Volunteer recruitment: The ask makes the difference

Targeted and broad-based recruitment offer benefits to organizations when used appropriately.

Have you been in charge of the concession stand or getting volunteers to sell tickets? Hopefully you have been fortunate and people have just signed up, but chances are that sheet has come back to you with some blank spaces. Did you need to specifically ask people to fill in those slots? How you ask can make a big difference in the results you get. The general announcement of “I need volunteers to help during the season—sign up on the sheet” may not be doing the trick.

When individuals hear the general announcement for volunteers, it is really easy to think there are plenty of other people. However, when someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I am going to work the game Friday night and they need help, would you help me sell concessions?” it becomes a bit harder to say no. Never underestimate the power of asking someone directly. Volunteering can be a great way for people to get involved, meet new people and learn new skills. According to Independent Sector research, 71 percent of people will volunteer when asked.

When you need to fill volunteer positions, consider where and how you find those volunteers. There are two basic types of recruitment: broad-based recruitment and targeted recruitment. Take a moment to learn the difference to discover when to use each.

Broad-based recruitment

Broad-based recruitment is best for roles that do not require specific skills or qualifications, but is mistakenly used by some organizations for all of its volunteer positions. This mistake can cause organizations frustration, leave vacancies and work undone.

Broad-based recruitment methods may involve using social media, mass media, fliers, public service announcements or newsletters. When asking volunteers is general, inviting anyone and everyone can work just fine. This can be effective for one-time events where volunteers are needed to perform general tasks and do not necessarily need specific skill sets. A common event this time of year requesting volunteers by this method may be a food pantry or community event where lots of general help is needed to bring about the success of the event. Volunteers can just arrive on site that day, receive directions and begin performing their task.

A benefit of broad-based recruitment is the wide reach and ability to get your organizations name out in the community and raise awareness about what you are doing. For those large, one-time events, this might be just what you need, but if you have a variety of positions that require specific skills, you may benefit from targeted recruitment.

Targeted recruitment

Targeted recruitment offers you the chance to seek out exactly who you need by considering the qualifications needed for the volunteer roles you need to fill. It may take more time to carefully consider the role description, qualifications desired and where to find such individuals.

Thinking about where to recruit candidates for your volunteer roles may take some brainstorming, but that can be time well spent for both parties. You may decide contacting local professional associations, senior centers or community organizations will allow you to recruit the skilled volunteers you need. Volunteers that are placed in a position that is well-matched with their qualifications and interests tend to experience greater satisfaction.

There is place for broad-based and targeted recruitment in most of our organizations, but understanding the difference can allow you to utilize the one that will suit your needs best. Consider the exact positions you are recruiting for and the timeframe to accomplish your goals.

Broad-based recruitment may get you lots of volunteers showing up, but if none of them are qualified to do what you need, it will not be very helpful. Organizations report they receive under- or over-qualified applicants with this approach. Targeted recruitment may require a larger investment in time and energy upfront, but deliver the candidates you need to fill those important positions.

Michigan State University Extension programs recruit volunteers from across the state for a variety of roles and enjoy the benefits of targeted and broad-based recruitment. Staff and volunteers evaluate the roles that need to be filled and evaluate the type of recruitment that is best for the situation. If you would like to find out more about these targeted recruitments or think your organization would benefit from a workshop on targeted recruitment designed just for your group, you can contact me at weichel@msu.edu to discuss options for scheduling one.

If you are interested in volunteering with MSU, you can explore opportunities with your local MSU Extension office.


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