Five free volunteer recruitment tactics

Finding volunteers

For years, social media has been one of the go-to volunteer recruitment tactics for organizations. But it's not as effective as it once was.

On April 21, I helped host the third annual Kamloops Volunteer Fair. It was a great success, as it was the previous two years. One participant, though, recommended we post about the Fair on social media to get even more exposure. Great idea, but with one flaw.

We did post all over social media—our personal networks, our professional networks, local event boards, Facebook groups and on and on. Yet many of our participants, and probably most of the general community, didn’t see many, or even any, of those posts.

Algorithms got in the way.

That’s happening more and more. Even a couple of years ago, posting volunteer opportunities on social media was a free and very effective way to recruit. It’s still free but quite so effective. As social media feeds only show you posts similar to ones you’ve interacted with in the past, it is now next to impossible to get in front of a new audience that way.

So, what free recruitment tactics still work? There are few options. Probably none of them are good enough just by themselves, and a few of them take a bit of time and creativity. But all of them can move the needle on your recruitment. Here are five of my favourites, with a couple of pros and cons for each.

Post on bulletin boards.

Sometimes old school works. That’s why so many coffee shops, university buildings, gas stations, malls, golf courses, etc. still have them. Make the poster colourful and interesting, and include a QR code that takes them directly to your application form or role description.

The pros: It will be seen by many different types of people and you can target the places where your ideal volunteer hangs out.

The cons: It’s a hassle to go around to put them up and your poster will be competing with other posters.

Write articles for local papers or magazines

I’ve seen this done very successfully. Start by getting approval for a monthly article in a local paper or magazine to talk about your organization, and then put a plug at the end of each one for a volunteer opportunity you are trying to fill.

The pros: People feel an emotional connection to people and organizations they hear about regularly. When people see the difference you are making, they will want to get involved.

The cons: It may be difficult to find a publication that will take a regular article (though not as hard as you might think), and you have to have someone with reasonably good writing skills.

Approach local businesses regarding their social responsibility initiatives

Corporate volunteering is a thing. And it’s growing dramatically as companies see the benefits to themselves as well as the community. There are a few different ways that companies support organizations. They pay their employee for a certain amount of their volunteering time. They give a matching donation to the organization for the hours their employees volunteer (sometimes called “dollars for doers”), they work with an organization to bring in a number of employees for a day to do a project.

The pros: If you build a good relationship with them, they will keep sending volunteers, and you can often get donations as well as volunteers.

The cons: Some companies want you to set up projects especially for them that may not match your mission, and it can be challenging to get police checks done if there are many different corporate volunteers coming in.

Post on online volunteer platforms

Take advantage of your local volunteer centre or national or international platforms that allow you to post volunteer opportunities. In Canada, the biggest one is Charity Village. Go local if you need in-person volunteers. Go bigger if the role can be done remotely.

The pros: They have a wide network of people actively looking for volunteer opportunities and if the role can be done remotely you can access a huge pool of potential volunteers.

The cons: This isn’t useful for raising awareness of your organization and you will only be seen by people who already know they want to volunteer, You can’t convert new people into volunteers.

Use the magic of word of mouth

And it really is magic! Of all possible recruitment tactics, none is better than having your current volunteers out there spreading the word about how much fun they have and what a difference they’re making. They are amazing ambassadors.

The pros: People will hear about opportunities from someone who can answer all their questions and who is passionate about what you do, and your current volunteers will be thrilled to do it.

The cons: You have to ask them as they may not think of it themselves. There are no other downsides to this one.

So those are my five favourite free recruitment tactics. There are others, of course, and there are some that, while not free, may have only a minimal cost (such as tables at community events or volunteer fairs). My suggestion is to pick a few different ideas from this list and find out which ones work for you.

Don’t completely discount social media as it does still work to some extent. If you have any favourite recruitment ideas of your own, please share them.

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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