Create an Engaging Volunteer Recruitment Campaign

Updated on April 5, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Volunteer recruitment via awareness raising at anti-G8 demonstration in Le Havre, France before the G8 summit in Deauville.
Volunteer recruitment via awareness raising at anti-G8 demonstration in Le Havre, France before the G8 summit in Deauville. | Source

Recruiting Volunteers For Charitable Work

Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes. They vary in their level of ability and their motivation to volunteer. There is no such thing as a “standard” volunteer. A nonprofits recruitment poster or YouTube video for volunteers is similar to an advertisement. It needs to be well designed so that it captures the public’s attention and delivers your intended message. As any experienced marketing professional can tell you, getting the advert right can be the difference between success and failure of the product.

Sometimes recruitment materials can be simple slogans like the protest strip banners in the photo above. They were used as part of an anti-G8 demonstration in Le Havre, France in 2011. Through their bold colors and clear wording they helped raised awareness of the campaign and helped recruit volunteers to that cause.

Competition between Non-profits and Charities

There are some individuals who know exactly which cause they want to volunteer for. They have already decided the location and type of skills they want to share with a particular organisation. These kinds of volunteers are relatively easy to recruit because they are already focused on one organisation (hopefully yours). More often, however, people have only a vague idea about volunteering. They may want to volunteer some of their time to help society in general, but be unsure of how to do this.

They may not know which if any of their skills will be most useful to non-profit organizations (or charities). They may be unaware which ones operate in their locality, or what opportunities there are for volunteering elsewhere or even abroad. These types of people make up a large untapped pool of potential for volunteer recruitment. As more and more charities and non-profits realize this, so the competition to enlist these volunteers is growing.

This makes it all the more important for your charity to be professional about their volunteer recruitment campaign. They cannot afford to waste time effort and money running a campaign that results in no additional volunteers.

Horses doing their "bit" for charity. Poster for the Blue Cross appeal of the Our Dumb Friends League 1916.
Horses doing their "bit" for charity. Poster for the Blue Cross appeal of the Our Dumb Friends League 1916. | Source

What is the Purpose of this Recruitment Campaign?

The key to a successful recruitment campaign is to be clear about the reasons why you are looking for volunteers. This should be agreed at board level between trustees and managers of the nonprofit organisation. For example you could be looking for volunteers to help with caring and befriending services. Alternatively you may be looking for help with fundraising.

The kind of people you want to attract for each of these roles can be different and your volunteer recruitment campaign needs to reflect this. The aim of the poster above for Our Dumb Friends League (an animal charity) was primarily to recruit volunteers to fundraise. Its secondary aim was to raise awareness of the work of the charity and also to enlist volunteers to help care for injured horses in their animal shelters.

Your country needs your help right now. First World War British recruitment poster with attention-grabbing slogan.
Your country needs your help right now. First World War British recruitment poster with attention-grabbing slogan. | Source

Who are the Volunteers You Hope to Attract?

This question gets to the heart of what motives people to volunteer. People give their time and skills to help a cause for many different reasons. Some people volunteer in order to further a religious or political objective. Others are motivated by the desire to learn a new skill or to meet new people and make new friends. Sometimes people use volunteering as a way to get work experience as a stepping-stone into paid work.

The recruitment campaign should therefore not only focus on what the organisation is looking for, but also on the benefits that an individual volunteer may gain. The First World War recruitment poster (above) appeals to the patriotism of potential volunteers. The figure of St George is depicted slaying the dragon. The benefit that would accrue to a volunteer in this scenario is to be on the side of a hero and defeat the forces of oppression.

The video below shows the wide range of people that volunteer and some of their reasons for doing so.

The Power of Volunteering

Is the Recruitment Campaign Focused on One Specific Project?

Although many nonprofits are looking for long-term volunteers, it can also be useful to recruit volunteers for one specific project. Some people are unaware of what volunteering means and they appreciate the chance to help for just a few hours.

They see the chance to give a short period of their time as a kind of “taster” of the organisation. If they have fun and enjoy the experience, they may come back months or even years later and become a longer term volunteer. They may also become involved the organisation in other ways, for example through fundraising or by donating money.

An example of this kind of volunteer recruitment campaign is the one run annually by Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK. The “World’s Biggest Coffee Morning” takes place every September and encourages volunteers to fundraise by inviting their friends around to their homes for coffee. The video below describes how it works.

MacMillan Coffee Morning Campaign in UK

Key Information to Include in Your Campaign

A volunteer recruitment campaign must be both informative and eye-catching. The information you include should be sufficient to allow someone to make a decision whether or not to volunteer for your organisation. The information given should indicate the type of volunteers you are looking for, for example, the age groups or the skill you require. It helps to give some kind of incentive to motivate a potential volunteer to make contact with you.

This could be describing the impact their contribution will make or it could be a free concert other event at which they would be signed up as a volunteer. You also need to include the name and contact details of the nonprofit organisation. The video below recaps and gives a summary of these requirements.

How To Recruit and Keep Volunteers

Recruiting and Engaging Volunteers

1. Make sure you know WHAT you need volunteers for
2. Tailor your message to suit the audience and the kind of volunteers you want to recruit
3. Engage interest by making your program sound exciting and fun. Offering food and swag also helps
4. Allow them to grow by offering skill-building opportunities
5. Show them their impact. Let them know that they are making a difference
6. Don’t forget to show your thanks as often as possible
Info from Do Something (dot) org
Money received as donations must be properly accounted for.
Money received as donations must be properly accounted for. | Source

Should Volunteers Get Reimbursed For Their Expenses?

Non-profits and charities need to be able to account for the money they spend. Donors expect the majority of funds raised to be spent on the stated charitable purpose, and not given away as quasi-wages.

However, many charities do pay volunteers travel expenses. Some also pay a small meal contribution if a volunteer has given at least four hours. However, there is no standard rate of reimbursement.

Charities and non-profit organisations should discuss this topic before volunteers commit to helping. Some volunteers may only be willing to offer their time for nothing if their fares or gas used are reimbursed.


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