Selling Your Organization to New Volunteers

By Penny Kern

One of the most difficult things I remember from my volunteer manager days was making time in my calendar to do my job. Sounds funny but it was always a problem. I think it’s true for most of the volunteer managers I’m still in touch with, though. It’s so easy to let things like recruiting, training and placing new volunteers slip through the cracks. It doesn’t end there, either. It’s all the preparation to begin recruiting – the action plan, the position description, the vacancy. I KNOW – believe me – I understand totally. However, if this is part of your job, it’s an important part.
Today, people have hundreds of opportunities to use their skills and knowledge as a volunteer. They don’t HAVE to wait for you to find a way to give back to their community. They are also very picky and if given the choice of doing something they don’t want to do or move on to another organization- they are more likely to move on.

Is it important to have a steady stream of volunteers for your program? Then, it’s important to “sell” your organization all the time. Finding out what the volunteers are looking for and convincing them that they should look at your organization to give their time and energy is important. Side note: Volunteers for an organization are also more likely to donate to that organization also.
Look at your daily schedule and consider how you can allocate time to recruit. What opportunities are there? How much time can you devote each day/week to:
• Follow up on phone calls or emails from prospective volunteers.
Return those calls or emails within 24 hours because these are the people who know your organization and are motivated to call. Keep a log of who you call, when and what you discuss. For me, I needed to log what I promised to do. If I didn’t write it down, I’d forgotten my promise before I hung up the phone. I became a good multi-tasker but it did cause problems if I forgot to write things down.
• Cold calling
You might be able to find a volunteer to do this for you. I personally never liked doing this but it does work. If you have a list of people – guest books, membership lists, church groups, other service organization lists, etc – it helps. A volunteer who’s very good at selling can pick up the phone and lay the groundwork for you. This cold call could include information about the mission and the most recent success along with a phone number of the volunteer manager. This opens the door for you to call later and make “the deal.”
• What about existing volunteers/volunteer groups – how to keep them engaged.
This task is the continuous “selling” because you have to constantly keep the selling of the organization going. This could be a monthly newsletter, an email, quarterly dinners, phone calls, and the all important thank you cards. This is important not only for the volunteers but for donors also. I can tell you that this one is very important.
• Schedule time to be creative and challenge yourself to “think outside the box.”
This is VERY important and it’s not a luxury. Pick a block of time, close your office door and put up a sign “Do not disturb: Genius at Work.” Look at new ways of motivating a potential volunteer. Check out the demographics and your plan of work. Changes, trends, and what is going on in the community and your organization should be examined on a regular basis so you catch any hints of how you must address recruiting new volunteers. Look at where your volunteers are and what they are doing and plan for new volunteers. Where should they come from or who should they be and, more importantly, what are they going to do that will further the mission. Recruiting people and not giving them anything to do is worse than not recruiting at all.
• Going out into the community to talk to groups and create effective written material
Presentations are a great way to reach large numbers of people and increase the odds of success. Grab their attention, tell a story and capture the right side of the brain with emotion and quickly feed the left side with facts. Having a handout with useful information is also helpful. Pictures can enhance a flyer or written material. And how about things that recognize your volunteers like certificates, volunteer of the month, etc? These are written materials that strengthen your volunteer program. This isn’t written but I heard the greatest idea that I did use often. When a volunteer did something over and above, I included a short recognition on my voice mail message. I got more comments on that and it was such fun to record. I highly recommend this a way to recognize and achievement or special effort.
• PLAN
Look at your calendar and budget your time based on your program’s needs. In my former job, people didn’t want me around during the Christmas/New Year holiday. So, this became my planning time. But, if you’re busy that time of year, you may have another down time period you could use. Schedule a time to do a good job at recruiting, training and placing volunteers.
• Your “thirty-second pitch”
I had the opportunity to go to a Points of Light workshop in Washington, DC one year early in my volunteer manager career. One of the things I brought back and have used since then is my 30-second pitch. They told us to imagine standing in a grocery store line and the very person you were trying to recruit all week is standing in line in front of you ready to check out. You have until they leave the check-out line to convince them to be a volunteer. I’ve often heard it referred to as your “elevator speech” also. The pitch needs to be SHORT and to the point while being clear and convincing. Remember – the same speech will not work for all people so you may want to have more than one. Then, give them a call later on to gauge how interested they are and answer any questions.

Don’t get discouraged if the phone calls don’t get returned or things don’t work out like you planned. There are days like that no matter how hard we try. Just remember – if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

Penny Kern is a retired volunteer manager and a featured blogger.

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