From interest to reality: Getting volunteers off to a successful start

Volunteer managers know how hard it is to recruit volunteers. Once someone’s indicated an interest, it’s important to move quickly to get them started in their service.

It can sometimes take weeks of hard work pounding the pavement to result in one person who is interested in taking on a volunteer role in your organization. Because it can be difficult at times to get a “yes,” it’s important to keep a potential volunteer’s interest from that first initial “yes” all the way through the time he or she begins service.

It can be difficult to manage the process of getting one volunteer started when you’re dealing with the day-to-day management of the program. However, the adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” is an especially helpful one when thinking about how important it is to get an interested volunteer enrolled and started as swiftly as possible. Volunteers can lose interest quickly if the process doesn’t move forward at a reasonable rate, or if they feel they have been forgotten. Because it takes a significant amount of effort to get people to say yes to your volunteer opportunity, losing them due to a poorly planned transition from interested applicant to new volunteer just results in wasted time on your part. This article is the first in a series that will help you to move a volunteer efficiently through the screening and orientation process, while also keeping the volunteer interested and motivated to begin service.

Always be prepared with your current volunteer application. You might meet someone while waiting at the dentist’s office and talk to them about what you do, sparking their interest. It’s best to move quickly and get an application in their hands. If you have a stash of program materials in your bag, in your car or any other place you might need to easily access them, you’ll always be prepared. If a volunteer has to wait for the application to arrive by mail once you get back to your desk, it’s likely that you could forget, lose their address or that they’ll have forgotten who you are by the time the packet arrives. The sooner you get it into their hands, the sooner you’ll get it back if they’re ready to make their move to start volunteering.

It’s also a good idea to keep a copy of all the position descriptions you’re currently looking to fill. You never know when you might meet that one unique person who would be perfect for another opportunity you have available when you’re out presenting to a group of people you thought might be interested in another role. As you’re considering what tasks need to be done, consider the following question: “If I had an unlimited budget, would I pay someone to do this work?” If the answer is yes, you’ve identified an important role that a volunteer can play in your organization and should consider writing a position description for those tasks. If no, you should reconsider whether or not it’s wise to place a volunteer in this role.

Volunteers are looking for a chance to make a difference. If a program doesn’t provide them with this, they’ll find another organization that does. 

For ideas on how to show appreciation for your volunteers, see "Ideas for no-cost volunteer recognition." 

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