I am starting a new project that requires volunteer energy to keep it going. I’ve never done anything like this before. What are your suggestions for recruiting volunteers and, more importantly, keeping them involved once the project gets off the ground?
Vying for Volunteers
The “why” of all of this is going to be your best tool. Why is this project happening? Why do you care about it? Why should other people care about it? Why should they want to spend their time on it? Can you answer each of these questions in a brief but compelling way? Start there.
Then you’ll need to figure out your elevator pitch. Make sure that, in a moment’s notice, you can describe the project in one to two sentences. Then, in an additional one or two sentences, describe your ask of a potential volunteer.
Are you asking up front for an ongoing commitment? How much time do you expect of them? Over what time period? What are the specific tasks you will be asking them to do? Write these things down if you need to and memorize them, like a script. Practice on friends and family who aren’t your target volunteers just to get a feel for the conversation.
You next need to think about who you’re going to ask. Do you already know these people? Do you have preexisting relationships, or one to two degrees of separation with someone who can make an introduction? How can you use your elevator pitch in an email or social media post to get people’s attention?
Once you get far enough to have a meeting with someone, start by asking them about themselves. People generally love to talk about themselves, so before you make your ask, expect to do a lot of listening.
What do they care about? What are their current professional and volunteer interests? Then you can share a little about yourself and your project. After all that, then you can make the ask. Follow up with a direct question like, “Can I check back in with you by the end of the week to see if you’re interested in being involved?” and then actually do the follow up.
Hopefully these steps will get your volunteers engaged in the initial start-up phase for your project. To keep them involved, stay true to the original ask or, if you need to change the expectations, communicate clearly and directly with your volunteers about what’s shifting. Invite feedback and communication along the way, and make time to listen to your volunteers.
This level of care and attention should attract and retain the kinds of volunteers you’re looking for. Everyone who has ever worked with volunteers has, at some point, thought, “This would take less time if I just did it myself.” Spending the quantity of time that makes you say that is an indication you’re on the right track for true volunteer engagement. Since you can’t do everything yourself, though, treating your volunteers as the incredibly valuable asset that they are is crucial to your, and your project’s, success.