Successfully involving volunteers

Volunteers are vital to the success of many organizations. Quality of volunteer experience is more important than quantity of hours volunteered.

Ken Culp, III, a senior volunteerism specialist for 4-H with the University of Kentucky, and author of Recruiting and Engaging Baby Boomer Volunteers, describes how to successfully involve volunteers from this specific age group into Extension programs.  These essential recommendations can also apply to recruiting volunteers for other organizations.

We really need to be comfortable in working with volunteers of all ages.  One thing to remember, we can no longer treat all volunteers using the “one size fits all” approach. According to Dawn Lindbloom, a national service fellow,  in  Baby Boomers and the New Age of Volunteerism, two-thirds of volunteers ages 55 and older became volunteers through their faith communities, during involvement in their children’s activities, or simply because someone asked them.

Volunteers are typically busy people. The best way to recruit volunteers is to identify those who are already actively involved in volunteer opportunities. Contact them directly. Tell them about potential opportunities to do something they have an interest in and a talent for.  

No matter whom you recruit as volunteers, Michigan State University Extension wants to highlight the following points as critical to success:

  1. Are there a variety of volunteer positions offered to volunteers? Are there position descriptions available with responsibilities and expectations of the volunteer?
  2. Will someone be available to orient, educate, manage and coordinate resources for volunteers?
  3. Have short term, more flexible volunteer positions been identified?
  4. What types of tangible and intangible incentives are available for volunteers?

People often look for volunteer opportunities where they can make a meaningful contribution in a limited amount of time. They want a good match between their interests, skills and abilities, and an important volunteer role.  We need to describe the impact of a volunteer’s time and how they have made a specific difference rather than simply present a certificate for the number of hours they’ve served.

As you plan and develop efforts to market and recruit for your organization, remember this:

  • Marketing materials must depict real volunteers in ages, ethnicities and other demographics.
  • Recruitment efforts must include face-to-face time spent with personal contacts.
  • Volunteer opportunities that can involve an entire family or social group will be more attractive.
  • Time flexibility is key for volunteers.
  • Volunteers look for opportunities where they can have a positive impact within their community.
  • Incentives (rather than simple recognition) could be an additional motivating tool for volunteers.

Dawn Lindblom defines tangible incentives, which could include:

  • Organizing a “service for a service” program. Develop a list of people willing to help with basic tasks like gardening, shopping, shoveling snow, etc. Whatever may be of value and needed for your community volunteers.
  • Secure and recognize a local pharmacy discount for prescriptions.
  • Develop sponsorships for free or discounted fees for local community educational programs. 

Intangible incentives may involve having a chance to satisfy the basic need for companionship, allowing possibilities to volunteer as a group, and providing meaningful jobs that can be done from home.

MSU Extension offers educational programs and assistance to organizations in areas of strategic planning, board member professional development, conflict resolution, and many other topics.  To learn more about this and other programs, contact an expert in your area, visit the MSU Extension Find an Expert page or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).