Recruiting Volunteers with an Open House

open house

I’ve been asked by clients “Should I attend a community-wide volunteer fair or host our own open house recruiting drive?” The answer, of course, is “Yes”. The two types of recruitment drives are very different, and have different benefits, and both are worth doing. In a previous article, I wrote about how to make the most out of participating in a volunteer fair. Organizing an open house is also a fantastic way to engage potential volunteers.

Some of the benefits to an open house include:

  • a more immersive experience, as you can set up multiple stations, show off your facility and bring in several staff and current volunteers for demonstrations and to answer questions,
  • an increased ability to share stories and testimonials, and
  • extended interactions, as there aren’t any other organizations vying for their attention.

Okay, so that’s all well and good. But how do you run a successful open house? Here are some tips.

Set clear goals.

Clearly define what you want to achieve with the open house. Are you wanting to recruit a specific number of volunteers, or a specific type of volunteer? Or is it more about raising awareness about your organization? Maybe it’s about fostering community connections. Or all of the above. Knowing exactly what you’re wanting from the event will help you guide the planning and prioritize requirements. It will also help you measure its success.

Choose a suitable venue.

Whenever possible, host it at your organization’s location to give attendees a sense of where they’ll be volunteering. If you don’t have the space available, or there are other reasons why your location isn’t suitable (you may have vulnerable clients there), select a venue that is easily accessible and aligns with the atmosphere you want to create. If the potential volunteers will be serving at your location, at least find a venue that is nearby so that you can be sure that they can find transportation to get there.

Create and distribute invitations.

Develop eye-catching invitations that clearly communicate the purpose of the open house. Use various channels such as email, social media, and physical flyers to reach your audience. Encourage your current volunteers to share the invitations with their networks. They are your best ambassadors! If you’re looking to recruit a specific type of volunteer, ensure that invites or flyers are distributed where that type of person can be found. For example, if you’re looking to recruit young people, target colleges and universities.

Prepare engaging hand-outs.

Have informative materials available at the event, such as flyers and impact reports. Highlight the positive outcomes of volunteering and showcase success stories to inspire potential volunteers. Remember to mention the value that you provide the volunteer, not just what you are looking for from them.

Interactive stations.

Set up interactive stations or booths that represent different aspects of your organization. A Search and Rescue organization, for example, could demonstrate how they get a stranded hiker off a cliff face. A musical charity could have an “instrument petting zoo”. Try to make the stations as interactive as possible. That’s how you build a strong connection with the attendees.

Testimonials and stories.

Include videos or before and after pictures of the work your organization does. Incorporate personal stories and testimonials from current volunteers. Hearing real experiences can help potential volunteers connect emotionally and understand the meaningful impact they can make. Encourage those of your current volunteers who are there to share their stories with attendees.

Give informational talks.

Randomly throughout the event have someone give a short talk (no more than three minutes). Cover topics such as the mission of your organization, available volunteer opportunities, and the benefits of getting involved. Don’t forget to end with where they can get an application form!

Prepare to answer questions.

Ensure that all staff and current volunteers at the event are willing and able to answer questions. This allows attendees to seek clarification and gain a deeper understanding of your organization and its volunteer programs. If someone doesn’t have the answer to a specific question, they should know to whom to refer the questioner.

Provide refreshments.

If you feed them, they will come! Consider offering refreshments to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. This encourages attendees to stay longer, engage in conversations, and feel more connected to your cause. This can be as simple as coffee/tea/water and a selection of pastries. It doesn’t have to be lavish or expensive.

Collect contact information.

Even if they aren’t filling out an application right then, have a system in place to collect contact information from interested attendees. This will enable you to stay in touch with them after the event and provide additional details about volunteering opportunities or events that are being planned.

Remember to follow-up!

The most common mistake I’ve seen, whether after a volunteer fair or an open house, is to lose touch with the attendees. Even if they don’t sign up with you, promptly follow up with them to express gratitude for their participation. Provide any additional information they may have requested, let them know you are always willing to answer their questions, and reiterate the positive impact they can have by joining your volunteer team.

An open house can be an effective way to recruit volunteers, but the quality of the results will depend on the quality of the event. Hopefully these tips will help.

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