We’ve all been to an event and seen the shirts — “Volunteer”. While we may not think about it much at first, these shirts are actually symbolic of something much bigger than the event itself. But it is the people that fill those shirts that really matter, that really make the difference. Volunteers give their time (for free) to help out an event that they believe in. They want to be there (most of the time). They’ve dedicated themselves to something bigger than themselves.
But not all volunteers are great. Sometimes they are forced to be there by court order. Sometimes they are doing it to appease someone. Sometimes it’s a group of high school kids that are obligated to go. You never know what you are going to get. So, where are all the good volunteers? And how can I keep them with me?
It can be a chore, but finding and keeping great volunteers is possible. In this article, we’ll talk a little bit about that process and the benefits of finding great volunteers.
WHERE TO LOOK
First thing is first: Use social media. When setting up an event and looking for volunteers, you’ve got to look for people that are already interested in your cause. There’s really no better resource than social media, like Facebook and Twitter, as these people are already following you for a reason, and that reason is most likely because they believe in your cause. There are even programs that allow you to specialize your search to narrow in on your area or the area of the event.
Another place that I’ve seen great success with is college campuses. While it may seem no different than bringing on high school students, but it’s the college students that are motivated enough to do a great job. They’re looking for recommendations. Not only that, but they’ve also got the energy to do a great job. You can also play on their idealistic nature and take advantage of their natural zeal for particular things.
Try putting up flyers on campus community boards or in coffee shops. You can also put an ad in the college newspaper. If you really want to expand your reach, you should also put up a booth in the quad or student union area.
Lastly, you’ll want to look in your local community. The is similar to getting a college campus involved, in that you’ll want to put adds in the local paper, place banners or calls to action on boards in community places. There are also communities that have a volunteer network that could possibly be tapped into.
If you’re looking for specialized volunteers, like accountants or doctors, try going to the source. You can also put an ad in trade journals or around their offices and places they frequent. Typically, these types of volunteers are a little more difficult to find because of their schedules, but the good thing about it is that they typically don’t need any special training for the type of work they’ll be doing. Doctors will be there to help people that need it. Accountants, while they may need to learn a little bit about your nonprofit accounting software, will most likely be able to add their expertise right off the bat anyway.
HOW TO KEEP ‘EM
While finding good volunteers can be pretty difficult, it can be even more difficult to hold onto them. But, while you can hope to hold on to some of them, don’t expect to hold them all. Volunteer work has a natural turnover rate. There are any number of variables that can keep people from returning to your cause, but one of them should not be that they were treated poorly.
In fact, if you want to keep the ones that are likely to come back, it’s up to you and your team to create an environment that they’ll want to come back to.
So how do you do that? Well, first and foremost, always recognize hard work, always recognize good work. We all want to hear that we’re doing well and that we’re helping, so let them know when something is going well. Let them feel the pride with you. It brings about a positive environment, and the volunteers will feel noticed and appreciated.
Secondly, make things social. Most people don’t particularly enjoy working by themselves in a remote corner of the event space, so give them an opportunity to work with others. If they make friends, they are more likely to return to see those people for the next event. You can also help people bond by creating some type of “volunteer night”. This means the volunteers get together after they’re done working for that day for some food or something like it.
Try not to overwork your volunteers. Remember, they are doing this because they want to, but they’re also not getting paid. At the same time, though, don’t underwork them. That’s what they are there to do, after all.
If you can swing it, let the volunteers work in shifts so they can take part in what they helped put together. Let them bring out their family and friends so they can spend some time with them. Who knows… they might be able to pull in new volunteers for next year.