Broad-based and targeted volunteer recruitment: What works?

There are two primary methods used to recruit volunteers: broad-based and targeted. Each one works best in specific circumstances depending on the situation.

The two major types of recruitment strategies are broad-based and targeted. Broad-based recruitment is the most effective for jobs that don’t require specific volunteer characteristics or qualifications. It is most helpful when recruiting volunteers for one-time events or volunteers that don’t need a specific set of skills. This open-ended method of recruitment is successful when mass communication is used. Public service announcements, flyers and other similar material often generate the most responses for broad-based recruitment. Effective broad-based recruitment requires using multiple methods for getting out the message because it targets the greatest number of individuals for volunteer positions and provides the most diverse volunteer base.

Targeted recruitment represents the opposite end of the recruitment spectrum. It is most effective when the audience is clearly defined and recruitment is a matter of determining and tracking down the right kind of person for the job. This form of recruitment is necessary when certain skills (for example, carpentry, secretarial, accounting or artistic) are necessary for the volunteer role. Targeted recruitment methods involve determining the type of organization with which the qualified volunteer may be affiliated and targeting marketing to that and similar organizations. Consider a direct mailing to a corresponding professional organization, association, union or service club to find the people with the appropriate skills and make your opportunity appeal directly to them. While specific media requests may generate results, mass communication efforts with this recruitment approach are not as efficient because they generate many under- or overqualified applicants or people who generally aren’t interested in the role because it requires a unique set of skills

There are pros and cons to both broad-based and targeted volunteer recruitment. For instance, broad-based recruitment lets you reach infinitely more people through mass media than targeted recruitment. Additionally, it helps you to create public awareness and a buzz of excitement around your program. This can be helpful because it can also make people with resources aware of your organization and the great work it’s doing. On the other hand, broad-based recruitment can be too generic to really make people feel like they have what it takes to make a difference through your cause. Some people seek opportunities where their specific skills and talents will be recognized and put to work. Targeted recruitment helps to get at this problem by identifying the characteristics of individuals who would be ideal for the position. You can then tailor your message to the group or individual when you make your ask. Targeted recruitment, however, takes more time and energy than broad-based recruitment because it includes fewer people.

A good rule to follow is this: when you’re seeking a volunteer or volunteers who fit a very specific mold – maybe because they have special skills, characteristics or interests – targeted recruitment is the best approach because it will save you a good deal of time as a volunteer manager by not having to screen people out who don’t fit the mold. As volunteer managers, we know that time is one of our most important resources because it’s always in such scarce supply!

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