Sharing the “ask” – volunteer referrals

Tapping your existing volunteer base as recruiters.

Volunteer managers wear many hats – program planner, coach, risk manager and fundraiser to name a few. Among these, the role that often dominates is “recruiter.” After all, if your program depends on volunteers to operate, having a qualified volunteer base is essential. Still, with everything else on a volunteer manager’s plate, finding the right volunteers, especially for specific or intensive roles, can be a daunting challenge. Often it requires taking numerous, targeted approaches that are hard for one person to manage. So, why not find ways to get help? Of course, engaging existing volunteers to help your program grow is great, but consider a more specific approach: volunteer referrals.

Presenting recruitment as referring new volunteers has some important impacts:

  • It reframes recruitment as something as simple as pointing out someone they already know who would be a great role model and volunteer.
  • It acknowledges the wisdom and knowledge of your existing volunteers and makes use of their networks.
  • It takes cues from advertising and testimonials; people are more engaged by those who have enjoyed their experience rather than the “company” selling it.

If you decide to encourage your volunteers refer others, consider incorporating:

  • Training for your volunteers about what positions you need and how to make an “ask.”
  • Easy-to-use tools for your recruiters like flyers they can edit or “referral business cards.”
  • Ways to recognize and reward volunteers who recruit someone new.
  • Clear expectations that anyone referred is still applying to volunteer and has to be successfully screened.

Like any complex role, finding others that are able and willing to help is a great first step. At Michigan State University Extension, our 4-H volunteers are great advocates for spreading the word and growing local programs. If you don’t have existing volunteers to help with recruitment, consider having youth help find volunteers. Read more in the article, “Engage Youth to Recruit New Mentors.”

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