How to find the right volunteers for your organization.

Avoiding the Pitfalls [in Recruiting Board Members], Carol E. Weisman, The Secret of Successful Boards, p. 18-20, F.E. Robbins & Sons
Barriers to Volunteering: Hidden Messages in Your Recruitment, By Susan J. Ellis, Appeared as an "On Volunteers" column in The NonProfit Times
The Black Church, Charyn D. Sutton, Pass It On: Outreach to Minority Communities, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America
Both Receiving and Giving, Susan J. Ellis
But Everyone Knows... The Case for Prospective Volunteers, By Susan J. Ellis, Appeared as an "On Volunteers" column in The NonProfit Times
Changing Work Patterns (Implications for Volunteer Recruitment), Judy Esmond, Count Me In! 501 Ideas on Recruiting Volunteers, Newseason Publications
Choosing the Best Websites for Posting Volunteer Opportunities, Jayne Cravens and Susan J. Ellis, chapter 8, p. 157., Energize, Inc.
Clarifying Expectations on Both Sides, Eileen Hammond, 64-66, Directory of Social Change
Decide Needed Roles and Set Recruitment Goals, Gary J. Stern, Moblizing People for Marketing Success, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
DIVERSITY: Different Perspectives on the Same Topic, Sue Vineyard, Megatrends & Volunteerism, pp. 121-123, Heritage Arts Publishing
Don't Call Me a 'Senior'!, Susan J. Ellis
The Eleventh Step is to Create Teams that Work, Shar McBee, To Lead Is To Serve: How to Attract Volunteers & Keep Them
Essentials for Volunteer Speed Matching, Volunteer Centre Dacorum, Volunteer Centre Dacorum
Excerpt from Top Tips for Recruiting Volunteers DVD, Martin J. Cowling, People First – Total Solutions and the School of Volunteer Management (Sydney, Australia)
Finding Daytime Volunteers, By Susan J. Ellis, Appeared as an "On Volunteers" column in The NonProfit Times
"I Don't Have Time", Susan J. Ellis
Missed Opportunities for Good Help, Susan J. Ellis, Appeared as an "On Volunteers" column in The NonProfit Times
The Need for Diversity – a ‘Whole-of-Volunteering’ Approach, Joy Noble, Louise Rogers, and Andy Fryar, Volunteer Program Management, Volunteering SA Inc
The Power of Difference, Susan J. Ellis
The Power of Positive Relationships in Recruitment, Matthew H. Mattson and Joshua A. Orendi, Good Guys, Phired Up Productions
Recruitment Maxims, Susan J. Ellis
Right Under Your Nose, Bill Wittich, Knowledge Transfer Publishing
What's in a Name?, Volunteer Vancouver, Peoples Lens
WHO IS THE NEW BREED OF VOLUNTEER? A Profile of the 21st Century Volunteer, Jonathan McKee and Thomas McKee, ch. 1, pp.3-24, Group Publishing, Inc.
Why Volunteer?, Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.
Your Circle of Resources, Susan J. Ellis, The Volunteer Recruitment Book, Energize, Inc
From the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, Singapore , 2008, pp. 40

Produced by Community Brands, YourMembership, and Abila, this study reports on answers given by over 1,000 association members to what they want from their membership and what keeps them renewing.  

, 2017, pp. 23

Researched by UK consulting firm nfpSynergy, this free, 7-part research report covers: the political and social landscape for volunteering; volunteering trends over the last decade; harnessing volunteer motivations; the changing mechanics of volunteering; engaging the young, the old and the family to volunteer; how do we manage the 21st Century Volunteer? -- with conclusions and recommendations.

, 2015, pp. 91
Assesses factors that increase male volunteering in service programs and offers concrete approaches to overcoming barriers and designing programs that are attractive to males. , 1999
Harvard School of Public Health-MetLife Foundation Initiative on Retirement and Civic Engagement , 2004, pp. 162

By  Mai Moua, Ph.D. for the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA). Results of a 3-year study of the attitudes of immigrants (especially  the Hmong, Latino, and Somali communities of Minnesota) about volunteering and those of organizations about recruiting these populations. 

, 2010, pp. 40
Over a dozen practical, free manuals to support (international) inclusion projects for socially excluded young people, from SALTO-YOUTH (Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities within the European YOUTH programme). , 2010
Allison Fine for the Case Foundation. Social Citizens BETA addresses the unique characteristics of Millennials, who have grown up in a digital era, and "are equipped with innovative tools and ideas for bringing about change. This is a paper intended to start a "larger conversation with these 'social citizens, to share new ideas and "challenge perceptions about their approaches to being engaged." , 2013, pp. 65
Published by Community Literacy of Ontario (Canada) about creative outreach strategies for the 21st century. , 2001, pp. 26

By Nora L. Silver, based on work done by The Volunteerism Project on volunteering by diverse ethnic/cultural groups. Seven focus groups provided the basis for the book:

  • A Chorus of Voices, African American focus group facilitated by Vicki Clark in Memphis, Tennessee
  • Self-Determination: Messages for Our Native Youth, two American Indian focus groups conducted by Kouslaa Kessler-Mata in Oakland and San Francisco, California
  • Uno Recibe lo que Uno Da: You Get What You Give, Central American focus group conducted in Spanish, facilitated by Coco Mendoza and translated by Gary Wheelock in San Francisco, California
  • Extending the Family, Chinese American focus group conducted by Mae Chao in San Francisco, California
  • Giving Generously, Japanese American focus group conducted by Mami Ishikawa in Berkeley, California
  • Three Continents, Four States, Ten Cities, Korean American focus group facilitated by Debbie Ng in Oakland, California
  • La Gran Familia, Mexican American focus group facilitated by Ramon del Castillo, with simultaneous translation by Patsy Roybal in Denver, Colorado
, 2011, pp. 131
Edited by Andy Fryar, Rob Jackson, and Fraser Dyer. Essays from contributing volunteer managers around the world on attracting the best and most diverse volunteers and then working with them successfully. , 2007, pp. 204
by Renaissance London, report of a 3-year project at the largest archaeological archive in Europe designed to test volunteering as a form of social inclusion by recruiting volunteers from diverse backgrounds , 2010, pp. 18

By Joanna Machin of the  Institute for Volunteering Research (UK) for the Voluntary Action Media Unit to identify research and information which address issues related to the image of volunteering and volunteers by the public and the media -- specific reference made to the images held by different social groups. 

, 2005, pp. 47
by Kathryn Montgomery, Barbara Gottlieb-Robles, and Gary O. Larson, a report from American University's Center for Social Media about how an online youth civic culture, largely unnoticed by the general public, has taken root on the Internet and is fostering Generation Y's participation in U.S. politics and community affairs , 2004, pp. 158
Celebrity Volunteers

Several articles both cautioning about and explaining how to recruit and work with celebrities as volunteers, from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Convio Connection

Sample articles from free bimonthly newsletter for nonprofits on how to attract constituents, drive action, and build loyalty through online relationship management.

Donor Dream Blog (Category: Volunteers)

Erik Anderson writes this blog about donor relations and one of his categories is volunteers -- specifically how to work with nonprofit boards of directors.  This link takes you to the compilation of posts archived under "volunteer," but you can also view posts on fundraising and other topics.

Encouraging Involvement in Community Work

Chapter 7 of the "Community Toolbox," with self-teaching modules on gaining participation by community members.

Fenton Communications

Approaches to advocacy communication campaigns. Click on "resources" from the home page to access their free resources.


A "social network for volunteers" that "helps volunteers find volunteer opportunities they’re passionate about in their local community and beyond, log volunteer hours, communicate with friends and create a volunteer resume. Volunteer managers at nonprofits, schools, alumni associations and  businesses can use GiveGab to create and manage events, promote their programs, recruit volunteers, track volunteer hours and report on all the good they’re doing in their communities."  Offer many free resources as well as paid services.

Google Earth Outreach

Site explaining the application of mapping tools provided free by Google, with emphasis on how these tools can be used by nonprofits.  With tutorials and examples.


#iwill is a national campaign in the UK that aims to make social action part of life for as many 10 to 20 year-olds as possible by the year 2020. Through collaboration and partnership it is spreading the word about the benefits of youth social action, working to embed it in the journey of young people and creating fresh opportunities for the participation. Is also supported by Student Volunteering Week.

Mentoring Partnership Resources

Excellent list of resources for any mentoring program from the Mentoring Partnership of Southwestern PA. Includes materials on recruiting, screening and training volunteer mentors, many of which can be used in any type of volunteer effort.

The Serious Leisure Perspective

Canadian academic William A. Stebbins has devoted his career to studying the connection of leisure to work and volunteering,as well as professional to amateur. The site offers a wealth of materials, including a Digital Library of many articles.

Stronger Together: Recruiting and Working with Ethnocultural Volunteers

Online manual by the Central Volunteer Bureau of Ottawa-Carleton (Canada) about how to make volunteer programs attractive and accessible to ethnic minority volunteers, based on input from program managers with experience.

Tag Lines

Clever phrases for recruiting volunteers into virtual volunteering assignments.

Print and e-Books in Our Store

Book cover

A compendium of the best techniques for leading volunteer engagement, proven to work in a myriad of settings.

John Suart, the Canadian nonprofit humour writer and marketing consultant created this 4 minute video. "Announcing the official end of Words as a communications technique for non-profits. Forget writing a wall of words. Instead use video. It's effective, engaging and, now, accessible. See this video and see for yourself." Quite a case for producing videos for fundraising and recruiting volunteers.

Quick Tips from Susan J. Ellis

Beware of Mental Conversations
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

We all talk to ourselves. That's fine as long as we remember that we are taking both sides of the conversation and so are really only hearing one point of view: our own! Sometimes mental conversations can help us to take successful action by anticipating someone else's reaction and rehearsing our response. But if we manage to talk ourselves out of doing something, we may be giving ourselves bad advice.

This is especially evident in recruiting new volunteers. A prospective volunteer needs to be asked to become involved, but one of the biggest mistakes we make is not actually issuing an invitation to the people we most want. Why? Because we have mental conversations in which we effectively say "no" for the prospect.

It's important to aim high for the best volunteers. This may mean engaging a company CEO, a university professor, or anyone well-known in the community. Too often when we identify a great, top-choice person who is super qualified for a volunteer role we want to fill, we get cold feet about asking him or her to join us. In our heads we picture ourselves explaining the need and then - in our own voice - start thinking:

  • S/he will never want to do that (or come here).
  • S/he is much too busy (or important) to want to volunteer with us.
  • I am not important enough to get his or her attention to invite them.
  • I'll bet they get a hundred invitations like this all the time.

Of course, if you talk yourself out of giving the person the chance to consider your volunteer opportunity, you cannot ever snag them for your organization. Not because they said no, but because you did!

A variation on this theme is deciding, all by yourself, that no one will ever want to volunteer on a Sunday afternoon (and so you don't even plan an activity for that time, even though the clients would love it). Or being certain that no one under the age of 70 will be interested in a quiet activity or that no one over 70 will agree to communicate by texting. Until you speak up and ask, you cannot be sure and you risk missing some wonderful opportunities.

Mental conversations can also work against us when there is a problem involving a volunteer. Before we even give the volunteer a chance, we are thinking:

  • S/he is going to be really offended when I say something.
  • What do I do if s/he stomps out...and then calls the executive director?
  • I'm so much younger (or less experienced) than him or her, why would they want to listen to me?
  • S/he is going to tell me that we've always done it this way.

It may require a bit of courage to open a real dialogue with the volunteer, but why anticipate hostility or resistance? After all, talking together can uncover many other things. Maybe the volunteer has been dissatisfied for a while but did not know how to open the subject with you or really wants to move on to something else but didn't want to leave the organization in the lurch. Maybe you'll discover that the situation is not what you thought it was: rather than the volunteer being at fault, some other factor has caused a problem, whether that might be another volunteer or employee, a change in procedures, new equipment, or whatever. A real conversation can therefore lead to a course of action that's mutually acceptable.

The sooner you get the conversation out of your head and onto the table, the less a problem will fester and grow. Address something done wrong the first time it happens, when your comments will be heard as helpful feedback or even training.

Making First Contact with Corporations
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

In every community, a few large businesses are known for their philanthropic activity and everyone seeking money and volunteers requests their help. This means competition and more rejections than acceptance. Yet in every community there are also scores of companies who are never approached to contribute to anything. We all know that most people volunteer because they were asked, so why not apply this recruitment principle to engaging corporations?

In recruiting individual volunteers, the challenge is to figure out where to look for the most appropriate prospects. The same is true in determining the businesses most likely to be attracted to supporting your organization. Don't stop yourself from contacting a company "cold" if you can start the conversation with something you have in common -- the reason why you think you should collaborate. For example:

  • You both are focused on the same audience. You help children; the company sells children's clothing.
  • You provide compatible services. You offer recreational programs; the company does weight loss counseling.
  • You are located in the same neighborhood. The closer your locations are to each other, the more obvious the reasons to get acquainted. And employees can even volunteer before or after work, or even on lunch breaks.
  • Someone who works in the company is already volunteering with you. It's always best if you have an "inside" champion to carry your message to people she or he knows.

A frequent question is: Who is the right person to contact in a company to reach employee volunteers? Unfortunately, there is no consistent answer. It depends on each business. Do a little research online and see if a company you want to approach has staff in any of the following categories:

  • Philanthropy/social responsibility/community engagement. Such offices are generally found only in the largest of companies, but are logical contact points if they exist.
  • Public relations/marketing. These staff may or may not be officially charged with fielding requests from nonprofit and public agencies, but they do understand their connection to "community relations." Present your volunteer recruitment as an opportunity for positive image building and customer development.
  • Human resources/personnel/employee assistance. Again, while employee volunteering may not officially be a human resources function, your approach here would be that volunteering: 1) builds staff teamwork and morale, 2) can be a way to train employees in new skills, or 3) can be a part of pre-retirement counseling.

In a small company, don't be afraid to start at the top. Call the President or CEO's office, explain your goal of connecting with the business, and ask who would be the best person to meet with about this. In the last analysis, although we talk about "companies," every business is a collection of individuals. So once you've made contact with someone willing to listen, your success will depend on winning that person's support first, and then attracting others together.

Successful Techniques

Bring-a-Friend Day
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

Here's a simple idea with lots of ripple effects. If you have a large job to complete with volunteers, especially something that can be done in a group, make a party out of it. Photocopy some "invitations" that volunteers can give to their friend who are not volunteers, asking them to join in the activity at such and such date and time. For example:

"The pleasure of your company is wanted to participate in our Wrap-the-Toys or Sort-the-Clothes, or Weed-the-Garden party on ___________, from ___ to ___ p.m., in room 405 of Hometown Agency. As a friend of one of our wonderful volunteers, you are very welcome to join in this activity. You'll have fun, spend some time with your friend (and maybe make new ones), and do a good deed! Light refreshments provided. Dress: casual. RSVP through the volunteer you know."

You can even add a P.S. such as: "No strings attached. This is a one-time volunteer event."

The invitations can be focused on special target groups, too. You might want to hold an intergenerational party (volunteers invite someone at least 15 years older or younger than themselves) or a singles party (females bring a male and vice versa). However, the real "tip" here is to print these invitations! This gives volunteers the tool they need to broach the subject with their friends. Simply saying "please ask someone to join us" is not enough to make this a real success.

Obviously, such an approach can double your work force for the day. And, if you select the right work assignment, you don't have to worry about your usual screening and training process (among other thing, the "host" volunteer is a reference and will be accompanying the visitor). For a really big project, hold several "parties" by giving different dates on different invitations. The point is that every volunteer knows someone interested enough in what s/he does as a volunteer to pitch in to help one time. Be respectful of "no strings attached," but be sure everyone in attendance learns how to volunteer more if so desired!

Don't overdo the recruitment ask
Submitted by Stephanie Bailey, Girl Scout Council of Greater Minneapolis , Minnesota, USA

When I began working in this field, I followed a 4 page long script. I hadn't learned yet that prospective volunteers want the nuts and bolts of your organization and what you are asking them to much time per week, month, year; training, and on-going support are what they want to hear. So next time you catch yourself waxing poetic about the joys of volunteering for your organization, stop and ask them what they want to know. It's worked like a charm for me!

Encouraging People to Annually Volunteer for an Event
Submitted by Hortense Casillas, St. Paul of the Cross , California, USA

We have an annual fiesta each year and, except for a very small core group, have trouble getting return and new volunteers.

Problems I discovered:

  • We are not really asking people to join us in this wonderful effort, we are merely telling them that we have so much to do and so little time.
  • We do very little to encourage a return engagement.
  • I observed during fiesta pasts that, when a volunteer arrived to help and the person in charge did not have anything for them to do, they were told that everything was under control and they did not need any help. The unfortunate thing was that the very same people that complained of lack of help were the ones that turned the new volunteers away.
  • I have discovered that those who are the central volunteer planners of the event embrace their roles as if no one else in the whole world could do them as well as they can. They do not plan and publish the variety of tasks but choose to work from memory as to what needs to be done next. This type of managing is not effective in recruiting and retaining volunteers from event to event. It is so like the corporate world where employees are hired and when on board they are expected to perform without any training, communication or expectations and recognition.


  • The first thing we must always do is "Ask.” The second thing is to "Explain" what positions are available and what would be the best fit for their talent and interest. The third thing is to encourage and help create a motivating environment even though we are asking them to work hard and to do it without pay. The fourth thing is to keep in touch, to call and let them know we appreciate their involvement and that we look forward to seeing them next year and to bring a friend, relative or anyone else that may be looking to contribute new ideas and energy toward a very worthy cause.
  • The core group leading the event must delegate the majority of the duties so that they can oversee and make sure that everyone involved is aware of the mission and objectives. The core group must also be responsible for welcoming and thanking the volunteers and provide them with feedback on the results of the events. Remember, everyone you meet may be saying " Yes, I do want to help, please ask me and let me help."
Friendly Competition between Corporate Volunteers
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

If you are working with corporate volunteers and want a new approach to getting people to volunteer, try running friendly competitions between departments. With the agreement of one key person in each unit, announce that the payroll department challenges the editorial department to see which unit can pick up the most bags of trash at the weekend park clean-up. Or keep a running tally of how many hours of tutoring each department has logged (or how many children were taken on a trip) by showing thermometer charts side by side (like a horse race). This can be done in-house by the corporate volunteer coordinator or any agency volunteer coordinator can supply the company with the information to post.

Inviting those that are assisted by volunteers to volunteer
Submitted by Carla Walsh, Pax Hospice, Inc. , Minnesota, USA

Our hospice families are followed for a year after their loved one dies in order to provide support and to help them reinvest in life. At the 13th month we provide them with the opportunity to become a hospice volunteer. It is a win/win situation. Our hospice gets a volunteer who has received the benefits of the program and the family/member gets an opportunity to find greater meaning in their loved one's death by helping others.

Monthly Sign Up Calendar
Submitted by Barbara Dunakin, Friends of the Historic Genesee Theatre , Illinois, USA

To encourage volunteers to participate in our scheduled activites I put out a monthly sign up calendar. I follow the calendar with a short update about our progress and end with "Turn on, tune in, Help out! (a take-off on Timothy Leary's slogan that today's babyboomers might recognize and younger volunteers might find "campy".) I also feel it is a more positive use of the original slogan.

Motivational Posters
Submitted by Danielle Hamilton,

If you're looking for a way to spotlight volunteering in your unit, consider creating your own motivational poster starring your volunteers! You can create your own inspirational posters here:

Choose the "Motivator" and then upload your photo. Use a famous quote about serving or volunteering, and change the colors to reflect your group's logo or dominant colors. Then, save the file, and upload it to Snapfish, Shutterfly, or any other photo sharing/ printing company that you use. Have a poster created for about $15 that is completely consistent with your group and gives the perfect message for your volunteers. This type of poster, mini poster, or 8x10 photo would be great on a volunteer bulletin board! Or use these photos to create photos, cards, mugs or other items to present to volunteers.

It's a great way to complement other posters that you may already have that promote volunteering or to use as a stand alone poster to show your volunteers that you truly appreciate and value their work.

Recruiting the 'right' volunteer
Submitted by Heather Blakeley, National Association for Colitis and Crohn's Disease , United Kingdom

Recruiting the 'right' volunteer is crucial. Be concise and clear when advertising for volunteers - both with the skills you want the volunteer to have and the person specification. By using this approach we have found the 'right' people volunteer. This also cuts down the time involved in reading applications and the selection process.

Way to use email to recruit effectively
Submitted by Sheryl Simons, Women's Information Service, Inc. , Michigan, USA

Submitted on 25Oct02 by Sheryl Simons, Volunteer Coordinator, Women's Information Service, Inc. W I S E MI USA
I work at a domestic violence shelter. I was sending e-mails one morning and started writing. It was a letter to new shelter volunteers to help them see all the ways they might like to join in. The story had the word volunteer in BOLD at least once in each paragraph and showed different aspects of volunteering throughout. It started with:

"You finally called the police and your husband has been arrested. He has threatened to kill you when he is released from jail in 20 hours. There is a no contact order in place, but you are still afraid. Within an hour of his arrest you are contacted by a volunteer from the shelter. He asks how you are doing. You tell him about what happened and also that you are afraid of losing custody of the 2 children you have. He gives you the phone # for the shelter, suggests that you talk to our legal advocate, and asks if a counselor can call you back tomorrow. He tells you about the shelter and that there is a 800 hotline available 24 hours a day ­ anytime you need to call. He talks to you about a safety plan when your husband is released from jail. He tells you that the abuse is NOT YOUR FAULT, and reassures you that the confusion you are feeling is normal."

A Decision-making Guide to Printed Recruitment Materials
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Recruiting volunteers is a continuous process of keeping your organization and its volunteer opportunities visible to a wide audience. One tool is printed materials, whether simple paper handouts after a presentation, flyers on selected bulletin boards, brochures for pick-up at exhibits, or inserts of various kinds. Word processing programs have made it easy to develop a range of recruitment "pitches," storing different wording and mixing-and-matching paragraphs and images to target specific audiences as needed.

It's important to note that a single piece of material cannot meet all recruitment needs! So how can you determine what you should prepare for what purpose? Here are questions to answer that will help you to narrow your choices and ultimately create the best piece each time.

Audience and Objectives

  • Who will see this item?
    • Is this their first introduction to you or not?
    • How informed are they already about what your organization does?
    • How informed are they already about what volunteer opportunities exist with your organization?
    • What potential do they have to become volunteers? Are they getting the information because they:
      • Already are interested in volunteering?
      • Are financial donors or other supporters?
      • Happen to see it while looking for general information about your organization?
      • Receive the information incidentally without even realizing what it is?
    • What is their demographic profile? (Age, gender, education, etc.)
  • Where will they get it?
    • Is this a volunteer recruitment event?
    • A casual, even recreational, event?
    • A serious professional event?
  • What do you want them to know?
  • What, if anything, do you want them to do once they know it?
Location and Opportunity
  • How will they get this?
    • Is it an optional take-away or will everyone get a copy?
    • Will someone mention it orally or will it be provided without explanation?
    • Will it come in the mail or via e-mail?
  • How much time will someone likely spend on it?

Content and Look
Depending on your responses to the questions above, you can then select the best:

  • Size
    • Does it need to match other materials given at the same time?
    • Will it be inserted into something else of a certain size?
  • Length
  • Content
    • Is this going to focus on a single volunteer opportunity or try to introduce a variety of volunteer assignments?
    • Is it a teaser to get people to learn more or will it try to give details right away?
  • Tone (For example, is humor appropriate?)
  • Level of language
  • Visuals
    • What fonts will look clean and easy to read?
    • What photographs or illustrations will make your point while matching the tone of the piece?
  • Degree of permanence
    • Is this a "throw-away" that can be on plain paper stock or do you want people to keep it longer and so should use heavier, text stock?
  • Space for tailoring or personalizing

Absolutely, positively always include CONTACT INFORMATION, including your Web site URL!!! And then make sure you have more information there (that is current).

Finally, a word to the wise: PROOFREAD carefully! Not just for spelling errors, but for clarity and completeness. Ask several people who were not involved in designing the piece to look it over for you and ask questions.That will help you assess if you are indeed communicating what you want.


Multi-tasking as a Volunteer Recruitment Tool
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

In today's time-deprived world, one way to cope is to get good at "multi-tasking" - doing more than one thing at once. Some practices, such as texting and driving, are downright dangerous. But, listening to a book on tape while driving is a way to use time productively.

The volunteer world can put multi-tasking to excellent use as an attractive recruiting pitch. Here are some examples:

  • Feeling bad or guilty that you are not spending enough quality time with your children? Why not volunteer together as a family? You'll all get to know each other in new ways while also being active citizens.
  • Looking for someone special but worried about the safety of singles bars? Volunteer for a cause you love and meet other people who share your passions.
  • Want to expand your resume with new skills and experience? Think of volunteering as a classroom in which you learn all sorts of new things while also doing good for others.
  • Sitting at your desk to each lunch but know you should do more exercise? Walk a few blocks and come eat lunch with our residents. They will enjoy the company and you'll get fit!
  • Love the arts but can't afford a ticket? Volunteer for the [museum, ballet, etc.] and get behind the scenes. Best of all, you'll be supporting the cultural opportunities you want everyone to have.
  • Always watch a favorite television show every week or never miss our team's games? There's a homebound senior who shares your interest and would love to watch the show or game with you. So go sit in someone else's living room to do what you'd be doing anyway - but double the impact by spending time with a new friend.
  • Newly retired and missing a regular schedule? We can help! Structure your week with a volunteer commitment. Move from "retirement" to "redirection."
  • Do you drive past our agency every day going to and from work? Why not stop for an hour and help one of our children with homework? Maybe you'll even miss rush hour traffic!

In each case, you are recruiting for an existing volunteer position, but explaining it to a prospective volunteer in terms of his or her personal interests. You're saying "this service is important, AND it can help you, too." It's not selfish. People want to be of service but don't think they have the time. Show them that they can multitask in new ways!

Reaching Out to International Visitors
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Looking for new sources of volunteers?  Eager to add diversity to your volunteer corps?   Consider recruiting the generally overlooked numbers of foreign nationals living temporarily in many communities.  In the United States and elsewhere, these are people who are in the country legally but do not have work permits.  So they cannot accept a paying job - but they can volunteer and often do, when asked. They may be:

  • Full-time students not permitted to hold full-time jobs while studying.
  • Spouses of people employed by a multi-national company and on a foreign assignment for six months or longer. The employed spouse is on a work visa, but most often the unemployed spouse is not permitted to work for pay. Older children may also be living abroad with their working parent.
  • Au pairs - generally young women who provide live-in child care for room, board, and a small stipend and must be enrolled in at least part-time higher education courses. American regulations require them to have time off each week, but they are restricted from other paid employment. Some sponsoring organizations encourage them to do volunteer work as an added cultural exchange opportunity.

In general, these foreign nationals are quite well-educated, with a wide range of skills. The spouses of corporate employees may or may not be fluent in English or your country's language, though more often than not they are. Such long-term visitors are often lonely and bored, but do not know enough about the culture in which they are temporarily living to seek volunteer work on their own.

These potential volunteers are especially helpful if you serve a client population with the same native language as the visitor. This can include not only your primary clients, but their extended families. For example, could a school or youth program include grandparents in more activities if interpreters were available? Do you work with Alzheimer's patients who have reverted back to other mother tongues (a very common situation that leaves nursing care facilities with serious communication problems)? There are undoubtedly many such opportunities to help your community.

Other ways to utilize foreign nationals include inviting them to speak about their country (show slides, play music, etc.) to groups of students, seniors, or whatever clients you have. Or how about becoming one-to-one friends with peers and later continuing with a pen-pal relationship (or, these days, an e-mail relationship) after they return to their home country?

Finally, such volunteers can educate your organization about the tradition (or not) of voluntary service, philanthropy, charity, and civic engagement in their home country.  This will provide a very useful perspective on your efforts to recruit permanent citizens with the same cultural background.      

At a volunteerism conference in Paris a few years ago, I met an American woman who was concerned with this exact issue in reverse. She was trying to get American spouses of employees working overseas to do volunteering in their host country, since they also could not work for pay abroad.  So this type of service holds potential for some fascinating global exchange.

Recruiting International Visitors

There are a number of ways to find this talent pool.  Some ideas are:

  • Assess which corporations in your community have foreign branches or offices and therefore may rotate in foreign workers and their families. Contact their personnel/human resources departments and enlist their help in spreading the word about the possibilities and benefits of volunteering.
  • Talk with the admissions office of local colleges and universities and find out which staff or faculty offer counseling or other guidance to foreign students.  Also ask which organizations on campus sponsor international exchange or reach out to foreign visitors to the school.
  • Identify any local community programs for immigrants, which often sponsor recreational programs for visitors of their cultural heritage.   
  • Contact any local foreign language newspapers or newsletters and see if they would be interested in running a story about your volunteer opportunities.   
  • Collaborate with any foreign exchange programs, either for students or for diplomatic visitors.
  • Post your volunteer opportunities for foreign nationals on Web registries that have an international focus or even on a site specifically for residents of the country you're most interested in recruiting from. (We offer a great list to start your search.)  You never know who is planning to visit, work or study near you. 

Of course, before spreading your recruitment message, take the time to develop volunteer assignments most likely to use these foreign nationals' skills and to pique their interest.Remember that these may be very educated and experienced workers, happy to discover a new way to learn about where they are living for a while.

Recruiting Volunteers Through Public Speaking
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

It's easy to fill your schedules with speaking engagements. In every community there are all sorts of organizations seeking luncheon and dinner speakers - eager program committee chairs are always searching for interesting topics to offer at a monthly meeting. Your challenge is to accept or elicit only the most fruitful speaking engagements that have potential to lead you to the volunteers you want to recruit.

Do your homework! Be sure you know who will be in your audience and why you are there. Remember, you won't find African-American men at a Swedish women's club!

There are two types of groups to which you can speak: organized groups and random or "unaffiliated" groups.

Organized groups include faith communities, civic clubs, professional societies, and special interest groups such as horticulture clubs. All of these groups share the following characteristics:

  • They are made up of members - people who joined the group to be with peers and friends and for whom the meetings, and therefore the speakers, are simply an interesting aspect of group involvement. These organization or club members may not be looking for additional volunteering to do. Be careful that you are not just this week's nice luncheon speaker.
  • They have their own recruitment needs to find new members and to encourage current members to become more active. Your recruitment needs may, in fact, conflict with theirs.
  • They may be approached numerous times throughout the year by recruiters such as yourself and therefore have developed creative ways of saying "no" to requests for help.
  • They will respond to project ideas that serve their needs while also serving the needs of others. So if you want to get an organized group to help you, figure out how to engage them as a group (even though individual members are always free to become interested in volunteering for you as well).

Random groups can be found where a group of people are gathered, have time to listen, share some common interest that brought them together, but are "unaffiliated" with each other beyond that particular event. Examples of random groups are participants in a workshop or conference, students in a classroom, visitors at an open house, or people attending a lecture, film, or sporting event. For volunteer recruitment purposes, the "unaffiliated" group may hold more potential than the organized group because the characteristics are flipped around:

  • Listeners are not necessarily already committed to something as a member or volunteer and therefore might be open to hearing about their opportunities to become involved.
  • If you have targeted the right event, you are speaking to people who share an interest in the topic under consideration that day. So if you speak at an animal rights conference about volunteering with the Humane Society, there is a logic to your approach.

When you've determined where you will do your presentation, ask some important logistical questions:

  • Exactly how much time will you have? Where will you fit on the agenda? What will happen before and after you speak?
  • What will the room be like? Should you expect a dark, formal auditorium? a bright, noisy lunchroom?
  • Where will you speak? Will you have a podium? be on a stage?
  • Will you have access to a microphone? To an overhead projector or slide projector (or any other audiovisual equipment you may need to bring if it is not available on site)?
  • Will there be a table on which you can display anything? Can someone help to distribute handout materials (hint: always have something for people to take away that has your contact information on it!)?
  • Is there some place you can stay behind and meet with interested people after the meeting?

Most groups are happy to accommodate your needs as a speaker if you specify them in advance. The time it takes to discuss the questions listed above will be very well spent in your increased preparation and comfort level.

Picture of Liza J Dyer, CVA
Selfies for Social Good
Submitted by Liza J Dyer, CVA , Portland, Oregon, USA

How can you turn a selfie into something powerful? By turning it into a #helpie! If a selfie is a picture of oneself that you post on social media, then a helpie is a picture of oneself doing something helpful. And volunteers are all about being helpful!

Helpies can boost your efforts to recruit more volunteers, engage your current volunteers, and tell the story of your organization. Inspire volunteers to share helpies on social media platforms they’re already using with best practices and step-by-step instructions outlined in this video:

Now that’s a selfie for social good!

Tip Your Volunteer Recruitment into Success
From Susan J. Ellis, President, Energize, Inc.

Malcolm Gladwell shared many intriguing observations about selling products and disseminating ideas in his popular book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000, Little, Brown). Although the book was much discussed in business circles, the information is highly applicable to nonprofit situations, including to increasing the success of volunteer recruitment techniques.

Take the Gladwell's "Stickiness Factor" as a good example. Gladwell recounts the attempt of a Yale University professor to encourage students to get a free tetanus shot as part of an experiment on fear. He produced booklets in several versions that described the seriousness of tetanus in ever-increasing vividness. Questionnaires showed that the information campaign worked; regardless of the amount of fear instilled, the majority of the students were educated about the dangers of tetanus. But only 3% actually went to the infirmary to get their shot. They were not translating their knowledge into action. Finally, the professor included a map of the campus circling the exact location of the health center and listing the hours that the shots would be available-and that "tipped" 28% of the students into getting vaccinated. Since undoubtedly many students had no real need of the map to find the infirmary, Gladwell concludes:

...what the tetanus invitation needed in order to tip was not an avalanche of new or additional information. What it needed was a subtle but significant change in presentation. The students needed to know how to fit the tetanus stuff into their lives...once the advice became practical and personal, it became memorable.

How might a volunteer recruiter put an understanding of the Stickiness Factor to work?

First, don't assume everyone knows what you might consider basic information about your organization, even who you are or what you do. This is as true for people who already have some contact with you as for those who are clearly newcomers. Organizations change all the time, as do the needs of clients and service projects. So it's quite possible for someone to be generally informed about your agency and yet be in the dark about recent developments.

You can apply this principle of "don't assume" to the way you recruit volunteers in some very practical ways:

  • Beware of acronyms. Always translate any alphabet soup labels applied to projects.
  • Explain anything that has a special name, especially if it's not descriptive. So rather than saying, "Join our Rainbow Project," the message will communicate more if it's worded: "Help children in our Rainbow Project to discover the world of books."
  • Consider possible misconceptions people might have about your organization, either because of outdated information or by inferring something from your name. For example, someone considering volunteering for a children's museum might understandably assume that volunteers interact there with children. But if the available volunteer assignments are behind the scenes or focused on supporting parents, an applicant who wants to work with children will be disappointed. So describe the volunteer work correctly.

Second, make sure your recruitment message means something to the prospective volunteer personally, or it won't stick. Stop concentrating on explaining the gravity of your clients' needs or the significance of your services. All this does is evoke guilt in people who simply cannot respond to every good cause. Besides, most nonprofits are worthy of support - so what makes your organization memorable?

The way to increase the response rate to your volunteer recruitment message is to develop a connection with personal interests, concerns, or hopes. Here are a few ideas:

  • Most nonprofit causes are overwhelming in scope and some individuals understandably feel that they lack adequate skills to be of help. You can make a real impression simply by clearly stating: "Training is provided and volunteers receive ongoing support."
  • So many people feel time-deprived and can't imagine fitting volunteering into their schedules. Some simple phrases added to your recruitment pitch can make a difference in response: "We offer a variety of volunteer assignments requiring different amounts of time and we can be flexible in scheduling your hours" or "Even three hours every other week can have an impact" or "We'll work together to find the right schedule for you."
  • Given the number of single and divorced adults today, it is reasonable to assume that a percentage of your prospective volunteers are seeking social outlets. They want to meet interesting new people while doing good. Use photos of volunteers of different ages, men and women, and other diversity - and show volunteers interacting, rather than just individual head shots. If it works in your setting, note that you have designated some shifts for "singles only."
  • Consider whether people might fear something about your organization: personal safety in your neighborhood, viewing conditions that are disturbing, or other concerns. Address these by preempting them. In a matter-of-fact way, note that volunteers are on a buddy system at night or provide a map showing the proximity of parking. Again, positive photographs can allay fears and attract prospects, as can audio clips of actual client voices. The content of what they say (perhaps explaining how much they enjoy being with volunteers) is not as important as the tone (gee, this person isn't scary at all).

Can you be more "sticky"?

Great Slogans and Tie-Ins

Ecologically-sound Volunteering
Submitted by

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

Gigi DuBois of the Texas Association of Hospital Auxiliaries was struck with a great idea during a workshop in McAllen, Texas, a week ago. She was thinking about how ecologists practice conservation of natural resources. For example, is a tree is cut down, it is considered good practice to plant another in its place. This "plant a tree" slogan made Gigi think up the idea of "Plant a 'teer!" What would happen if every volunteer in the country made it a goal to maintain their continuity of service by recruiting another volunTEER - but making sure the new volunteer is at least 15 years younger than the current one!

If you like this idea, you could use National Volunteer Week to get the momentum going. In your own organization, enlist volunteers in the obligation to maintain and "grow" service by nurturing younger participants. In the U.S., you can even note that President Bush has been urging a greater commitment to volunteer involvement. "Plant a 'teer" gives a new perspective on recruitment with a novel way to approach younger people while acknowledging the "planter" - a different form of volunteer recognition for those already active.

Thanks, Gigi, for creative thinking! So, have you "planted a 'teer" today?

Recruiting through Poetry
Submitted by Rachel Carr, Volunteering Highland Scotland

We help you volunteer
Take away the fear 
Show you what's out there 
For what time you can spare! 

There's info and advice 
All for no price 
We support, screen and match 
No, there isn't a catch.

So what's holding you back?
Is it confidence you lack? 
What could be more worthwhile 
Than picking up the phone to dial: 

Take Action
Submitted by RANI SHAH

Just using the simple words of "Take Action" get people thinking. I have used these words as the heading of fliers announcing the need for volunteers. These two simple words reflect the need for more to be done in a indivdual way that effects the whole collectively. TAKE ACTION!

New Places to Look

Local College
Submitted by Michelle Phares, Desert Winds High School , California, USA

We spoke with a professor from a nearby community college about our volunteer program's need for tutors. He struck a deal with his class: Instead of writing a traditional term paper for his class, they had the option to volunteer as tutors for our organization and get the same amount of credit! Many colleges have professors that are willing to give college credit for volunteer work that relates to their class, community service organizations that are willing to volunteer, and job placement centers where you can post your volunteer opportunities.

The Military
Submitted by Marjorie Moore, Radio Information Service for the Blind and Print Handicapped , Illinois, USA

We are located near an Air Force base and I can't say enough about the volunteers that have come from it. It may seem like these people have plenty to do, or aren't the right age (since most military people are between 18 and 22, not a big age for volunteers) but they truly are great. We already had two great Air Force wives reading for us when a middle aged major walked through our doors and developed a quick passion for our organization. Since then, he has been on of our biggest supporters! He brings new people on base over to meet us and they often start volunteering with us too!

The military is really an overlooked source of volunteers. One of our newest volunteers pulled me aside one day and thanked me for letting him and the others volunteer with us. I told him it was no problem at all and we were glad to have all of the good help we could find. He then proceeded to tell me that he had been turned down at other organizations because the nature of a military person's job is transient. I was shocked. I suppose I could have turned away these 10 great and dedicated volunteers because they couldn't commit to five years of service, but I would have missed out on a diverse and talented group.

Neighborhood Open House
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

Many of you know about my "proximity chart" recruitment technique, in which I urge you to walk or drive in concentric circles around your organization's site, writing down everything you see and then determining how you can approach these "neighbors" with a recruitment message. A related idea is to encourage your organization to hold an open house at least once a year--or whenever something special deserves celebration. The point, however, is to do something especially for your "neighbors." Send invitations that are different from any general, public announcements. Either make it clear that this event is only for those within a two-block radius, or explain that neighbors will be welcome an hour earlier than the general public for special attention.

The reasons for making this effort are several. First, it has been shown many times that people watch out for the property and visitors of others in their neighborhood if they feel friendly towards one another. Second, you can explain volunteer opportunities and have "real" volunteers give tours or otherwise interact with the visitors. This is not meant to be an actual recruitment campaign and certainly not a hard sell. The point is to inform your neighbors, both to sow seeds should they ever be looking for volunteer work and also to enlist them as ambassadors, telling others about what volunteers do. Finally, have a wish list of needed items ready. You never know when a neighbor wants to have a garage sale and you might get a donation off the top! (You may even how items YOU can give away in exchange for being hauled off site.)

Give opportunities for your visitors to ask questions, not just to be preached at. And be sure the open house allows people to meet one another, too. After all, you're all neighbors! Who knows? You may end up with the most popular block party or pot luck supper of the year.

"Putting Tourists to Work!"
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

Does your community have a Convention and Visitors Bureau? Are there conferences that come to your city or town, bringing small and large groups of conventioneers? If you can accommodate small or large groups to do something meaningful as volunteers, approach your C&V Bureau with the idea of offering visitors a community service project as an alternative conference "special event."

In recent years, it has become common for volunteer management conferences and other socially-aware groups to sponsor a local "day of service" while in town. There is no reason why any convention might not be interested in this concept--but, as with any other volunteers, they have to be asked.

Service projects give visitors a chance to get off-site (escaping their hotel) and introduce them to neighborhoods not usually on the tourist circuit. Special events can be boringly similar. Think of how many boat rides, museum receptions, or other such activities you've seen on conference schedules. Volunteering is a novel way to meet other conferees, dress casually, learn new things, and do something worthwhile. In groups, it is usually fun, too!

You'll be most successful if you can link the project with the theme of the conference or the skills of attendees. Keep in mind that a conference may already be renting buses for other activities and may be able to transport volunteers to your site at the same time. Finally, work with the conference organizers to arrange some press coverage--it will be local media giving your program attention because someone from "outside" approached them with the news item.

"Summer Camp Fun through Service"
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

Students in the northern hemisphere are on summer break (our southern hemisphere friends can save this tip to apply in December!) and many of them are spending part of their summer at day or overnight camp. Interest in youth and community service extends beyond the classroom. Consider whether you have projects that young people might enjoy doing as a group and recruit through nearby summer camps. Camps are sponsored by a wide variety of organizations, urban and rural, such as: faith communities, Ys and youth clubs, municipal departments of recreation, Girl and Boy Scouts, and private clubs. Contact their various activity directors about your volunteer opportunities.

Every camp program includes arts and crafts of some sort, so suggest how campers might provide decorations or small handmade gifts for something your facility is doing this summer--or in advance for holidays later in the year. Offer your site as a "field trip" for hands-on projects such as food or clothing sorting. Combine activities you and the camp may already be planning, such as campers accompanying your clients on to movie or museum expedition. And, on the assumption that singing and dramatics remain a mainstay of camp life, what about challenging the youngster to present a skit for the enjoyment of your residents or patients. Think fun!

Production Tips

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis

Photographs are so important to good recruitment materials but it's often hard to find shots that show a diversity of volunteers doing active things.  To meet this need, the National Centre for Volunteering in London has created the Image Bank at where you can purchase the rights to a wide array of great photographs.

"Revisit Your Online Volunteer Recruitment Postings"
Submitted by

(from Susan's Tip of the Month in the Monthly e-Mail Update)

This month's "Spring Cleaning" Hot Topic leads to this month's tip. If you post volunteer opportunities with any online registry such as Volunteer Match, are you paying attention to what you said? (If you are not yet making use of the wonderful free sites available to you - in many different countries as well as the US - go to this list of sites and explore you options:

The online registries are growing daily and that means that every message has increasing competition. Do a search for your zip code or type of setting and see what other organizations come up as well as yours. Read their postings. How does your description sound against theirs? Is it welcoming? interesting? motivating? If not, change it!

There is no cost to update your postings except for your time. The Internet is a fast-paced environment and users expect up-to-the-minute information. Anything you can do to make prospective volunteers who read your posting in a registry feel that you want them NOW will be more effective than a message that is clearly old and unchanging.

In general, the best way to use online registries is to post many specific assignments rather than only a few big general ones. One posting that says: "tutors help children ages 10 to 14 with all sorts of homework assignments" can become the following:

  • Tutors needed for three newly-arrived Cambodian children ages 10, 14, and 15 who need homework help and practice in speaking conversational English.
  • Tutors needed on Saturday mornings for teenagers who want to improve their reading as they prepare for the driver's exam. You'll use the state driver manual as your "text."
  • Tutors needed for sixth-grade math, especially working on fractions.

The beauty of the Internet is that is allows "needle in a haystack" searches. If you really want volunteers available on Saturdays or with skill in sixth-grade math, this is the perfect place to hunt. Being specific will also cut down on screening calls from people who are generally exploring what they'd like to do. The three examples above may not generate 20 phone calls, but if one or two people contact you because these postings struck a chord, you're likely to be talking to strong candidates.

Assign a volunteer to monitor all your online postings, checking them monthly for accuracy and appeal. Be sure to delete positons that are filled! Or at least remove them temporarily until you have openings again. It's as much an art as a science to recruit online. But the two keys are BE SPECIFIC and BE CURRENT.

Volunteer Handbook
Submitted by

Well-designed volunteer recruitment and support material will help you recruit and retain volunteers. At Leonard Cheshire, we persuaded a creative designer and photographer to give us cut-price rates and put together an attractive Volunteer Handbook. Now our volunteers thoroughly enjoy reading about key policies and practical information! See the free book available on the "Library" secton of this site.


Raising a Hand Isn't Enough
Submitted by Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc.

Be very careful not to imply that anyone can become a volunteer simply by calling up or raising a hand. It's guaranteed that you'll end up with a screening problem! Or with someone who says, "what do you mean I can't do this?" The best thing is to say some variation of: "now accepting applications," "call for an interview," or "let's talk about whether this is the right assignment for you." Then you have established your intention to find the best candidates, which may mean turning some applicants away. Hint: Even if you take the first person who applies, it's much more motivating to say "We're delighted that you qualify for this volunteer role" than to say "Since you're breathing, you can do it"!

General Recruitment Advice or Suggestions

Submitted anonymously
Submitted by

As you think about how to get and keep good volunteers, try to see doors not walls. This month's national day of service, Make a Difference Day, is your next annual chance to harness goodwill and connect the dutiful with an outlet for their compassion. Yet locally the volunteer bureau has nothing up and nothing planned, which seems lazy. The reason why your organizations don't have more competent samaritans is that our news is being delivered after the fact. Instead of reading the news, we hear it commuting or during lunch and dinner. PSAs are one thought, but posters, interviews, event coverage, human interest features and editorials are also good ways of announcing upcoming social occasions.