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Recruiting Volunteers Part 1: The Five Questions for Planning

By Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, Special Districts Association of Oregon

Volunteers play many, and varied, roles in the operation of Special Districts around the state.

The Recruitment and Retention of Volunteers has been an ongoing topic of discussion.

There are ten principles of recruiting volunteers. We will cover all ten principles during upcoming articles.

The first principle involves answering five essential questions. This is an important aspect in planning your volunteer recruitment strategy.

These five essential questions are important because they provide clarity and determines your focus on volunteer recruitment.  Your responses are integral to your recruitment of quality volunteers now and in the future. Your responses will also assist you in developing both short-term and long-term budget projections (capital outlay projects, equipment, supplies, facilities, and service levels).

Question 1:  What are the results you seek?

If you were planning a vacation, with your family, there are most likely certain questions you would ask. Where are we going? What do you want to do? Why are we going there? How much are you going to spend in time and money?

These questions are similar to the ones you ask as an organization. Where are you going? Not only what is your purpose, or mission, but the specific things you want to accomplish and services you provide your clients and community? Both now and in the future.

Question 2:  Who are you seeking as potential volunteers? 

As you recruit volunteers, how you are strengthening your organization both in numbers and talents?

How many volunteers do you need? Consider a numerical range rather than a specific number.  This is because numbers of volunteers will vary due to different times and conditions. For example, will you need a core group to maintain operations throughout the year? Will you need a large number for one-day events periodically?

What is your attrition rate? How many will you need to replace those who will leave your organization, for different reasons?

What talents, skills and abilities does your organization need? Volunteers bring a great deal to an organization. How can they best serve your organization and clients you serve?

How many volunteers do you need to accomplish the results you expect for the short term? What are your future needs for growth and expansion of services?

Question 3: What are your expectations of potential volunteers?

What do you need from your volunteers in terms of time, talent, and conduct?

What is the commitment you seek from potential candidates such as time availability and training?

Your potential volunteers will need to know your expectations. You need to be specific about what these expectations are and clearly communicate them.

Question 4:   What are you offering to potential volunteers?

While you may think only of what the volunteer offers to the organization, the relationship of the volunteer and the organization must be mutually beneficial. You need something from them.  And they need something from you.

What are the needs, wants and expectations potential volunteers have?  For example, they may seek a sense of purpose, the opportunity to serve others, relationships, personal growth and education, a new experience or desire for respect and appreciation.

When you recruit volunteers, you need to consider the individual needs of volunteers and how to fulfil them. The offering you make is a promise to them. Make sure you honor your promise.

Question 5:   What are you willing to invest, in time and money, to recruit volunteer members?

When recruiting, the focus may only be on the number of volunteers to recruit. However, you need to consider the amount of time, money and commitment needed to recruit volunteers. What are you willing to invest for a successful program?

Consider the time and funding necessary for the recruitment/selection process, the ongoing training, uniforms, equipment and supplies to support volunteers so they can effectively perform their duties.

After you have answered the five essential questions fully, it is important to document the answers. It is important to keep them visible. It is important your members know this information. These answers will be used again and again as you develop your recruitment strategy. They provide consistency in your responses to potential volunteer candidates and strengthen your recruiting efforts.