On Volunteer Recruitment, Engagement, and Retention

For those who manage a team of volunteers, or any group of individuals for that matter, a big issue we face is not necessarily just recruiting talent but retaining it. High caliber, motivated people require constant opportunities for growth and empowerment. As a Talent Development Coordinator with TeenSHARP, I am learning the importance of prioritizing the team and implementing capacity building strategies.

Recruitment

Successful retainment begins when an organization creates job requirements which effectively advance the goals it is trying to achieve, and combines this with the ability to tailor the experience to individuals’ interests. While it is tempting to accept anyone who expresses interest in volunteering, this method often results in a high turnover rate and an inadequate program. With TeenSHARP, it has been essential for us to recruit leaders who are deeply connected to our organization’s values (e.g. college access inequities, community involvement, mentorship, and human development) but who are also equipped to effectively train this next generation of leaders.

Tip: When interviewing potential staff members, try to incorporate questions which gauge an individuals’ values to find areas of alignment. We also suggest using the Clifton StrengthsFinder test to determine where a person’s greatest strengths lie (Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, Strategic Thinking, etc.). This will also give you insight into how to create a well rounded team. 

One person cannot successfully recruit a well rounded team alone though, so set aside time to meet other stakeholders in the community who have direct connections to contacts and marketing platforms.

Tip: Present your opportunity as a privilege, not just a call for volunteers. Adjust the email subject line depending on which group you are reaching out to and use the word “partnership” when possible. Using existing PR outlets is an easy way to access a wider network  and develop connections/partnerships. Also, preparation is key; guidelines, expectations, and a calendar of events/deadlines must be discussed and understood well before an invitation is extended to potential applicants.

Engagement

Designing the perfect opportunity for volunteers requires extensive research into their needs and interests, flexible scheduling, and project work tailored to these factors.You may already know the demographics of the community and the niche whose needs you are addressing. But what are areas of professional development that can help your staff prepare them for work within the community while also helping them grow individually? What incentives can you use to attract quality applicants? How can you empower them to become a fully engaged and contributing team?

In the world of recruiting and retaining volunteers, I’ve come to understand that the relationship between volunteer and organization should be considered an exchange where both parties grow and benefit. So in order to attract loyal volunteers, it is important to learn why they want to be involved in the first place; though most volunteers usually have an altruistic desire to serve others, it does not exclude other motivations such as personal growth, making connections, and recognition.

Tip: Tap into these other values/motivations and find ways to incorporate them into their general responsibilities.

Meaningful involvement begins when passion meets purpose and people are empowered to take ownership. Empowering volunteers to problem solve and make decisions freely changes the dynamic from leader/volunteer to teammate/colleague. It shifts accountability to them, thereby increasing their level of engagement and commitment. I consider assigning tasks to be a very antiquated form of leadership, especially if volunteers do not understand the “why” behind what they are doing. Let’s say, for example, someone wants to be an instructor for TeenSHARP because they want to be a high school teacher. Providing teaching techniques is not enough. While we do provide training, we also encourage volunteers to conduct research and present their findings on an issue, document his/her experiences, and arrange a time to meet with guidance counselors and current teachers. None of these suggestions came at any cost to us, and yet we are able to serve as a pipeline for other opportunities.

Tip: Collaborate, don’t compete with other volunteer organizations. Sharing resources is vital in the nonprofit world.

Retainment

You cannot ask for commitment before proving your own dedication to the team. One of my core values is open communication and availability. I do my best to work with instructors’ schedules because I understand that life throws up obstacles that must be approached with empathy and not discipline.

Tip: Devote time after or during work to be available to volunteers and consider it an investment opportunity. People need to know that their leader is there to coach and inspire, and having an open door policy is one way to contribute to that relationship.

People also need to feel that their contributions are valued by the team. Providing recognition for jobs done well is vital for team building as it lets the team know that you appreciate them and what they are accomplishing on behalf of the organization. Whether it’s a shout out in a meeting, a certificate, or an awards ceremony, there are always ways we can express gratitude. Often leaders find this to be a difficult task. I suggest researching the difference between Fixed and Growth Mindset praise. 

Tip: Proliferate these values and act on them every day, and your team will take notice and adopt the same approach. Ask open ended questions to help volunteers problem solve. Show them that your time is not constrained to a set work schedule and you will find that volunteers will quickly offer that same level of support. Teach volunteers how to build confidence through positivity and appreciation, and they will know that their efforts are being recognized and capitalized upon.

Let me know what other strategies work for you!

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