Has your organization ever participated in a volunteer fair? It can be an amazingly effective way of gaining community exposure and meeting potential volunteers you may never have met otherwise.
It can also be a waste of time and money. Let’s face it; it’s one thing to set up a table at a volunteer fair, or recruitment drive or other similar event; it’s another thing entirely to have it be successful.
What makes the difference between a successful event and a waste of time?
Planning and preparation. From the moment you decide to participate, you need to start working on making it successful. Just showing up isn’t enough.
Start by being crystal clear on exactly what you’re looking for from the volunteer fair.
Do you want community exposure as well as volunteers? How many volunteers do you want – and be specific! What skills or attitude do you need them to have? (I highly recommend recruiting for attitude; skills can be taught!) The clearer you are about what you want, the more likely it is you’ll find it.
Think of it this way. Have you ever decided to buy a vehicle and, once you decide what you want, you see that vehicle everywhere? I bought a Toyota Tacoma a few years back. In the week or so between when I decided that that’s what I wanted and when I went in to get it, every second vehicle I saw seemed to be a Tacoma! I had never really noticed them before, but now that’s all I saw.
The same is true for volunteers. Know exactly what you’re looking for and you will start to see them.
What can you offer a volunteer?
Ask not what the volunteer can do for you, but what you can do for the volunteer. We get caught up (understandably enough) about what we need, but your relationship with a volunteer needs to be a two-way street. Know specifically how a volunteer will benefit by being with your organization. Having it clear in your own mind will make it easier to demonstrate to people at the volunteer fair.
Know your mission, and be passionate about it.
Know exactly what your organization does and why it’s important. Be able to articulate it, and be prepared to answer questions about it. Most people choose where they volunteer because of the difference that the organization makes in the community or the world. If you can’t demonstrate that, there is little reason for someone to step forward.
And be passionate about it! Passion is a magnet. If you’re enthusiastic about the impact your organization is making, other people will want to become part of it.
Reduce hoops and red tape.
Have as much done ahead of time as you can. Take a look at your application form. Is there any part of it you can fill out ahead of time to save the applicant effort? What can you streamline in terms of background checks or other red tape? The fewer hoops someone has to jump through to start volunteering, the more likely it is that they will finish the process.
Plan what your table at the volunteer fair will look like.
How can you make it attractive? What can you do to draw attention to it? At a volunteer fair I organized earlier this year, a non-profit theatre group had all the people at their table dressed in costumes. Another group, a search & rescue organization, had a bunch of the equipment they used laid out for people to handle. The local Pride group had colourful flags and banners. Others had candies to give away, or draws or games. Still others had videos or slideshows of what they do in the community. Think about what you can do that will bring people to your table.
Have the right people at the table.
The people who staff your table need to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Whether it’s yourself, another staff member, or a volunteer, the person needs to be able to answer questions and show passion for the mission. They need to be comfortable talking with a wide diversity of people. They should know exactly what roles you are trying to fill, what those roles involve, and what you’re looking for in the people who fill them.
Be ready to follow up.
After the volunteer fair, you will hopefully have a list of names and contact information of potential volunteers. Follow up with those people within three days of the fair. Show them how important they are and how much you want them to be part of your team.
If they have to have background or police checks before they start, make sure they know how to get those done, and stay in touch with them during the process. Make sure they know that you haven’t forgotten about them.
Involve them in training or get them on a shift as soon as you can. The sooner they are involved, the more committed they will become. Many people volunteer because it gives them a sense of belonging. Show that they are part of the team.
A volunteer fair can be an incredibly effective tool.
But only if you do the planning and preparation ahead of time. The more thought and effort you put into the event the more successful it will be for you. Whether you are looking for seven volunteers with Food Safe to serve at your soup kitchen, or a new board member with a legal background, or just much-needed exposure for your new organization, a well-planned table at a volunteer fair can help.