How to Recruit Volunteers

Three Methods:Creating a Recruitment MessageRecruiting VolunteersManaging Volunteers

As any charity or service project manager knows, the success of any event relies mainly on the help and dedication of unpaid volunteers. Although there are many altruistic individuals willing to lend their time and talents to the benefit of those less fortunate, it is wise to seek additional hands to avoid asking the same people repeatedly. It may seem daunting, but there are ways that you can successfully recruit volunteers.

Method 1
Creating a Recruitment Message

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    Write a volunteer policy. A small organization might be able to function without one, but most organizations prefer to have a document written up. Keep it short and simple so staff and volunteer can refer to it easily. This is not the first document potential volunteers will see, but it will help you narrow in on your goals and strategy for using volunteers. Cover the following topics:[1]
    • A job description for each volunteer position
    • Who oversees recruitment, training, and leadership for volunteers
    • Application forms, interviewing process, and criminal background check for potential volunteers, if necessary.
    • How much volunteers can be reimbursed for transportation or other expenses
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    Demonstrate the benefits of volunteering. In all your recruitment materials, begin by stressing the value of the volunteers' service. Describe the positive impact a volunteer working for your organization can achieve. Mention valuable training or work experience that could go on a volunteer's resume or college application. If there is a possibility of a volunteer advancing into a role with more responsibility or becoming a paid staff member, include this in the recruitment material.
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    Describe the work clearly. Name the most specific role possible. Informative terms such as "volunteer food server" or "volunteer beds & shower coordinator" are more likely to attract results than a general term such as "shelter volunteer."[2] If the role is unusual or specialized, describe the specific skills you're looking for.
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    Address concerns about qualifications or time commitment. Make required experience (or lack of requirements) clear on your recruitment materials, so no one assumes he is unqualified.[3] Reassure potential recruits that training will be provided, or that there is work to be done that does not require any specialized skills. Let people know that the minimum amount of time commitment required, whether that's "just one day" or "only two hours a week."
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    Adjust your message for different demographics. Appeal to a diverse swathe of people, especially if the volunteer service involves interactions with community members. Come up with strategies to overcome additional cultural barriers that may prevent certain demographics from responding.[4][5] You may include these in all your mass recruitment messages, or create multiple versions that you use for different audiences.
    • Give senior citizens the opportunity to use advanced or specialized skills, and supply reading materials with large, easily read text.
    • Translate your message in areas with a high non-English-speaking population.
    • If a selection process is involved, make it clear that the form is used to match your skills to the right opportunity, not to exclude certain groups.

Method 2
Recruiting Volunteers

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    Approach people individually. Face-to-face, one-on-one recruitment usually has the highest rate of success. This is not often practical as the only recruitment strategy, due to the high time commitment per volunteer, but it's a great strategy to use on friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers.
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    Use the internet. Post recruitment messages on sites such as,, or Craigslist. If your organization maintains a social media presence, hook new volunteers by posting inspiring or funny images and stories related to your work.[6]
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    Reach out to local companies. Most large, and even some smaller, companies encourage their employees to volunteer individually and in groups. The employees may even become long term volunteers after staffing a one-time event.
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    Spread the word through newspapers, radio, and television. A short advertising slot on a local radio or television station can be an affordable way to spread the message. In the local newspapers, offering to write an article about your organization's work or recent success story can be more effective than paying for advertisement space.[7]
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    Create posters and flyers. Include positive stories and photographs depicting your organization's work, along with your contact information. Make these the size of a standard sheet of paper, since some bulletin boards do not allow larger materials.[8] Display these in community centers and local businesses, with permission.
    • A local copy shop may volunteer their services to you for a good cause, or give you a discount.
    • Posters may work best when your organization is already somewhat known. They also circulate for a longer time than most advertisements, which makes them useful if you'll still be needing new volunteers weeks from now.[9]
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    Attend local events. Ask permission to set up a table at local events, such as parades or job fairs. Keep the table staffed with one or two people qualified to answer questions, and provide printed materials for people to take with them.
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    Look to local organizations. Community centers, religious organizations, schools, and youth organizations are all excellent places to spread the word about volunteering. Ask leaders in these communities to make an announcement on your behalf, or to arrange a time when you can come in and make a presentation. Many schools now have a community service requirement that must be fulfilled in order to graduate.
    • Provide printed materials to pass out during announcements and presentations.

Method 3
Managing Volunteers

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    Reply to applicants within 24 hours. No matter which method a potential volunteer uses to contact you, always respond within 24 hours. The longer it takes you to get back to someone, the less likely they are to remain interested.
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    Evaluate potential volunteers. Even if you are desperate for help, a "warm body" or "butt in a chair" won't solve your problems. Use people who are genuinely committed to helping. While not all volunteer positions require a screening process, consider treating it more like a job application when recruiting for the following roles:[10]
    • Volunteers who interact with community members will be seen as representatives of your organization, and should match your organization's values. Criminal background checks are recommended if they will be interacting with vulnerable populations.
    • Volunteers who will be operating machinery or handling money should undergo a criminal background check and receive supervised training.
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    Host a meeting with free food. Invite people interested in volunteering to an orientation and "meet the team" gathering with food included. One of the best ways to make a good first impression is to give your applicants a free meal or snacks.[11]
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    Consider a contract. If you are looking for committed, long-term volunteers, you may wish to have them sign a contract before they begin, committing them to a certain length of time. The goal is not to punish an unpaid volunteer if they leave, but to make it clear that it is the volunteer's responsibility to recruit her replacement.[12]
    • If a volunteer is not certain about their commitment yet, allow her to show up to one or two sessions before making a decision.
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    Give volunteers flexibility with time and skill sets. Allow volunteers to set their own hours, within the limits of your program. If you discover that a volunteer has a skill your organization could use, give him the chance to use it even if this is not part of your original plan. For example, a volunteer may help update your organization's website, or play music at your organization's social gathering.
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    Ask volunteers to spread the word. Your first batch of volunteers can transform into a powerful recruiting tool. When the next volunteer project comes up, ask your current and former volunteers to spread the word to their friends and community members with similar interests. Thank each volunteer for her service individually if possible, to build commitment and positive associations with your organization.


  • Aim to recruit about 25% more people than you actually need, to make allowances for people who fail to show up or prove unsuitable for the program.[13]
  • Make sure your organization has the proper insurance to cover volunteers.[14]
  • Make your volunteers feel welcome and introduce them to other members in the group so that they feel comfortable and like they belong.

Article Info

Categories: Volunteer and Community Service