Explaining the difference they can make will attract volunteers

It's the mission that matters

In the recruitment and satisfaction of volunteers, mission matters more than anything else.

After the death of Mother Teresa in 1997, I watched a documentary about her life. One fact jumped out at me. At that time, different orders of Catholic nuns were struggling to find novitiates. To attract young women, the orders offered significant easing of rules, such as allowing nuns to wear street clothes. It didn’t help much.

The Missionaries of Charity, however—Mother Teresa’s order—had very strict rules. They required adherence to vows of obedience, chastity and poverty. And the order grew rapidly. I believe much of the reason for that was because of their public adherence to a fourth, unofficial, vow, “to help the poorest of the poor.”.

It was their mission that drew novitiates to them.

The same is true of organizations that engage volunteers. Of course, we need to provide them with tons of appreciation. Yes, we need to train them well. Yes, we need to offer them benefits such as new skills. But more than any of that, we need to show them the impact they can make, and how the world can be a better place for the time they invest in our causes. It is our missions that will draw volunteers to us.

Just as many religious orders try to gain adherents by making things fun and easy, many organizations focus on the fun and personal benefits when recruiting, rather than putting the focus on the mission itself. But people become passionate about causes, not parties, pats on the back or even new skills.

Why don’t we focus our recruitment on the mission?

It may be because we feel it’s obvious. We see so clearly how much the mission matters we think everyone must see it, so we showcase the side benefits instead. Unfortunately, what is obvious to us — because we’re immersed in it — may not be so obvious to some random stranger.

But people will go out of their way to try to solve a problem they see in the world.

When we watch the news, it can get really depressing. Wars, tainted drugs, environmental disasters. There are a lot of people who say, or at least think, “I wish there was something I could do about that.”

It may surprise you, but people don’t mind making sacrifices if they see it will make a difference. Even if that sacrifice involves missing the latest episode of their favourite Netflix series.

First, though, they need to know there is something they can do. When you talk about your mission, they learn how they can help.

How do you put the mission front and centre? In your recruitment postings, talk first about the difference that volunteers in your organization can make. Make your posting appeal to the superhero in everyone. I know that thinking of and talking to volunteers as if they were superheroes can be controversial, but you can still make them feel like they could be, without explicitly saying it, so long as you ensure that the mission matters to everyone first and foremost.

Also, in your social media posts, share stories of impact that volunteers have had. How a coral reef is regenerating because of volunteer clean up efforts. How a senior recovered from a serious injury because a Meals on Wheels volunteer found her and called the ambulance. And so on. These are the things that draw people to volunteer, not a coffee card or a t-shirt. It is the mission that matters.

But, yet, we still focus more on the benefits to the volunteer.

I know, I’ve written a lot about ensuring you mention the benefits that volunteers get but they are secondary to the mission. As long as they know they are making a difference in the world, volunteers will join up, and stick around. The rest is to make it easier and pleasanter to serve.

The reason they serve is because the mission matters.

Which only makes sense, because, hey, it’s why our organizations exist in the first place.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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