Finding Good Volunteers

finding good volunteers

There is a lot of talk in the news right now about people quitting their jobs and being really picky about what new ones they take on. What does that mean to you in terms of finding good volunteers?  A fair bit, as it turns out.

First of all, we need to know why they are quitting.

This article ( ) by Keith Reynold Jennings makes a compelling argument that people are starting to demand more meaning in their work. Yes, they want more money and more autonomy, but doing something meaningful – something that makes a difference in the world – eclipses that.

A study by Harvard Business Review, cited in the article, indicated that, so long as their basic needs are met, 9 out of 10 workers would take a pay cut to get a job with more meaning.

Workers are also demanding more flexibility. After a couple of years of working from home – no commuting time, less wear on vehicles, less expense – being forced to go back to working in person is less than appealing.

What does this have to do with finding good volunteers?

A lot. The things that attract or repel a job seeker are the same as the things that attract and repel a potential volunteer. They want to feel that they are making a difference, and they want flexibility in how they do it.

It’s easy to say that by volunteering for a not-for-profit a person is automatically making a difference. It’s not that simple, though. A volunteer needs to feel that they are making a difference; not just know it intellectually.

For every task that your volunteers do, there must be a clear sight line to how it impacts the clients or moves the organization toward accomplishing its vision. The harder it is to see the direct impact, the less meaning the task will have for the volunteer.

The less meaning a task has, the less enthusiasm and care a volunteer will give it.

I worked with an educational organization a few years ago. Their mission was “To empower individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders.” One of the tasks they had their volunteers do was to accurately record the speaking times of every person who spoke.

New volunteers often wondered what the point was. I explained the value to the speaker (both psychological and financial) of learning to keep within an allotted time. Once the reasoning was clear, the volunteers embraced the task and even made suggestions on how to improve it. This both impacted the clients we served and moved our mission forward.

To find good volunteers, ensure that potential helpers clearly see the path between the tasks and their impact.

However, even some organizations that clearly demonstrate the impact that they make can have difficulty finding good volunteers in our current social climate.

Part of that is a lack of flexibility in how they allow volunteers to perform their tasks.

During the pandemic, many organizations put a great deal of effort into giving their clients the same level of service.

More of them, however, just hunkered down and waited for the return of “work as usual”. They cancelled or curtailed programs and stopped services. Basically, they just threw their hands in the air and said “it can’t be done”.

Yes, there are some things that must be done in person, but there can be flexibility built even into them.

I work with a therapeutic riding association. While the clients, many of whom have physical challenges, are riding, one or two volunteers walk close beside the rider to keep them secure. They are called sidewalkers. There is no way to keep social distancing. Many other therapeutic centres cancelled their programs. Ours didn’t.

Instead, we trained family members or care workers – people who were already inside the rider’s “bubble” – to serve as sidewalkers. The riders continued to get the benefits of the program, and the organization gained more volunteers. As a bonus, many of them are continuing to volunteer, and not just with their own family members, even now that things are opening up again.

It’s important to be creative when adding flexibility to tasks.

Be willing to look at every task to see if it’s at all possible, maybe with a bit of rejigging, to make it virtual. While there will always be positions that must be done in person, with a bit of creative thinking that list could be made much shorter than you might think. There are very few things that can’t be done virtually with the technology we have now. Goodness, even doctors are doing online checkups!

This will not only make you more attractive to potential volunteers, but it vastly expands your recruiting pool. You can, in fact, find good volunteers from anywhere in the world. Imagine recruiting a volunteer directly from India to teach traditional dance in your local Indian Cultural Centre!

Brainstorm with your team and see what tasks and/or roles can be changed to allow more virtual participation.

Improve your chances of finding good volunteers by adding meaning and flexibility to your volunteer program. Clarify how each volunteer task supports your clients and organization, and build flexibility into each task whether on-site or remote. With those two things, you will discover that your job of finding good volunteers becomes drastically easier!

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