button on your website allowing people to forward your details, or an email campaign encouraging your email contacts to forward your request to contacts they think would be interested. You will also want to ensure you have adequate tracking in place to be able to measure the success of this campaign and how quickly you were able to find volunteers through it.
If you have the time and the resource to do this well, ‘refer-a-friend’ campaigns can be highly effective, but for many overstretched charities, it’s just not a feasible option.
If you use an online platform to advertise volunteering roles, you’ll reach a far wider audience of people actively searching for volunteering placements. If you’re recruiting for a virtual role, you’ll be able to find volunteers with the right skillset outside of your local area who may never have found you otherwise, as well as people who may have faced barriers to traditional volunteering roles due to disability or lack of access.
A lot of volunteering roles are traditionally unskilled. Activities like painting walls, planting gardens, and delivering food are all important to the running of many charities, but more and more, non-profits are looking for support with skilled, strategic activities such as social media marketing, bookkeeping, or moving services online. Using an online platform allows a charity to highlight the specific skills required of more unusual roles and helps to find a suitable candidate quickly.
Often these platforms are free to use for non-profits, meaning you can save on digital or print advertising, or staff hours handing out flyers and speaking to passers-by. Instead, you can write up a simple role description highlighting the main responsibilities, skills required, and expected time commitment, upload it to your chosen platform and free up the staff time and money usually spent on volunteer recruitment to focus on activities that better support your organisation’s goals.
Some online platforms are effectively job sites (and some literally are e.g. LinkedIn volunteering), which means that they’re often filled with volunteering opportunities that have expired or never been updated. In the crowded lists you may find it hard to make your organisation and its values stand out against a sea of impersonal adverts, and you may find that you don’t get many responses.
As more online volunteering platforms pop up across the web, it‘s worth remembering that they don’t all have an equal footing. Some are purely job boards that connect you to a volunteer without any customer care or vetting, many are mainly London-based (even if they don’t advertise themselves to be), and some of them offer a range of other services too, so the focus isn’t on volunteering.
It is worth considering what you’re really looking for in a volunteer, whether it’s skills, location, experience, or simply passion for the cause, and taking the time to research what platform is best placed to help you find this person.
At Social Good Connect, we specialise in finding motivated, skilled volunteers. We act as a true partner to the organisations we help and work together to find the perfect match for Scotland-based physical placements or online volunteering.
If you think your charity or non-profit organisation could benefit from having a cost-free dedicated volunteering partner who will save you time, admin, and recruitment fees, do give Lennox, our Charity Engagement Manager, a call and see how she can help. She’s always up for a chat!