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Visit this page for ideas, suggestions and hints to build volunteer recruitment capacity.

~ May 2005 ~ Topics

Market Planning Strategies to Enhance Volunteer Involvement

Recruiting volunteers in an intentional and strategic way means using the best from the world of market planning. How is it that people like McDonald's keeps customers coming for 50 years? They use a strategy quite similar to the one described below for volunteers. But, before you rush out the door to recruit, you must begin by knowing as much as possible about those who are volunteering right now. That knowledge makes this process possible.

There are four options in creating a "volunteer friendly" environment when it comes to finding new people or engaging those currently volunteering more deeply with the organization. Each box in the chart comes with an explanation.

Strategies to Increase the Number of Volunteers

  Existing Volunteer Positions New Volunteer Positions
Existing Markets of Volunteers
(these are people who currently volunteer)
Market Penetration
(more of the same)*
Volunteer Task Development
(existing volunteers doing new tasks)**
New Markets of Volunteers
(these are people you would like to recruit)
Market Development
(new people doing same tasks)***
(new volunteers doing new tasks)****

*Market penetration
This strategy means getting more of the same type of volunteers who are currently engaged. If seniors make up the majority of volunteers, you design strategies to find more of them.
  **Volunteer Task Development
Current volunteers have been doing the same tasks forever. Conduct a needs assessment of staff and/or volunteers to determine new ways to engage the existing group of volunteers. It may slow attrition and offer incentives to stay at a vibrant organization that continues to “grow.”

***Market Development
This is where those demographics come into play. Too few volunteers in the 18-30 age category? A special recruiting campaign is launched to attract those people to do the existing job for the organization.
Again, those demographics are at work. New people, not normally in the demographic pool of volunteers for your program, and new positions. This is a good place to locate episodic types of volunteers.

Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: Volunteer Recruiting & Retention: A Marketing Approach, by Nancy Macduff and The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions, by Mary Kay Hood.

Details for Volunteer Recruiting & Retention Book Details for One Minute Book

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Ways to Bring in Volunteers

  • Talk up to a prospective volunteer, never down.
  • Be friendly, sincere, warm, and if you are not good at those things, find a volunteer who is and train them to recruit.
  • Find out about the prospective volunteers ideas, problems, concerns that brought them to your program. This requires listening skills.
  • Emphasize the creativity involved in every volunteer job.
    Never minimize the work of volunteering, it will be resented.
  • Do not tell them everything about the position available. Concentrate on your best appeal for this individual, and let them hang their coat on that "hook." Let them talk about the match with the position.
  • No pressure. If you have done your job, they will sell you.

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Building the "Feedback" Environment

Volunteers stay in an organization when they form psychological contracts with the organization. This happens in large measure if the person believes they are heard and changes happen. There are strategies to enhance the "feedback" environment in your volunteer program. Here are some tips.

Create a "graffiti" wall. In some organizations, the volunteers (and staff who work with them) can have a graffiti wall. People enjoy being in on the "conversation" on a topic and this is a good way to do it. Make it easy to use. Assign a volunteer to "clean it up" at least once a week, but with all comments being recorded. Ask a question to get people started and make it non-polarizing. "Should we continue to have coffee for volunteers during the work day?"

Practice active listening. This skill can be developed and requires quieting your mind and being able to paraphrase what the other person said before you respond. Ask the person to explain more fully, never dismiss ideas or comments out of hand.

Get away from the desk. Good managers of volunteer programs are rarely at a desk. They are out and about visiting with volunteers at the job site. They are talking with staff about ways to improve the program and seeking new ways volunteers can be engaged. A good feedback environment is all about availability.

Know the informal leaders. Seek these folks out for their opinions and concerns. They will give you a well-rounded picture of what is happening in the program.

Welcome the bad news. Candor from people contributes to a healthy "feedback" environment. If you only listen to those who think the way you do, you run the risk of missing problems and it drives those problems underground. You cannot solve problems you do not know about. And remember to reward the person who tells you the truth, as painful as that might be.

Set a positive example for receiving criticism. Volunteer programs are a reflection of the manager of volunteers. That individual sets the standards for attitude and behavior. Show by example that you can receive criticism and will help the critic turn their idea into a solution. Soon everyone will be doing it the same way.

Never argue with a hostile or emotional person. Defer the discussion to later when the person is calm and able to discuss the situation in ways that can lead to solutions.

Do not reward the snide. Petty comments and cheap shots do not help build good communication or solve problems. Acknowledge the statement, but move on to the positive. Those inclined to be snide soon learn that their ideas get through much more readily when they are direct in communication, not sarcastic or petty.

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The Points of Light Foundation has forms available to nominate volunteers and volunteer organizations for the Daily Points of Light Award. It is designed recognize individuals and groups that demonstrate unique and innovative approaches to community volunteering and citizen action, with a strong emphasis on service focused on the goals for children and young people set by the Presidents Summit for American's Future. The award is given five days a week, excluding holidays. If you would like nomination forms, call 202-729-8000.


By calling 1-800-VOLUNTEER in the U.S., individuals can be connected to their local volunteer center. This is a national interactive call routing system designed to get volunteers connected to people who can help them volunteer.

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